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President Biden Signs Emmett Till Antilynching Act into Law

WASHINGTON -

Today, President Joseph Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, legislation which finally declares lynching a federal hate crime. The legislation is named in honor of Emmett Till, a young Black teenager who was kidnapped and brutally tortured, all for allegedly whistling at a white woman. Yet, while Emmett was murdered by white supremacists in 1955, acts of racist violence continue to tear across America today. According to the most recent FBI data, reported hate crimes hit a two-decade high in 2020. Black people continue to be the most common victims of hate crimes. 

Emmett was just fourteen and a mere five foot four inches tall when he was killed. After Emmett’s murder, his mother, Mamie Till Mobley, made the decision to hold an open-casket funeral, leaving her son’s brutalized body visible to the thousands who gathered to pay their respects. The images of Emmett’s mangled body and a mother’s raw grief galvanized the country and served as a turning point in the Civil Rights movement.

“Today is truly a historic moment,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “Our country has deep racial wounds and this legislation is the first step in addressing them. Congress has tried and failed for decades to make lynching a federal hate crime. It is high time our country has legislation on the books recognizing the unique nature of lynching as a horrific crime that sends a chilling message to entire communities. Now, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act sends an important message of its own—that those who engage in racist violence will be held fully accountable.”

“I applaud President Biden for acting swiftly and signing this critical legislation into law,” said Ollie Gordon, a cousin of Emmett Till and president of the Mamie Till Mobley Memorial Foundation. “While passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act does not bring back Emmett or the countless other Black people lynched, it is heartening to have legislation recognizing the nature of the hateful activity that took Emmett’s and others’ lives for those of us who have lost loved ones to racist violence.”

The Lawyers’ Committee has been one of the leading organizations calling for passage of federal antilynching legislation, which builds upon the Matthew Shepard James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act to offer new tools to federal prosecutors addressing racist hate.  Through its James Byrd Jr. Center to Stop Hate, the Lawyers’ Committee, supports communities and individuals targeted for hate and challenges white supremacy by using creative legal advocacy, disrupting systems that enable hate, and educating the general public and policy makers.

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The Lawyers’ Committee is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to enlist the private bar’s leadership and resources in combating racial discrimination and the resulting inequality of opportunity – work that continues to be vital today.

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