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Biden signs bill named after Emmett Till making lynching a hate crime

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U.S. President Joe Biden signs into law H.R. 55, the “Emmett Till Antilynching Act” during a ceremony at the White House in Washington, March 29, 2022.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act on Tuesday, making lynching a federal hate crime after more than a century of failed efforts in Congress to pass similar legislation.

The bill is named after Till, a 14-year-old Black teenager from Chicago who was abducted, tortured and shot in the head in 1955 after a white woman, Carolyn Bryant Donham, said he whistled at her and touched her in a Mississippi store.

The Senate cleared the bill on March 7 by unanimous consent, indicating no opposition, after the House passed it on Feb. 28 in a 422-3 vote. The three votes against the measure came from GOP Reps. Thomas Massie of Kentucky, Chip Roy of Texas and Andrew S. Clyde of Georgia.

Congress had fallen short on passing anti-lynching bills more than 200 times since 1900.

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Biden said during the bill signing ceremony that the antilynching law was not just about the civil rights struggle from decades ago, citing the 2020 shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and the white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

“From the bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown, the same racial hatred that drove the mob to hang a noose brought that mob carrying torches out of the fields of Charlottesville just a few years ago,” said Biden.

“Racial hate isn’t an old problem–it’s a persistent problem,” he added.

The enacted legislation, introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., will make it possible to prosecute a crime as lynching when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury, with perpetrators facing up to 30 years in prison.

“For the first time in U.S. history, we are finally make lynching a FEDERAL hate crime. And we are doing it in Emmett Till’s name,” said Rush in a tweet Tuesday. “It’s time to right this historic injustice.”

A report by the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization providing legal representation to prisoners who have been wrongly convicted of crimes, found that nearly 6,500 lynchings took place in the U.S. between 1865 and 1950.

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