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Biden's social reforms. In the US, lynching becomes a federal crime

Biden's social reforms. In the US, lynching becomes a federal crime

By Federico Pani

US President Biden has signed a bill making lynching a federal crime, stating that these crimes are not just a "relic" of a bygone era but still a real threat to American society.

The lynching: a plague that has its roots in the past

At the signing ceremony of the H.R. 55, or the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, President Joe Biden was not inclined to describe the history of racist violence of  which Black American people have been victims. “Terror not only in the dark of the night but in broad daylight”, these were the words of the Head of the White House in recalling one of the saddest pages in American history.

The bill is named after a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago who was brutally murdered in 1955 by a group of white men in Mississippi after paying compliments to a white woman. His murder sparked a wave of nationwide outrage and was a catalyst for the emerging civil rights movement.

In the course of American history, lynching took on the connotations of a veritable terrorist tactic against black Americans, especially in the racially segregated south. Tuskegee University, which collects and archives the lynchings records, believes that nearly 3,500 of the 4,743 people who ended up lynched since 1882 were black. But racial hatred is still "a persistent problem," Biden pointed out. For more than a century, supporters have been trying to get federal anti-lynching legislation passed: Illinois Representative Bobby Rush, who introduced the bill, unsuccessfully attempted a similar operation in 2019 but the project was later blocked. from the republican filibusters. 

Till Emmett: His memory still speaks loudly to American society

Till Emmett's cousin, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr, said the passing of the law "shows Emmet still speaks powerfully to make sure no one can get away with it."

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Urban League also enthusiastically welcomed the signing of the law and words of praise were addressed to "Congress and President Biden" for approving the "long overdue" bill and having it then converted into law ”and for sending a clear message that the US government is committed to punishing this heinous and brutal form of violence.

In fact, the bill allows any conspiracy and hate crime that causes death or serious personal injury to be prosecuted as lynching and establishes a maximum penalty of thirty years' imprisonment and the imposition of sanctions.

Till's death had the catalytic effect, drawing the attention of American public opinion to the atrocities and violence that African Americans were forced to face in the United States, thus becoming a rallying cry for the affirmation of civil rights. . Through the bill, the White House will now seek to close one of the darkest pages of American history, towards what it has termed "unfinished business" and "horrors". However, the "acts of daily terror", as Vice President Kamala Harris defined them, represent a real social scourge, as evidenced also by the numbers released by the FBI that certify the increase in hate crimes against black victims or victims asian.

During his speech, the Head of the White House referred to Bryan Stevenson author of the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, the first American site dedicated to the memory of widespread terror through lynching practices: the extensive research of Stevenson unearthed how between 1887 and 1950, more than 4,400 blacks lost their lives after being lynched.

The race for the affirmation of social rights, stories and faces of a race still to be won

Lynching can be fully defined as a cancer, a disease, which for decades has tried to make Americans put their heads in the sand, indoctrinating them on the fact that equality of rights between all men was not guaranteed in their land; disseminating their path with lies to undermine hard-won civil rights; days of terror, as Biden called them, not just in the dark of night but in broad daylight. People trying to cast their vote; they tried to go to school; own a business or preach the gospel. False allegations of murder, arson and robbery. Labeled and discriminated by the color of their skin, simply by being black.

The mangled body of Emmett Till, after being found in a river with barbed wire tied around his neck, was at the behest of his mother exposed with an open coffin so that America could see the mangled remains of their son. A real martyrdom that exactly 100 days later pushed Rosa Parks, stopped on a bus in Montgomery, to say shortly after her arrest: "I thought of Emmet Till", she exclaimed, "I could not go back".

A few years later, in 1963, President John F. Kennedy urged the nation to act to ensure equal treatment for every American, regardless of race, by proposing that Congress consider civil rights legislation; in August of the same year in front of 250,000 people in a 17-minute speech the Reverend Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a dream” calling for an end to racial segregation.

The tragic death of JFK in Dallas in November of the same year did not block the project, but rather gave it further impetus also thanks to Kennedy's successor, Lyndon B. Johnson: the law on civil rights, the Civil Rights Act (1964) it prohibited discrimination in public places, provided for integration into schools and made discrimination in the workplace illegal; in April 1968, Johnson's action paved the way for equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed and origin.

But it was 1965 that changed the history of civil rights in the United States: on March 7 of that year, in fact, during a peaceful march demanding the right to vote for all African Americans, which started from the city of Selma to arrive in Montgomery, in Alabama, about six hundred protesters were charged by the police as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge: the images of the clashes went around the world and convinced Johnson to enact the Voting rights act, the law on the right to vote for blacks. Fifty years later it was President Barack Obama who actually paid homage to that bridge, which has become a symbolic place for the conquest of civil rights in the United States: "The march is not over yet", said Obama, in one of the most dense speeches of meaning of his experience in the White House: "A common mistake is to think that racism has been defeated."

Biden is trying to take a change of pace and Rosa Parks' words are addressed to an America that is still seething with anger over the murder of George Floyd, the African American killed by a police officer in Minneapolis on the 25th. May 2020.

The fight against racism is still a very long battle for the United States to win, but Biden's move could stir the conscience of Americans. "One day fear knocked on the door," said Luther King, "Courage went to open it and found no one." The winning move to defeat racism could be the courage of the Americans, bearing in mind the words of JFK: "Don't ask what your country can do for you", but "ask what you can do for your country".

Translated by Veronica Luzzi 


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  • L'Autore

    Federico Pani

    Di Cagliari, laureato in relazioni internazionali ed appassionato alle tematiche statunitensi.

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