It's Unanimous: Senate Approves Long-Suffering Anti-Lynching Bill

Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) attends a post-midterm election meeting of Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network in the Kennedy Caucus Room at the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 13, 2018 in Washington, DC. Politicians believed to be considering a run for the 2020 Democratic party nomination, including Harris and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), addressed the network meeting as well as House members vying for leadership positions. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

It took over 200 attempts over 100 years, but the U.S. Senate finally passed – unanimously – a nonpartisan anti-lynching bill Wednesday.

Sponsors Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), all African-American, expressed gratitude to their colleagues for voting for the bill, which would make lynching a federal hate crime if passed in the House. The bill would also require an enhanced sentence in keeping with other hate crimes, The Washington Post reported Wednesday. Anyone committing such a crime could be punished and sentenced to life in prison.

Introduced to the Senate in June 2018, the bill unanimously passed the Senate Judiciary Committee in October.

Harris, a possible presidential contender in 2020, said Congress attempted 200 times over the century to pass similar lynching legislation.

"Lynching is a dark and despicable aspect of our nation's history,"Harris tweeted afterward. "We must acknowledge that fact, lest we repeat it."

Between 1890 and 1952 in the United States, seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching, reads language in the bill. The bill defines a person guilty of lynching as "willfully, acting as part of any collection of people, assembled for the purpose and with the intention of … (causing) death to any person."

Between 1882 and 1968, the NAACP records 4,743 lynchings, 3,446 of which were black. All told, 73 percent of the people lynched were black, but the NCAAP emphasizes that not all lynchings were recorded at the time.

The only states that recorded no lynchings between 1882 and 1968 were Alaska, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Connecticut, according to the NAACP.

As racial tension grew, mostly in the South, in the late 19th century, lynchings became a popular way of resolving the anger whites had toward newly freed slaves in the middle of general economic problems.

However, 27 percent – or 1,297 of the 4,743 total number of people lynched from 1882 to 1968 – were white. The NCAAP said many whites were lynched in retaliation for aiding blacks, expressing anti-lynching sentiments or committing domestic crimes.

Fast forward to Wednesday, when Booker said on the Senate floor: "This has been a long arc, a painful history and a shameful history in this body.

"At the height of lynchings across this country affecting thousands of people, this body did not act to make that a federal crime . . . at least now, the United States Senate has now acted. One hundred senators, no objections," added Booker, also a potential 2020 presidential candidate.

After the unanimous vote on Wednesday, The National Review posted that it disagrees with the Senate including the words "gender identity" in the language of the bill, writing that "conservatives on the Hill should remain vigilant against those who would slip "gender identity" into federal law and attempt to avoid debate about doing so.

Contending that the judiciary staff slipped in the phrase "gender identity" into the language of the bill as part of the overall protections, The National Review wrote that the Democrats sought to "weaponize" the amendment to the lynching bill should Republicans oppose anti-lynching legislation.

However, most camps characterize the legislation as nonpartisan.

Furthermore, it's unclear when the House will vote on the anti-lynching measure, reported The New York Times.