After nearly 200 failed attempts, the Senate has finally approved a bill to make lynching a federal crime.
The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was sponsored by African-American Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Tim Scott and introduced in June of this year. It cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in October and gained bipartisan approval in a vote on Wednesday. A corresponding bill was introduced in the House in June but remains in committee.
The bill describes lynching as “the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.” Should it pass, it will change existing code to make lynching, defined as an extrajudicial mob killing, a federal hate crime that could be punished by a sentence of up to life in prison.
The NAACP estimates that there were at least 4,743 lynchings in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968. African-Americans were disproportionately victims of these lynchings. Despite hundreds of efforts to introduce anti-lynching bills in the first half of the 19th century, none passed. The bill adds that seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching between 1890 and 1952, all of which came to naught.
Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith presided over the session, drawing criticism from some, as she came under fire ahead of the midterm elections for making a joke about a “public hanging.” Many, including her opponent Mike Espy, took the comment to refer to lynching.
After the vote, Harris tweeted, “Lynching is a dark and despicable aspect of our nation’s history. We must acknowledge that fact, lest we repeat it.”