Editor’s Note: Anti-lynching bill passes Senate days after Ida B. Wells honor

By Ariana Portalatin, Editor-In-Chief

Ida B. Wells was a remarkable activist and journalist whose anti-lynching campaign helped in the fight for civil rights of black Americans in the U.S. The risks she took to improve the lives of others are still affecting change today. Three days after the city celebrated her sacrifices and achievements by naming a street after her, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to make lynching a federal crime.

The bill, now headed to the House of Representatives for approval, was spearheaded by Senators Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Tim Scott, R-S.C. According to a Dec. 21, 2018, Vox article, the “Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018” serves as a recognition and apology of past lynching crimes that have gone unnoticed by local and state law enforcement.

“It is really important that our laws protect vulnerable people and outline accurately what are crimes against human beings,” Harris said. “These were some of the most violent acts that took place against Americans in our country for generations, so for this to be acknowledged as a crime for which there will be accountability and consequence is something that I’m very excited about.”

According to the legislature, lynching has been documented in all but four states, with at least 4,742 people, predominantly African-American, being lynched from 1882–1968. Despite the large number, 99 percent of perpetrators went unpunished. Enacting the bill would allow judges to impose additional sentencing on top of other charges. Anyone convicted of lynching someone due to discrimination could be sentenced to up to life in prison, while causing bodily harm would lead to at least 10 years. 

The bill was initially introduced in June 2018 and passed by the Senate in December, but the House failed to act on it before the congressional session ended. Passing the bill after nearly 200 attempts to do so is a long-awaited but much-needed victory. 

“Only by coming to terms with history can the United States effectively champion human rights abroad,” the bill states. “An apology offered in the spirit of true repentance moves the United States toward reconciliation and may become central to a new understanding, on which improved racial relations can be forged.”

The bill defines lynching as an act of willfully [causing] bodily injury to any other person because of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and disability.

No one should face discrimination. Some still do not understand why. 

Mat Staver, founder of evangelical nonprofit Liberty Counsel, opposed the bill’s inclusion of the LGBTQ community during a Jan. 8 interview with Christian news outlet OneNews Now. 

The Liberty Counsel is widely known as an anti-LGBTQ organization. Staver attempted to defend his view by stating, “Lynching is wrong no matter whether someone is white or black, gay or straight, disabled or able-bodied. An anti-lynching bill should apply to everyone without any categories.” 

Staver’s statement is the equivalent of someone saying “All Lives Matter” in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Although Staver attempted to save face, his comments and attempts to remove the protected categories suggest he was trying to implement a loophole into the bill.

Fortunately, his attempts were unsuccessful. 

Ida B. Wells and many other civil rights activists worked tirelessly to defend the rights of black people, and it’s about time the U.S. government took action to recognize and officially condemn these hateful acts. Racism exists in the U.S. today, and passing the bill is another step toward true racial equality and justice.