President Joe Biden signed an anti-lynching bill into law on Tuesday, turning lynching into a federal hate crime after over 100 years of trying.
“Lynching was pure terror to enforce the lie that not everyone, not everyone belongs in America, not everyone is created equal,” Biden said during a signing ceremony in the Rose Garden of the White House, according to the Washington Examiner.
“Innocent men, women, and children hung by nooses from trees, bodies burned and drowned and castrated. Their crimes? Trying to vote, trying to preach the gospel — false accusations of murder, arson, and robbery. Simply being black.”
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act, named after the victim of an infamous 1955 lynching in Mississippi, makes lynching a crime punishable by 30 years in prison.
It passed the House on a 422-3 vote in February. One week later, the Senate passed it by unanimous consent.
“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,” Biden said.
“Racial hate isn’t an old problem — it’s a persistent problem.”
The bill has been the source of much controversy and debate over the past few years. A 2020 version of the legislation passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives but was stalled by Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul in the Senate.
Paul had argued that the bill’s definition of lynching was too broad. “This bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion,” he said at he time.
Senator @RandPaul on Anti-Lynching Legislation and his amendment to it: "This bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion."
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 4, 2020
At the time, he said that while he took the threat of lynching seriously, “this legislation does not.”
This drew what The New York Times called “angry rebukes from two of the bill’s authors, Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, both African-American Democrats.”
“The idea that we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult — an insult to Senator Booker and Senator Tim Scott and myself,” Harris said at the time, referencing the bill’s GOP co-author.
“To suggest that lynching would only be a lynching if someone’s heart was pulled out and displayed to someone else is ridiculous,” she continued.
“It should not require a maiming or torture for us to recognize a lynching when we see it and recognize it by federal law and call it what it is, which is that it is a crime that should be punishable with accountability and consequence.”
Paul eventually prevailed, however. The bill was rewritten in 2021 to include Paul’s proposal of a “serious bodily injury” standard when charging someone with lynching.
In an opinion piece for the Louisville Courier-Journal earlier this month, Paul noted that Booker “recognized my sincerity and agreed to work with me to make the bill stronger.
“Sen. Booker and I have collaborated to fight other injustices, such as mass incarceration. Our partnership worked because of a profound mutual respect for one another and a shared goal to right historic wrongs without inadvertently creating new victims,” he said.
The opinion piece, it’s worth noting, didn’t include any mention of Harris, now the vice president.