President Biden Signs the Emmett Till Antilynching Act

On August 28, 1955, Emmett Till was abducted, tortured, then lynched by a Mississippi man after he allegedly whistled at a white woman. His murder was driven by the color of his skin and forces of systemic racism that have been deeply woven into the fabric of the United States, including specifically lynchings. Lynchings were intended to instill fear in the black community and set horrific examples to uphold white supremacy. 

President Biden signed a law named after Till on March 29, 2022, to make lynching a federal hate crime. Congress wanted to pass this law because they wanted to symbolically end lynching and contribute to the process of healing the nation’s racial wounds.

The bill was previously introduced in the 116th Congress in 2019 by Bobby Rush, Democratic Congressman from Illinois, in the U.S House of Representatives with 148 co-sponsors, and Kamala Harris, at the time a Democratic senator from California, with 47 co-sponsors. Though it passed the House in a near-unanimous vote of 410-4, the United States Senate was a different story. 

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, objected to Senator Harris passing the bill via unanimous consent since it did not include his amendment of a serious bodily injury standard, or in other words, the severity of the lynching (CNN). Fortunately for the legislators, the bill gained momentum when the 117th Congress convened, since Democrats controlled all levels of the executive and legislative branches.

Bobby Rush introduced the legislation again with 174 co-sponsors, an increase of 26 co-sponsors. The legislation passed the House at an increased margin of 422-3 and automatically passed with unanimous consent since Senator Paul did not object to the legislation this time.

Advocates for this legislation believe that it will begin the process of healing America’s racial wounds and uniting the country together on racial issues. They also think that it will force elected officials to look at other issues such as police brutality and voting rights.