Despite widespread bipartisan support, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., is putting the brakes on the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which previously passed by a 410-4 margin by the House.
The bill would be the first to make lynching a federal crime by broadening the coverage of the current laws against lynching and would specify the act of lynching as a hate crime. People who violate the bill’s provisions could be subject to criminal fines, so the federal government might collect additional fines under the legislation.
Criminal fines are recorded as revenues, deposited in the Crime Victims Fund, and later spent without further appropriation action.
Paul said that as proposed, he opposes the bill. He offered an amendment to the bill, claiming the current legislation is too broad.
“Lynching is a tool of terror that claimed the lives of nearly 5,000 Americans between 1881 and 1968,” Paul said. “But this bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion. Our nation's history of racial terrorism demands more seriousness from us than that.”
The bill is named after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American who was brutally murdered in 1955. An all-white jury found Roy Bryant and JW Milam not guilty following Till's death. Not facing the possibility of prosecution, the duo admitted to killing Till in a lynching following acquittal.
Paul invoked Till’s name as he air his criticism of the legislation.
“It would be a disgrace for the Congress of the United States to declare that a bruise is lynching, that an abrasion is lynching, that any injury to the body, no matter how temporary, is on par with the atrocities done to people like Emmett Till, Raymond Gunn and Sam Hose, who were killed for no reason but because they were black,” Paul said. “To do that, would demean their history and cheapen limping in our country.”
Paul’s move, which slowed swift passage of the legislation, angered Senate Democrats. The legislation passed through the House on Feb. 26.
Without unanumous passage, it is unclear how long it will take for the bill to make its way to President Donald Trump's desk.
“Senator Paul is now trying to weaken a bill that was already passed,” Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said. “There is no reason for this. There's no reason for this. Senator Paul's amendment would place a greater burden on victims of lynching than is currently required under federal hate crimes laws. There is no reason for this. There is no reason other than cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning.”
“I am so raw today,” Sen. Cory Booker, D-NY, said. Of all days that we're doing this. Of all days that we're doing this right now, having this discussion when, God, if this bill passed today, what that would mean for America that this body.”
“I do not need my colleague, the senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country,” Booker added. “I've stood in the museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and watched African-American families weeping at the stories of pregnant women lynched in this country and their babies ripped out of them while this body did nothing. I can hear the screams as this body and membership can of the unanswered cries for justice of our ancestors.”