In a historic vote, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill on Wednesday to make mob lynching a federal civil rights crime–after almost 200 failed attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation over a century.
The Senate’s three Black senators—Democratic Sens. Kamala Harris of California, New Jersey’s Cory Booker and Republican Sen. Tim Scott—introduced the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 in June.
The bill calls for a life sentence for those found guilty on federal anti-lynching charges, according to the Washington Times.
Harris stood on the Senate floor moments before the vote.
“It’s truly my honor, Senator Booker, to be on the floor of the United States Senate with you, as a colleague and a friend, proposing this piece of legislation,” she said, later thanking fellow lawmakers for their “very important act of bipartisanship in the United States Congress” after the vote.
Unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives had passed anti-lynching legislation several times in the past. A similar version of the current Senate bill would likely sail through the Democratic-dominated House in 2019 before landing on the president’s desk.
The Senate bill underscored statistics supported by research compiled by Tuskegee University, that more than 4,700 people were lynched between the years 1882 and 1968, according to NPR. About 75 percent of the victims were African-Americans while “99 percent of all perpetrators of lynching escaped from punishment by state or local officials.”
Despite the gruesome history, Southern Democrats in the Senate routinely voted against anti-lynching measures when they came up for a vote over many decades, typically arguing that prosecuting lynchings was a state—not federal—matter.
On the way to cast her vote, Harris called it “ridiculous that we don’t have codified in federal law that lynching is a crime.”
After helping to draft the legislation in June, Booker criticized Congress for taking so long—even after the civil rights movement—to pass anti-lynching legislation.
“It’s a travesty that despite repeated attempts to do so, Congress still hasn’t put anti-lynching legislation on the books. This bill will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice,” he said in a statement.
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