Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 could make lynching a federal crime

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The National Memorial for Peace and Justice contains 800 steel monuments that each represent a county in the United States where lynchings took place. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

The three African-American members of the U.S. Senate have introduced legislation that would make lynching a federal crime.

Sponsored by Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-NJ, and Tim Scott, R-SC, the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 would classify lynching, the mob-fueled killing of an accused person without due process, as a deprivation of human rights punishable by prison time.

The proposed legislation cites more than 4,700 lynchings reported in all but four states between 1882 and 1968, calling lynching the "ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction" and noting that "99 percent of all perpetrators escaped punishment by state or local officials."

According to the text of the bill, seven presidents called for an end to lynching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the House of Representatives passed multiple anti-lynching measures between 1920 and 1940. The Senate, though, "failed to enact anti-lynching legislation despite repeated requests by civil rights groups, presidents, and the House of Representatives."

The bill comes more than a decade after 90 senators passed a resolution formally apologizing to lynching victims and acknowledging the decades-long failure to get an anti-lynching law on the books.

"Lynching is a dark, despicable part of our history. Passing an anti-lynching law is long overdue," Harris said in a tweet.

In a Facebook post, Booker added that the act "will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country's stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice."

"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," Scott said in a statement. "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."

In addition to Harris, Booker and Scott, the bill lists more than a dozen Democratic co-sponsors as well as independent Sens. Angus King and Bernie Sanders. While he has not formally endorsed the newly introduced legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell recently voiced support for the idea of an anti-lynching bill, Harris' office said.

Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., and dozens of members of the Congressional Black Caucus introduced a piece of companion legislation, H.R. 6086, in the U.S. House of Representatives on June 13.
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