The anti-lynching law is long overdue

“We can’t turn our backs on black Americans while helping Ukrainians.”

In the years following Civil War Reconstruction, black people campaigning for civil rights were more concerned with the danger of being lynched than any other action by white racists. Groups of whites killed blacks for the most insignificant reasons with the primary aim of establishing white superiority. There have been countless efforts over the decades to make lynching a federal offense to ensure legal recourse against offenders, but every attempt has failed. Now, for the first time, Congress has approved an anti-lynching law, 422 to 3.

The US Senate, as expected, summarily approved the law. How can Republicans deny federal protection to American citizens when everyone is pledging to help Ukrainians who are under attack from the Russians? The old American excuse for abandoning attacked blacks in the South was that assaults and murders are local crimes that should be prosecuted in local state courts. Everyone knew that white juries of old never convicted white people for murdering black people, even when the evidence was incontrovertible.

The Tuskegee Institute, a black university, established that between 1882 and 1959, white racists lynched 4,733 black people. The measure recently passed by the House of Representatives would punish a hate crime with a prison term of up to 30 years. The practice of lynching did not attract proper national attention until the brutal murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy visiting relatives in Mississippi in 1955.

One would hope that the recent vote to label lynching a hate crime indicates that hostility towards black people is over. Sadly, the Anti-Defamation League reports that there were 108 documented white supremacist events in 2021. That’s more than double the 53 events in 2020.

There is no doubt that the political pressure exerted by Russia’s attack on Ukraine generated support for the vote. How does a politician show a fiery plea for the brutalization of Eastern European foreigners while supporting the illegal persecution of black American citizens?

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