President Biden on Tuesday signed legislation to make lynching a federal hate crime, delivering a long-awaited win for civil rights advocates.
“Hundreds of similar bills have failed to pass. Over the years, several federal hate crime laws were enacted. … But no federal law — no federal law expressly prohibited lynching. None. Until today,” Biden said to applause.
Biden noted that civil rights leaders and lawmakers have been working for more than 100 years to pass a bill making lynching a hate crime. The president called lynching a “uniquely American weapon of racial terror.”
The legislation is named for Emmett Till, whose lynching in 1955 and subsequent open-casket funeral helped fuel the civil rights movement. The law designates lynching as a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison.
“The law is not just about the past. It’s about our present and the future as well,” Biden said.
“From the bullets in the back of Ahmaud Arbery to countless other acts of violence, countless victims known and unknown, the same racial hatred that drove the mob to hang a noose brought that mob carrying torches out of the fields of Charlottesville just a few years ago,” Biden said. “Racial hate isn’t an old problem. It’s a persistent problem.”
Biden was joined by civil rights leaders and members of Congress, including Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), who authored the bill in the House. Vice President Harris, who co-sponsored a version of the bill when she served in the Senate, also attended the signing in the Rose Garden.
Harris, who is the first woman and first woman of color to serve as vice president, called lynching a “stain on the history of our nation.”
“Lynching is not a relic of the past,” she said. “Racial acts of terror still occur in our nation. And when they do, we must all have the courage to name them and hold the perpetrators to account.”
The House previously passed the bill in 2020, but Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) objected to clearing it by unanimous consent in the Senate. Under the chamber’s rules, any one senator can try to pass a bill, but any one senator can object.
The bill passed the Senate earlier this month by unanimous consent, meaning every senator signed off on it moving forward.