lynching becomes a federal crime after more than a century of attempts

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US President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed the first federal law banning lynching in the US. This is the culmination of decades of struggle, while Congress failed 200 times to confront these racist crimes that have left a deep mark on the history of the country.

Only three voted against: Thomas Massey, elected from Kentucky, Andrew Clyde, representative from Georgia, and Chip Roy, Texas. The opposition of this trio of Republicans did not prevent the United States House of Representatives from overwhelmingly passing legislation in late February to outlaw lynching at the federal level.

The Senate then unanimously approved the text, and on Tuesday, March 29, President Joe Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law, ending more than 100 years of unsuccessful attempts to ban the practice at the federal level. United States.

Approximately 6,500 victims of lynching

“The lynching was an act of pure terror to impose the lie that not everyone has the right to be in the United States, that not all people are born equal,” Joe Biden said shortly after the law was signed.

The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act was named after African-American teenager Emmett Till, who was lynched in 1955 in Mississippi after being accused of “whistling” a “white” woman in the street. His brutal murder by two racists in the south of the country became one of the founding acts of the civil rights movement in the United States, recalls the New York Times.

The new law provides for a 30-year prison sentence for anyone who commits a lynching, which is now defined as organizing a hate crime that results in the death or serious injury of the victim.

This new law has “an essentially symbolic scale of historical interpretation,” says Paul Shore, a social historian of the United States at the Center for North American Studies at the School for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences (EHESS). France 24.

Lynching as practiced after the American Civil War (1865) until the late 1950s no longer exists. It was an act of political terror that, in order to support the politics of supremacy in the southern states, was defined by “civil rights organizations as the extrajudicial execution by several persons of a person accused of a crime,” recalls Paul Shore. The victims during this period were about 6,500 people, almost exclusively African Americans.

These racist killings, which are tolerated—and even encouraged—by local authorities, could be settled for such trivial acts as knocking on a “white” woman’s door or refusing to talk to an Alabama cop named “Mr.”

Joe Biden’s signing of the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act finally “confirms that black lynching is unacceptable in this country and has never been acceptable,” the Washington Post cheers in an editorial.

The American president has also attempted to highlight this historical dimension of the signature by “surrounding himself with people who are either descendants of lynching victims or representatives of civil rights movements,” notes Paul Shore. Joe Biden, in particular, invited to his side the great-granddaughter of the journalist and activist Ida B. Wells, who at the end of the XIXas well as century pioneered the campaign to ban lynching.

Nearly 200 failed attempts to ban lynching

But it is a ban that is “outrageously late. Nearly a century late,” lamented the Washington Post in an editorial. Congress repeated this more than 200 times before it was able to pass a federal law against the practice.

Legislative efforts began in 1900 when George Henry White, the only African American representative in Congress at the time, attempted to federally ban the practice. But he failed in the face of obstacles from elected officials from the southern states.

A scheme that has been repeated over and over again over the years, despite the support of seven American presidents for various bills presented to Congress. In 2005, the Senate even decided to formally apologize for failing to ban lynching.

Even the text that Joe Biden signed was almost buried. It took three years for it to land on the table in the Oval Office. Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky also rejected the first draft of the bill because it defined lynching “too broadly” for his taste. He wanted and achieved that only actions that resulted in death or grievous bodily harm fell under the law …

Modern lynchings?

Historically, opposition to these anti-lynching efforts has come less from Republicans than from Southern Democrats. These are the ones who, after the Civil War of 1860, were among the most segregationist, historian Louis P. Mazur recalls in an article published in the Washington Post. They accused Northern Republicans of wanting to ban lynching just to get African American votes…

These southern states also argued for a long time that there was no reason to pass such a law because there were texts at the local level that prohibited lynching. Which is true, “except that no one respected him,” emphasizes Louis P. Mazur. This is why “civil rights activists have been asking the United States government for decades to adopt the text at the federal level,” says Paul Shore.

If passing a new law remains primarily a way for a Democratic president to correct a historic breach of the law, the text may again prove useful. It was introduced to the Senate in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd that year by a police officer and Ahmaud Arbery, who was chased and shot dead by three people while jogging. Various racist facts that the BBC recalls gave rise to the specter of a modern form of lynching.

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