Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal hate crime
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Senate passes bill to make lynching a federal hate crime

The Senate on Wednesday approved a bipartisan bill to make lynching a federal crime after nearly 200 failed attempts at passing similar legislation.

The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, introduced in June 2018, would make lynching a hate crime punishable by up to life in prison, according to the bill.

The effort was led by the chamber's three African-American senators, New Jersey Democratic Cory Booker, California Democratic Kamala Harris and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott.

Senator Kamala Harris and Senator Cory Booker look on during a markup hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 28, 2018.

"The crime of lynching succeeded slavery as the ultimate expression of racism in the United States following Reconstruction," according to the bill. "Lynching was a crime that occurred throughout the United States, with documented incidents in all but four states."

Congressional lawmakers introduced more than 200 anti-lynching bills during the first half of the 20th century, but none were successful, according to the bill's authors.

"This has been a long arc, a painful history and a shameful history in this body," Booker said on the Senate floor. "At the height of lynchings across this country affecting thousands of people, this body did not act to make that a federal crime."

A statue depicting chained people on display at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, a new memorial to honor thousands of people killed in racist lynchings, April 22, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala.

"At least now, the United States Senate has now acted," he added. "One hundred senators, no objections. I just want to give gratitude to this body for what we have just done."

It's unclear whether the House will act on the measure before the Christmas holiday this week.

Seven presidents petitioned Congress to end lynching between 1890 and 1952 amid repeated requests by civil rights groups including the NAACP, according to the legislation.

There were at least 4,743 lynchings in the United States between 1882 and 1968, and almost three-quarters of the victims were black, according to NAACP.

Alabama opened the country's first lynching victims' memorial, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in April. The memorial was the brainchild of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, which collected soil from thousands of lynching sites for an exhibit.

The group said it erected the site to help people confront the legacy of slavery, lynching and segregation.

"Our nation's history of racial injustice casts a shadow across the American landscape," said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative. "This shadow cannot be lifted until we shine the light of truth on the destructive violence that shaped our nation, traumatized people of color and compromised our commitment to the rule of law and to equal justice."