According to a 1909 speech entitled “Lynching is a color-line murder” written by Ida B Wells, a Black female journalist who fought lynching in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “No other nation, civilized or savage, burns its criminals; only under the Stars and Stripes is the human holocaust possible.” On March 29, 2022, President Joe Biden took significant strides against this notion; he made history by signing the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, which federally outlawed lynching.
From slavery to lynching to modern-day police brutality, White America’s undying obsession with oppressing the Black community has stood the test of time. Lynchings were not out-of-control acts of violence that horrified Whites with their brutality. Rather, lynchings were often planned several days in advance and had police support. The target of their cruel campaign was not limited to men – women and children were also subjected to this terror.
As several scholars have recently acknowledged, modern-day police brutality represents the continuation of lynching culture in the United States. Today, Black Americans die at the hands of police at a rate that is almost equivalent to the number of documented lynchings during the early twentieth century. According to data collected by the Washington Post, police shot and killed at least 1055 people nationwide last year, alone. Black people, who account for only 13 percent of the U.S. population, accounted for 27 percent of those fatally shot and killed by police in 2021. This means Black people are twice as likely as White people to be shot and killed by police officers in America. History has proven that the purpose of this brutality was originally to suppress the Colored vote by intimidation and murder but arguably has been perpetuated because White people cannot stomach Black economic progress and are fearful of losing their reputation and dominant role in society.
The first federal legislation aimed at ending the attacks was introduced in 1900 by Rep. George Henry White of North Carolina — then the body’s only Black lawmaker. His bill failed to advance out of committee. 122 years later, the Senate unanimously passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act. Voter enfranchisement, education, advocacy have all unfortunately failed to eradicate the issue of lynching. The only certain remedy was always an appeal to the law. For years, Ida B. Wells, amongst other civil rights proponents, demanded Federal protection of American citizenship and federal prosecution of lynchers in cases where the state fails to protect citizens.
The bill Biden has signed is named in honor of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy who was abducted, tortured and killed in 1955 after he was merely accused of whistling at and grabbing Carolyn Bryant, a White woman, while visiting relatives in Mississippi. Carolyn Bryant’s husband, Roy Bryant, and J.W. Milam, Roy Bryant’s half brother, were tried for Emmett’s murder and, to no one’s surprise, were quickly acquitted by an all-White jury. The two men later admitted to murdering Emmett. Furthermore, Carolyn Bryant told a historian 50 years after the crime that Emmett had never actually put his hands on her. The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act ensures that people can no longer get away with racist ploys as they could in the past. The legislation ensures that perpetrators can receive up to 30 years in prison when a conspiracy to commit a hate crime results in death or serious bodily injury. Now, although long overdue, lawbreakers, including the police, are made to know that human life is sacred.