Hate crimes

The Federal 'Anti-Lynching' Bill Sacrifices Justice for Symbolism

In the name of fighting lynching, the bipartisan bill authorizes 10-year sentences for minor crimes like vandalism.


A few days ago, someone spray-painted "BHAZ" (for "Black House Autonomous Zone") on the pillars of St. John's Episcopal Church, the site of President Donald Trump's notorious June 1 photo op during protests against police brutality in Washington, D.C. Under the D.C. Code, that act of vandalism, assuming the damage costs less than $1,000, is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. But under an "anti-lynching" bill that is part of the police reform packages backed by House Democrats and Senate Republicans, the same act could qualify as a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) uses that example to illustrate the potential unintended consequences of the Justice for Victims of Lynching Act, a.k.a. the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, which covers any conspiracy to violate various federal civil rights laws. If more than one person was involved in the church graffiti—if one bought the spray paint and another wrote the letters, for example—that would amount to a conspiracy. And Paul notes that the church had earlier been targeted by arsonists who spray-painted "Matthew 19:24" and "God is still watching" on the building. That context, he argues, suggests that the church was targeted because of its religious character, which violates 18 USC 247, one of the provisions cited in the anti-lynching bill.

"Had the Emmett Till Antilynching Act been federal law, those who conspired to deface St. John's Church could be prosecuted for lynching and potentially lose their liberty for up to a decade," Paul wrote in a letter to his Senate colleagues yesterday. "Those who argue that the government will not prosecute such acts as a lynching are willfully blind to the flaws within our criminal justice system….We cannot fight injustice by passing laws that will create more injustice by equating vandalism with lynching."

If you think it is implausible that federal prosecutors would charge black protesters with lynching in a case like this, I have two words for you: Tiffany Harris. She is the black woman accused of slapping three Jewish women in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn last December, a series of assaults that the Justice Department charged as federal hate crimes under 18 USC 249, another provision mentioned in the anti-lynching bill. The decision to pile federal charges on top of the state charges that Harris already faced dramatically increased the maximum penalty and made it possible to punish her twice for the same conduct. That intervention was U.S. Attorney Richard Donoghue's attempt to make a statement about anti-Semitic attacks at a time when reports of such crimes were rising in New York City.

The constitutional rationale for the law under which Harris was charged, which applies to assaults committed "because of" the victim's "actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin," is that it serves to eliminate "the badges, incidents, and relics of slavery," a congressional power inferred from the 13th Amendment. In other words, Donoghue thinks prosecuting a black woman for slapping Jews in 2020 is authorized by the amendment that abolished slavery in 1865. Given such precedents, it is not hard to believe that, depending on the political incentives, a black vandal could be prosecuted for lynching under a law named after a black Mississippi teenager who was gruesomely murdered for purportedly flirting with a white woman in 1955.

Federal hate crime laws invite capricious, politically motivated prosecutions that have little to do with the facts of the case or justice for the offender. The anti-lynching bill, as currently written, would magnify that problem. Paul's solution is an amendment limiting the definition of lynching to cases involving "serious bodily injury," which fits the general understanding and historical meaning of the term and would prevent prosecutors from applying it to minor crimes such as vandalism.

Given that lynching, assault, and murder are already illegal under state and federal law, you may wonder, why is this bill necessary in the first place? The "findings" section offers no real explanation, except to say that the legislation "recognizes the history of lynching in the United States." I asked Paul whether that seems like a satisfactory justification for a new criminal law.

"Most criminal law should be adjudicated at the state level," Paul replied by email.  "Crimes that involve conspiracies can and have been abused, so care should be taken in crafting new conspiracy laws. If the national conscience requires a federal law to express its symbolic support for laws that already outlaw lynching, I will not stand in the way as long as the new law of conspiracy clearly defines lynching as murder or attempted murder or at the very least serious bodily harm or an attempt at serious bodily harm. I do not want anyone—black, white, or brown—to be given ten years in prison for slapping someone or painting graffiti on a church."

That seems like a reasonable position, especially if you agree with Paul that the criminal justice system is excessively and arbitrarily punitive—a problem of special concern to African Americans. Yet Paul has been pilloried for opposing the current version of the anti-lynching bill, which sacrifices the rights of criminal defendants for the sake of symbolism. "Does America need a win today on racial justice?" Sen. Cory Booker (D–N.J.) said in response to Paul's proposed amendment earlier this month. "Does the anguished cries of people in the streets? It may not cure the ills so many are protesting about, but God, it could be a sign of hope."

Far from a sign of hope, this bill is cause for despair about the legislative process. When Congress uses its power to create new criminal penalties, threatening people with longer prison sentences than would otherwise apply, it has a duty to exercise more thought and care than this legislation reflects.

