President Biden on Tuesday signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act into law, designating lynching as a federal hate crime. Congress previously failed to pass anti-lynching legislation at least 240 times.
Among those who attended the signing was Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr., a cousin of Emmett Till who was with the 14-year-old in Mississippi when he was lynched in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously in March after passing the House 422-3 in February. When the bill was previously before the House in 2020, then-Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) opposed the bill, arguing on Twitter that it was unnecessary.
"Murdering someone on account of their race, or conspiring to do so, is not legal under federal law. It's already a federal crime, and it's already a hate crime," Amash wrote. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) also argued the bill needed to be more clearly differentiated.
Under previously existing U.S. law, willfully causing "bodily injury" to someone because of "actual or perceived race, color, religion ... national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability" was already punishable by up to 10 years in prison, or by life in prison if the victim died as a result.
Writing for The Washington Post, author Theodore R. Johnson argued that while the law is largely symbolic, its symbolism "is actually its most important and consequential feature."
"In the same way that circumstances dictate whether a collection of murders can be labeled a mass shooting, domestic terrorism or a hate crime, calling an act of hate lynching adds social and political heft to the charge," he wrote.