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US anti-lynching bill: why it was needed, how previous efforts failed

Emmett Till Anti lynching Act: The Bill notes that between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,700 people, predominantly African-Americans were reported lynched in the US and that 99 per cent of the perpetrators of these lynchings were not punished.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi | Updated: February 28, 2020 8:49:42 am
US anti-lynching bill, Emmett Till, US lynching bill explained, express explained, explained news, latest news, indian express Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., speaks during a news conference about the “Emmett Till Antilynching Act”. Emmett Till, pictured at right, was a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed an anti-lynching Bill called the Emmett Till Anti lynching Act, which makes lynching a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison, a fine or both. Murder used to be an offence usually prosecuted at the state or local level. The new law, which will make lynching a federal offence, is the result of a century of efforts in the wake of incidents of lynching in which the victims were primarily African-Americans.

The House passed the Bill with an overwhelming majority of 410-4. The Senate had passed a version called the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act last year. Once the two Bills are formally reconciled, the legislation can be sent to the Oval Office, where President Trump is expected to sign it into law, according to The New York Times.

Long history

The Bill notes that between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,700 people, predominantly African-Americans were reported lynched in the US and that 99 per cent of the perpetrators of these lynchings were not punished.

Yet, since 1918, of the more than 200 anti-lynching Bills introduced in the US Congress, none had been passed until the current legislation. The 1918 Bill had been introduced by Representative Leonidas C Dyer, “to protect citizens of the United States against lynching in default of protection by the States”.

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It was Dyer’s Bill that provided the blueprint for subsequent anti-lynching measures by National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. But in Congress, the legislation was “displaced by the indifference of its friends and the strategy of its enemies”, a US government website quotes historian Robert Zangrando as saying. All such Bills were “consistently blocked, shelved or ignored, and the passage of time has rendered anti-lynching legislation increasingly symbolic”, The NYT said.

Who was Emmett Till

Representative Bobby Rush, the Democrat representative who introduced the Bill in the House, said in a statement: “Being from Chicago, the death of Emmett Till sent shockwaves through my community and personally affected me and my family. However, his death would not be in vain, for it was the spark that ignited the long arc of the civil rights movement, leading us to this very moment.”

Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. Visiting relatives in Mississippi. Till and cousins went to a grocery store where he is said to have whistled at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant. Later, Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law kidnapped Till, brutally beat him and shot him.

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NAACP issued a statement saying that it found Till’s “mangled corpse, with a seventy-five-pound cotton gin fan tied to the neck” from the bottom of the Tallahatchie river on August 31, 1955. Photographs were circulated nationwide and resulted in an uproar for change and for an end to discrimination.

Later, Bryant’s husband and brother-in-law were later acquitted of the charges against them. The jury was all-white.

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