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It’s Time for Congress to Eradicate the Last Vestige of Lynching and Pass the Justice in Policing Ac

“What we are witnessing is the birth of a new movement in our country with thousands coming together in every state marching to demand a change that ends police brutality, holds police officers accountable, and calls for transparency. For over 100 years, Black communities in America have sadly been marching against police abuse and calling for the police to protect and serve them as they do others. Never again should the world be subjected to witnessing what we saw on the streets in Minnesota with George Floyd.” – U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, chair, Congressional Black Caucus. Earlier this week, I had the honor to join George Floyd’s brother, Philonise Floyd, and other advocates and activists in testifying to the House Judiciary Committee regarding the Justice in Policing Act. I shared the following: Between 1882 and 1968, at least 4,742 people were lynched in the United States, the vast majority of them Black. They were murdered, brutally, in retaliation for offenses such as failing to use the title “Mr.” when referring to a white man, or accidentally bumping into a white girl while running to catch a train, or having any kind of dispute with a white person. Their murders were often public spectacles, with thousands of white people gathered to witness the torture, mutilation, dismemberment, and/or burning of the victim. It was almost inconceivable in the late 19th Century and the early 20th Century that a white person in the south would be prosecuted for the murder of a Black person. So, in 1922, the House of Representatives voted to make lynching a federal crime. White supremacists in the Senate blocked the bill. In over 200 attempts to pass anti-lynching legislation, the United States Senate blocked passage of such legislation. It was not until 2018 and again in 2019 that the Senate agreed to pass antilynching legislation by unanimous consent. And then on the National Day of Mourning to honor the death of George Floyd, one obstinate Senator returned the senate to its historic role of blocking the passage of antilynching legislation. The United States still has no federal anti-lynching statue. Between 1954 and 1965, dozens of civil rights activists were murdered for trying to desegregate schools and register Black voters. Four little girls in a Birmingham died in a church that was dynamited because it was used as a meeting place for civil rights leaders. The nation was confronted with the images of children being blasted with firehoses and mauled by attack dogs, and peaceful marchers being bludgeoned with nightsticks. In 1964, Congress responded with the Civil Rights Act, and in 1965, the Voting Rights Act. In the years since the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement, dozens of unarmed Black Americans have died at the hands of police. Tamir Rice. John Crawford III. Philando Castle. Freddie Gray. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Since 2015, police have shot and killed 1,291 Black people, 123 of them unarmed. Ahmaud Arbery’s killers weren’t active police, but one had just retired from a 30-year career in law enforcement. As Ahmaud fell to the ground, fatally wounded, the gunman spat out an obscene racial slur. This Congress must decide whether this is a 1922 moment, or a 1965 moment, This Congress must decide whether to allow racist, violent police officers to continue slaughtering Black Americans with no accountability. During the famous six-week filibuster in 1938, led by Georgia Senator Richard Russell and namesake of the Russell Senate Office Building, Russell declared that anti-lynching legislation was “the first step in a program of such far-reaching importance and of such dire effect and consequences that it would strike down the civilization of the States which sent us to this body … for other legislation of this type that we know will certainly follow.” If antilynching legislation passed, next Congress would pass laws “to control the requirements of suffrage and the qualifications of voters” within the states; “to enforce social equality ... wiping out all segregation of the races;” and “to strike down the laws of the several States which prevent the intermarriage of whites and blacks.” Richard Russell was wrong about a great many things. On this one issue he was correct. Congress did pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to outlaw Jim Crow segregation in places of public accommodation. Congress did pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to impose federal requirements to prevent voter suppression and ensure the right of Blacks to vote in this country. The only thing Russell was wrong about was the timing. Now it’s time for Congress to pass the Justice in Policing Act of 2020 to ensure that no person under color of law can act unilaterally as cop, judge, jury, and executioner in this country. It’s time for the House, but more importantly, the Senate to fulfill its role in eradicating the last legal vestige of lynching and pass this bill.

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