A Senate impasse over a widely backed bill to designate lynching as a federal hate crime exploded on Thursday.
Sen. Rand Paul is single-handedly holding up the bill despite letting it pass last year. The Senate’s two black Democrats, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, protested, saying the measure should pass as is.
The debate occurred as a memorial service was taking place for George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police sparked nationwide protests.
The legislation would make lynching a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison. This comes 65 years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in Mississippi, and follows dozens of failed attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation.
The Senate unanimously passed virtually identical legislation last year. The House then passed it by a sweeping 410-4 vote in February but renamed the legislation for Till — the sole change that returned the measure to the Senate.
“Black lives have not been taken seriously as being fully human and deserving of dignity, and it should not require a maiming or torture in order for us to recognize a lynching when we see it.”
According NBC News, Paul said
The legislation was drafted too broadly and could define minor assaults as lynching. He also noted that murdering someone because of their race is already a hate crime. He said the Senate should make other reforms, such as easing “qualified immunity” rules that shield police officers from being sued.
Paul sought to offer an amendment to weaken the measure, and Sen. Booker blocked it.
“Rather than consider a good-intentioned but symbolic bill, the Senate could immediately consider addressing qualified immunity and ending police militarization.”
The conflict was kept quiet as Booker and Paul sought an agreement, but media reports have pegged Paul as the reason the measure is stalled.
“Tell me another time when 500-plus Congress people, Democrats, Republicans, House members and senators come together in a chorus of conviction and say,
‘Now is the time in America that we condemn the dark history of our past and actually pass anti-lynching legislation.’”
(Photos, screen grabs; via NBC News)