100 Years Later, The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill is Passed

100 Years Later, The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill is Passed

Analise Bruno, Editor-in-Chief

The first time you likely heard the term “lynching” came from a discussion about Emmett Till, who is perhaps the emblem of its cruel effects. On August 28, 1955, Till was brutally lynched by Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam who were both brought to trial, but never convicted for their crimes. Lynching itself does not refer to a specific method of murder, but rather is a term that labels the process of informal public execution usually through means involving torture and corporal mutilation without the due process of law. It was most commonly used against African Americans during the Jim Crow era, and even now, as a terror tactic.
It’s been about 67 years since 1955, and it wasn’t until just very recently that lynching became a federal offense. Now that doesn’t mean that just because lynching was not considered a federal punishment that it was legal, it just means that the specific punishment one would receive for lynching varies by state. That is a huge issue because that might mean in more conservative places, such as where Till was unjustly murdered, one could receive a simple fine for their acts (if not convicted), whereas in another state they could do prison time. When dealing with a crime so heinous, and tied to such specific instances of blatant racism, it is clear that it should be considered illegal outright. By making lynching a punishable federal law, it becomes illegal in all 50 states and carries roughly the same, and more strict, consequences (depending on circumstance). What you’re probably wondering is why it has taken so long to pass the bill if it’s abundantly clear that lynching is wrong? Well, this isn’t the first time the law- known as the “Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Bill”- has been presented, it’s already faced many vetoes.

In the 1920s, Rep. Leonidas Dyer sponsored a federal anti-lynching bill after a riot of white citizens killed dozens of Black Americans in East St. Louis. To no surprise, given the norms at the time, the Republicans opposed nearly all the Democrats and the legislation failed. The bill was recirculated in the house later in the year but was once again overwhelmingly vetoed. What makes the situation most upsetting is that these are only 2 out of Congress’s 200 total attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation. The heinous details of the crime are precisely by numerous cases, but still, there have been years worth of discourse that has kept it from advancing.

However, modern lynching in the past few years has begun to push the need for a solidified stance against the act. In 2016, a 12-year-old girl from Waco, Texas was dragged by white students from her private school by a rope hanging from her neck. The school could only be sued for negligence and was ordered to pay the family $68,000 in damages- although we can all agree that we all would have preferred actual legal action to take place as well. A similar situation occurred in the same year in Wiggins, Mississippi where teammates put a rope around the neck of a black football player and attempted to pull him whilst getting ready in the locker room. The only reason these instances were not formally classified as lynchings is because nobody had died. When we fail to take accountability for past mistakes and learn from them, they continue to be repeated until another person ends up like Till. Fortunately, the bill did start gaining significant traction after the death of George Floyd, which is a sad price to pay for actual legal action. As of March 2022, the bill was officially passed making the crime of lynching punishable by up to 30 years in prison. Though a step in the right direction, there is still a considerable amount of work that needs to be done in terms of correcting past hate crimes, current acts of aggression, and any future issues that may arise. Biden will soon sign the bill into law.

Although the bill passed practically unanimously, I would like to ask that you keep in mind the names of three republican senators: Andrew Clyde, Thomas Massie, and Chip Roy. They were the only three of the over 400 votes that opted to veto the bill. After so many instances of brutal hate crimes involving lynching, these three felt that it was still not necessary to make the crime a federal offense. In explaining his vote, Massie said, “for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech”, he also mentioned that lynching is already illegal in many states. By choosing to block such a crucial bill, these three have made it known to the public that they do not feel lynching is a crime severe enough for federal intervention. Whatever your political views are, I urge you to remain cautious and think of the power that comes from being on the right side of history, but also to think of those in authority positions who go against it- for they will be the ones who continue to write America’s story.