New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, along with two other African-American senators, introduced a bill last week (June 29) that will make lynching a federal crime.
Booker joined California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and South Carolina U.S. Sen. Tim Scott in rolling out the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018, which will amend the U.S. Code to specify that lynching is a crime in itself that warrant an enhanced sentence under current federal hate crime statues, said a statement from Booker’s office.
Lynching, often marked by public hangings, is defined as the willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any other person, the statement said.
The act of lynching against African-Americans has a long, deep and dark history in the United States. According to the NAACP, lynching had become a popular way for whites to resolve their anger against freed black after the Civil War all the way through the 1960s.
From 1882 to 1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States, 3,446 involved African-Americans that accounted for 72.7 percent of the crimes, noted statistics on the NAACP website. were black.
Whites who were lynched during that time were because they helped blacks or crusaded against the crime. In some places in the South, lynchings were performed as sort of a public square community event, where photos were taken, residents gathered to watch and even post cards were sent documenting the crime.
“It is never too late for our nation to express our sorrow for the decades of racial terror that traumatized millions in this country,” Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative and the founder of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, said in Booker’s release.
Stevenson’s memorial opened in Montgomery, Alabama in April and has gained national attention for the highlighting the unpunished crimes that took place – many times in full view of the public – during that time.
“Passing an anti-lynching law is not just about who we were decades ago, it’s a statement about who we are now that is relevant, important and timely,” he added.
There has been efforts to ban lynching dating back to 1918, with some 200 failed attempts by Congress. In 2005, 90 members of the U.S. Senate passed a bipartisan resolution apologizing to the victims of lynching for the repeated failure of the Senate to enact anti-lynching legislation.
At that time, according to Booker’s release, the senators expressed regrets to the decendants of victims of lynching that their ancestors were “deprived of life, human dignity, and the constitutional protections accorded all citizens of the United States.”
“It’s a travesty that despite repeated attempts to do so, Congress still hasn’t put anti-lynching legislation on the books,” Booker said in his statement about the bill. “This bill will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice.”
According to the new national anti-lynching memorial, the crime was meant to marginalized black people in the country’s political, economic, and social systems, along with fueling massive migration of from the South. Lynching, which is called “racial terrorism” by the memorial, inflicted deep traumatic and psychological wounds on survivors, witnesses, family members, and the entire African-American community.
“Lynching is a dark, despicable part of our history, and we must acknowledge that, lest we repeat it,” Harris said in her statement.
Scott added: “This measure is certainly well past due and I am glad to be able to join in efforts that will underscore the severity of this crime. This piece of legislation sends a message that together, as a nation, we condemn the actions of those that try to divide us with violence and hate.”
Other senators who have signed on the bill along with Booker, Harris, and Scott include: Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Doug Jones (D-AL), Angus King (I-ME), Jack Reed (D-RI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Booker and Harris as been mentioned possible Democratic presidential candidates in 2020. Scott, the long black Republican serving in the Senate, recently addressed the issue of race with President Donald Trump, a conversation he said was “painful,” “uncomfortable,” but “hopeful,” according to CNN.