After almost a century of attempts to outlaw lynching nationally, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved legislation Wednesday that would make the act a federal hate crime.
The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was sponsored by the Senate’s three African-American members: Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Under the bill, lynching ― an extrajudicial mob killing ― could be punished by a sentence of up to life in prison. It would be an additional charge on top of murder.
“Lynching is a dark and despicable aspect of our nation’s history,” Harris tweeted after the vote. “We must acknowledge that fact lest we repeat it.”
Lynching of black Americans was widely practiced in the U.S. from around the 1880s to the mid-1900s. Over that period, about 3,450 black people were lynched, according to the NAACP.
Almost 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress from 1882 to 1986. But none of them was passed, The New York Times reported.
The 2018 Senate bill, introduced in June, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee in October. A corresponding bill in the House was also introduced in June and remains in committee. Because a new Congress will be seated in January, it’s likely both bills will have to be reintroduced.
“Literally thousands of African-Americans were being lynched throughout history, and the Senate never stepped up to pass any legislation to stop this heinous, despicable behavior,” Booker told the Times earlier this year.