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House approves bill to make lynching a federal crime

The House of Representatives approved a historic bill to make lynching a federal crime Wednesday. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act was introduced by Democratic Congressman Bobby Rush, and named for Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American teen who was brutally murdered in a racist attack in 1955. Till's death became a catalyst for the civil rights movement, and he remains a symbol of the thousands of African Americans killed in racist attacks after the Civil War and in the twentieth century.

The bill passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 410-4.

"Lynching is a blot on the history of America, but an even greater blot is the silence that for too long was maintained," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a press conference ahead of the vote.

Speaking on the House floor before the vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi also said that it was long past due for such a measure to be enacted.

"Today Congress has an opportunity to acknowledge its responsibility for its historic failure to confront and end the horror of lynching in America," Pelosi said.

The text of the bill outlines the history of lynching in the country, as well as previous unsuccessful attempts to enact federal anti-lynching legislation.

"To heal past and present racial injustice, Congress must make lynching a Federal crime so our Nation can begin reconciliation," the bill says.

The House bill was amended to match a Senate bill that made lynching a federal crime. The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, passed by unanimous voice vote in 2018, was sponsored by the Senate's three black members: Democrats Cory Booker and Kamala Harris and Republican Tim Scott. Under the legislation, lynching would carry an enhanced sentence, like other federal hate crimes. The crime could trigger a sentence of up to life in prison. 

The House passed several anti-lynching measures in the first half of the twentieth century, but these bills were blocked in the Senate.

Because the House and the Senate bills have different titles and numbers, the two bills will need to be reconciled, meaning that the Senate might have to pass the House version of the bill before it can go to President Trump's desk for a signature.

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