House makes lynching a federal crime, 65 years after Till

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From left, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, hold a news conference to discuss the "Emmett Till Antilynching Act" which would designate lynching as a hate crime under federal law, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020. Emmett Till, pictured at right, was a 14-year-old African-American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family's grocery store. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sixty-five years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi, the House has approved legislation designating lynching as a hate crime under federal law.

The bill, introduced by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation and after dozens of similar efforts were defeated.

The measure was approved 410 to 4 on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed virtually identical legislation last year, although that bill wasn't named for Till. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill, which designates lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison, a fine, or both.

Rush, a Democrat whose Chicago district includes Till's former home, said the bill will belatedly achieve justice for Till and more than 4,000 other lynching victims, most of them African Americans.

Till, who was black, was brutally tortured and killed in 1955 after a white woman accused him of grabbing her and whistling at her in a Mississippi grocery store. The killing shocked the country and stoked the civil rights movement.

“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,'' said Rush, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. ”From Charlottesville to El Paso, we are still being confronted with the same violent racism and hatred that took the life of Emmett and so many others. The passage of this bill will send a strong and clear message to the nation that we will not tolerate this bigotry. "

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who represents the area where Till was abducted and murdered, called the anti-lynching bill long overdue, but said: "No matter the length of time, it is never too late to ensure justice is served.''

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., used similar language to urge the bill's passage. “It is never too late to do the right thing and address these gruesome, racially motivated acts of terror that have plagued our nation’s history,'' he said, urging lawmakers to "renew our commitment to confronting racism and hate.''