Help me make sense of this one. Three African American senators are moving forward with plans to make lynching a federal hate crime. Democratic Senators Corey Booker (NJ) and Kamala Harris (CA), and Republican Tim Scott (SC) are architects of the proposed legislation.
First, most people probably think that it already is. What could be easier to define as an act of racial hatred than one race putting a noose around a member of another race and hanging them from a tree?
C’mon people. That should be a no-brainer. Who can legitimately argue that the perpetrators should be classified in the same diabolical category as pedophiles, rapists, and mass murderers?
But consider this. Two hundred anti-lynching bills were introduced to Congress between 1882 and 1986. That’s about two every year for a century. Not one passed. Law-makers resisted the measure even though records confirm more than 4,300 lynchings in U.S. history between 1882 and 1968.
Under the bill, lynching would be punishable by a sentence of up to life in prison. The measure would not preclude murder charges that can already be brought under existing law. Sen. Booker explained, “This bill would make lynching another crime on top of murder.”
Sixteen other senators, including Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont; Karen Gillibrand, a New York Democrat; and Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, have signed on as co-sponsors.
The bill also has the support of the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky. Fitting, that the support extends beyond the South. Contrary to popular belief, so did lynching murders – which occurred in all but four of the 50 United States of America. At least a dozen have been recorded since the year 2000.
Booker insists that the bill will right a wrong that should have been corrected long ago. McConnell claims he thought such a bill passed Congress during the Lyndon Baines Johnson administration in the mid-60s. The Congressional Black Caucus is pursuing a similar measure in the House.
But here is the dominant question. Where is the love? Where is the proliferation of ringing support for such an obvious need? Why is this effort not sweeping the nation? The media attention barely achieves a blip on the radar. Why doesn’t anyone seem to care?
Instead of a handful of legislators, there should be near unanimity among civilized, God-fearing democratic lawmakers con- fronted with defining punishment appropriate for such a heinous act. But then again the question is, how did similar measures fail 200 times in the Congress? How can this attempt be different?
Complicating matters is the fact that the racial climate in the U.S. is vitriolic. The current administration demands nothing less than contempt for people of color and the wave of white nationalism, fascism, Nazism, and subtler bigotry is palpable. Seldom has the national climate seemed less amen-able for racial progress.
But this is about lynching. Not integrating lunch counters. Not letting white and Black children sit in the classroom together. Not inviting African Americans to the front of the bus. Not voting or housing rights.
This is about snatching innocent Black folk from families to be tarred, feathered, hanged, castrated, dismembered, torched and dragged through the Black neighborhood. Lynching is the ultimate inhumanity. Even the most loathsome, ungodly bigots in Washington D.C. should be hard pressed to oppose.
But again, attempts at such measures have somehow failed a couple of hundred times in the past. That makes the new proposal a most puzzling quandary – one of those times when the painfully obvious appears at the same time to be virtually impossible.
Here’s the thing. Blacks have no fear in the deportation process but passionately denounce the separation of families and antipathy engulfing immigration. Blacks who disagree with the Muslim religion vehemently denounce xenophobia. African Americans who disagree with non-straight sexual culture defend LGBTQ humanity.
Maybe it is the perpetual struggle of African Americans over the past 400 years that makes it difficult to be indifferent to the trials and tribulations of others. That having been said, we do not see that empathy reciprocated and that is disturbing.
Dr. King taught us that it is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends that will confound us in the end. It is difficult not to ask where our White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, Jewish, Gay, Muslim and Middle Eastern American brothers and sisters are when we really need them?
That time is now.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].