Why Don’t They Want to Make Lynching a Federal Hate Crime?
Politics can be divisive. But if there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s lynching should definitely be considered a hate crime… right?
The vast majority of US lawmakers, across the aisle, were able to agree on passing the Emmett Till Antilynching Act this week, to make lynching a federal hate crime.
The House overwhelmingly passed the bill this week, a year after the Senate passed the same bill, but with a different name. The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was introduced in the Senate by Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
It’s no surprise it took this long for the House to vote on it. The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was just one of nearly 200 anti-lynching bills introduced but not passed, starting with the first anti-lynching bill in 1900.
When it comes to this week’s version of the bill —the Emmett Till Antilynching Act — 16 Congresspeople didn’t vote, and four voted against it: Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Ted Yoho (R-Fla.), and Justin Amash (I-Mich.) I’ll dive deeper into those four in a minute, but first, a bit of history and clarification.
What is lynching?
Lynching is something I wish we didn’t need a word for, but we do, because, according to the bill, “at least 4,742 people, predominantly African Americans, were reported lynched in the United States between 1882 and 1968,” and documented incidents of lynching occurred in all but four US states.
Lynching is mob murder, especially by hanging. Because of the historical context, lynching is most linked with white mob violence against Black people. Black bodies were left hanging in public as a threat to others, while white people often treated lynchings as social occasions.
As the Emmett Till Antilynching Act states, “the crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction.”
Who was Emmett Till?
Emmett Till was a Black child who was kidnapped, brutally beaten, and lynched by white men in 1955. He was 14 years old. The horror of his story was a catalyst for the US civil rights movement.
Till was visiting family in Mississippi — he was from Chicago — when he bought candy from a white shopkeeper, and she claimed he had flirted with and harassed her. (She recanted her testimony, revealing Till had never touched, threatened, or harassed her, in an interview for Tim Tyson’s 2017 book The Blood of Emmett Till.)
The next paragraph is gory, so you might want to skip it.
The woman’s husband and brother kidnapped Till, beat him nearly to death, gouged out his eye, shot him in the head, and threw his body into the river, with barbed wire around his neck to attach his body to a 75-pound cotton gin fan they’d made him carry there.
The all-white, all-male Mississippi jury took less than an hour before issuing a “not guilty” verdict. The killers were never held accountable, even when, four months later, they confessed in a Look magazine article.
Reading their confessions, and how they reportedly received $4,000 for them, I can’t help but think of George Zimmerman’s murder of teenager Trayvon Martin, and how Zimmerman shamelessly (among other things) sold the murder weapon for $250,000, saying he would use the proceeds to oppose Black Lives Matter.
If you think hate crimes are just a thing of the past, you’re wrong.
Four congressmen voted against the federal anti-lynching bill.
When I heard four men voted against the bill, my first reaction to call them, “Racist assholes.” Then I got curious. Here’s some more info about the voting history of the four men who voted against the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.
Republican Louie Gohmert of Texas
Gohmert is perhaps most well-known for pretending the reason he supported the trans-Alaskan pipeline was caribou sex lives might suffer without the warmth of the pipes.
Gohmert thinks climate change is a hoax, and in this respect, somehow compares himself to Galileo.
Gohmert was one of only 4 representatives (hey, that sounds familiar) to vote against a bill to authorize the National Science Foundation to support entrepreneurial programs for women.
When it comes to the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, Gohmert released a statement saying he voted against the bill because it doesn’t go far enough. At least he (claims he) agrees lynching is bad.
But it’s sort of hard to trust what Gohmert says when it comes to hate crimes legislation, as he also voted against the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a bill that expanded the federal hate crime law to cover crimes biased by the victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Republican Thomas Massie of Kentucky
Massie doesn’t think there is compelling evidence for climate change.
Massie cosponsored a bill to get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. Yes, to get rid of the EPA.
Why did Massie vote against the anti-lynching bill? He said it should be up to states (excuse me while I scream into a pillow), and, “Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech.”
This definitely isn’t Massie’s only anti-human rights vote. Massie was the only congressperson to vote against the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. He was also the only one to vote against a condemnation of the treatment of Uygurs in China.
Republican Ted Yoho of Florida
Yoho calls the right to bear arms a “birthright,” which makes me instantly picture newborn babies with guns.
Yoho voted against the Veterans Equal Access Act, which means he voted against veterans having access to medical marijuana, when recommended by their Veterans Health Administration doctor, in states where medical marijuana is legal.
Yoho co-sponsored the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.
The Human Rights Campaign gave Yoho a 0 out of 100 rating, because of his anti-LGBTQ voting history.
Why did Yoho vote against the anti-lynching bill? He called lynching “horrific,” but said the bill took away too much power from states (the power to turn a blind eye to lynching?)
Independent Justin Amash of Michigan
Amash appears to be the least vile of the four men.
Amash was the only Republican (now Independent) who called for Trump’s impeachment. That’s pretty cool. (I mean, it’s completely pathetic that he’s the only one, but cool that he at least did it.)
Amash’s many tweets about the anti-lynching bill concentrate on why he believes the bill is functionally redundant, and on his opposition to the federalization of criminal law.
Amash is so obsessed with the federal government leaving states alone that he was the only representative from Michigan to oppose federal aid to Flint in response to the lead water crisis.
At least he’s consistent?
Here’s the problem with framing this as a states rights issue.
Not every state has hate crime legislation. As the bill states, 99% of all perpetrators of lynching escaped punishment by state or local officials.
We cannot leave it up to the most racist parts of our country to decide whether to prosecute horrific, racist crimes. History has shown they will not do it.
The House passed the bill February 26. So why isn’t it law yet?
Even though the House and Senate both passed anti-lynching legislation, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) changed the name of the Senate’s bill to the Emmett Till Antilynching Act before he introduced it for the House vote. So now the Senate needs to vote on it again before the bill can be sent to the president for a signature.
Then I’m sure Trump will sign it into law, because surely this is something we can all agree on… right?