Amash only Michigan rep. to vote no on landmark bill making lynching a federal hate crime

By: - February 26, 2020 6:40 pm

A plaque marks the gravesite of Emmett Till at Burr Oak Cemetery May 4, 2005 in Aslip, Illinois. | Scott Olson/Getty Images

Updated, 4:25 a.m. 2/27/20 with comments from Rep. Amash

WASHINGTON — Lynching is not considered a hate crime under federal law, but that’s expected to change soon.

The U.S. House voted 410-4 on Wednesday to approve a bill called the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. The bill would specifically list lynching as a hate crime, which is identified as a crime that targets people based on their race or other specific characteristics.

Samuel Corum/Getty Image

“To heal past and present racial injustice, Congress must make lynching a Federal crime so our Nation can begin reconciliation,” states the bill spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.).

His bill had 148 co-sponsors, including one Republican, U.S. Rep. Michael Turner of Ohio. Five members of the Michigan delegation are co-sponsors: U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Holly), Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit), Dan Kildee (D-Flint) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn).

“For more than 200 years, there have been attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation with the very first bill being introduced more than a century ago,” said Lawrence, who was absent for the vote. “… I would like for African American residents to be assured that everyone across this country will receive equal protection under the law and that lynching crimes are will be punished. I thank this Congress for taking this much needed first step to right a wrong that has haunted the African American community since their arrival on American shores.”

Justin Amash | Gage Skidmore via Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) was the only Michigan House member to vote no. n Wednesday evening, Amash wrote a Twitter thread explaining his vote.*

“#HR35 bans activities that are already illegal under federal law, and it’s based on the unconstitutional federalization of criminal punishment, which is a threat to civil liberties and civil rights—particularly for people of color,” Amash wrote. “To be clear, the bill does not make lynching a new federal hate crime. Murdering someone on account of their race, or conspiring to do so, is not legal under federal law. It’s already a federal crime, and it’s already a hate crime.”*

The other three no votes were from Republican U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho of Florida, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

The House version of the bill is expected to clear the U.S. Senate later this week, during Black History Month, Rush told reporters on Wednesday. The Senate passed similar anti-lynching legislation last year. Rush also expects Trump to sign the bill after passage by both chambers of Congress.

The legislation is named for Emmett Till, a Chicago native who was killed in 1955 at age 14 while visiting family in Mississippi. Till was brutally murdered after he was accused of flirting with a white woman. Till lived in what’s now Rush’s district in Chicago.

“His mother made one of the most heroic decisions ever made in American history,” Rush said ahead of Wednesday’s vote.

“Emmet’s body had been so brutally deformed, he was really unrecognizable. Swollen face, body. Most parents, most of us would have seen Emmet’s body and said that we want to close the casket. But the courage of Mamie Till-Mobley was so extraordinary that she would not allow the casket to be closed. And as a result, America and the world saw the results of hatred and evil in our nation.”

Jet Magazine published a photo of Till in his coffin, which “catalyzed an entire nation,” Rush said. The Chicago congressman recalled being shown the photograph by his mother, who had recently moved with her children to Chicago from Albany, Ga.

“When that picture was published and we got our weekly copy of Jet Magazine, she gathered us all around in the house, in the kitchen. I’ll never forget this moment,” Rush said.

“She explained to us what happened to Emmet Till. And she said, ‘This is the reason why I would not allow my boys to be raised in the South.’ My father didn’t come. She left my father and brought us to Chicago and she showed us that picture and it’s created an indelible imprint on my brain and my spirit.”

Members of Congress have tried but failed to make lynching a federal crime dating back to at least 1900, the New York Times reported.

“This bill is too late in coming, but it is never too late to do the right thing,” U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said ahead of the vote.

Advance Editor Susan J. Demas contributed to this story.

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.