As George Floyd’s family laid his body to rest at his funeral and protests across the nation called out for racial justice, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) singlehandedly blocked the passage of a bill that would finally declare lynching a federal crime.
In a floor speech, Paul claimed the Emmett Till Antilynching Act — which was introduced in the House by Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), a former Black Panther, and which had already passed in the House by a wide margin with Republican support — does not “take lynching seriously,” an argument Sen. Kamala Harris would later call “ridiculous.” Paul went on to claim that the bill defines lynching “so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion” and offered an amendment that would only deem an act as a lynching if it caused “serious bodily injury resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain.”
Harris, who introduced the bill in the Senate with the two other Black senators, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), delivered an impassioned speech in response to Paul. “That we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult, an insult to Sen. Booker, an insult to Sen. Tim Scott and myself, and all of the senators past and present who have understood this is part of the great stain of America’s history,” she said.
Harris continued, her voice shaking with anger, “To suggest that anything short of pulverizing someone so much that the casket would otherwise be closed except for the heroism and courage of Emmett Till’s mother; to suggest that lynching would only be a lynching if someone’s heart was pulled out, reduced and displayed to someone else is ridiculous.”
She went on to point out that Paul’s amendment “would place a greater burden on victims of lynching than is currently required under federal hate crimes laws.”
Sen. Booker also stood up to Paul in a passionate speech on the floor. “I’m so raw today,” Booker said. “Of all days we are doing this. Of all days we are doing this right now.”
He continued, “I do not need my colleague, the senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one more lynching in this country. I have stood in the museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and watched African American families weeping at the stories of pregnant women lynched in this country and their babies ripped out of them while this body did nothing.”
Booker concluded, “I object to this amendment. I object, I object. I object on substance, I object on the law, and for my heart and spirit and every fiber of my being, I object for my ancestors.”
Although nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced into Congress before 1950, when lynching was at its peak, Congress has not yet made lynching a federal crime. With his actions today, Paul made himself the sole obstacle preventing history from being made.
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