NEXT: This Republican Senator Calls Three Black Men Peacefully Carrying Long Guns 'Mob Rule'

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71 responses to “The Federal 'Anti-Lynching' Bill Sacrifices Justice for Symbolism

  1. In his concurrence to Department of Homeland Security v. Thuraissigiam, handed down today, Justice Thomas describes respondent as an “unadmitted alien.” That’s a permutation of the term that I have heard before.

    1. that I hadn’t heard before*

      1. The euphemism treadmill is just going to spin faster and faster. As soon as they change it, it just takes one guy wearing a confederate flag t-shirt shouting “these goddamn undocumented immigrants is out rapin’ our babies” to make them have to workshop a new term.

        1. In all fairness, I think “unadmitted alien” would be an example of turning back the euphemism treadmill more than a little a bit. It certainly reflects the true situation more accurately than “undocumented immigrant.”

          1. Which is why it won’t be allowed to catch on.

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        2. Wake me when they called them ‘alienated tourists’

          1. Pre-citizens.

            1. pre-creditors.

          2. Well, a good number did arrive on tourist visas.

    2. I’m still digesting the 98-page opinion, but at first blush, I’m finding myself in the odd position of agreeing more with the dissent, authored by Justice Kagan, than with the majority, written by Alito. I’ll need to let it percolate a bit longer before I’m able to decide where I stand on the issue. It’s an interesting case.

      1. Where you stand is immaterial; the supremes have spoken.
        Now get on board.

    3. Unadmitted aliens – I am pretty sure David Icke has used this term before.

  2. “assuming the damage costs less than $1,000,”

    Just as a side note, you are dreaming if you think repairing the damage would cost less than $1,000. We’re not talking about hiring somebody to power wash your vinyl siding here. This is a job for a professional conservator, not some guy you find hanging out in the parking lot at Home Depot.

    1. Depends on existing finish but you are probably looking at more than $10,000. Even with vinyl siding you are probably going to have to replace the damaged siding.

      1. It is on the facade from the picture. Depending on what kind of stone, that might be a delicate job to not damage it.

    2. Hey man, if it only costs $1,360 to restore a priceless 19th century painting, I think $1,000 will be more than sufficient here.

    3. It would be funny as all hell though if the only reason it went over $1,000.00 was because of prevailing wage law.

  3. A few days ago, someone spray-painted “BHAZ” (for “Black House Autonomous Zone”) on the pillars of St. John’s Episcopal Church.

    Calling a yellow building a black house? I’d like to take this moment to cordially welcome our asian brothers and sisters to whiteness.

    1. The Harvard admissions office is years ahead of you.

    2. I know there are historically black Episcopalian churches, but realistically, what proportion of the denomination is actually black? Is it anywhere close to even five percent? Most high churches are about as lily white as it’s possible to be.

      1. Episcopalians are an offshoot of the Anglicans, with a lot of alignment with SJW politics. I’m guessing mostly white.

        AMEs (African Methodist Episcopal) are the black ones. They were never Anglican Episcopalian. AMEs were formed from a schism in the Methodist church.

      2. A clearly racist reply, based on outdated sterotypes.
        Percent that are 60 or older 55.9%
        Percent that are currently citizens of the United States 99.6%
        Percent that live in the South. 41.7%
        Percent female 52%
        Percent of Hispanic origin or descent 1.6%
        Percent that are white 90.3%
        Percent born in the United States 95.1%
        Percent that are currently married 60.3%
        Percent with a family income of less than $40,000 a year 20.2%
        Percent that have a B.A., B.S. or other 4-year college degree 68.6%
        (near as I can tell data from 2018)

        1. Just 1.6% Hispanic. I can’t say I’m surprised. It looks like more than 5% are black, though.

      3. was a bunch whiter 20 years ago before they let chicks be priests and half the flock ran screaming.

      4. I believe there are a good number of Anglicans in Africa.

  4. The usual reason, historically, for removing cases to the federal level, is partiality on the part of local and/or state law enforcement. When fighting the Klan, it was routine for local prosecutors to refuse to bring charges, under-charge, or throw the case.

    It isn’t irrelevant that we’re seeing the same thing now.

    That said, classifying vandalism as “lynching” does real violence to the language, and I’d oppose this measure on those grounds alone.

    1. What about vandalism of effigies strung up with garage door pull handles?

    2. True, but that supposes the only (or even best) role for the Feds is in duplicate charges instead of bring charges against the DA. Remember, including regulations, current federal law is uncountable.

      Not to mention the obvious race-baiting aspect to the law beyond Booker’s and Harris’s performances. Paul’s amendment was completely reasonable, clarifying the law while Booker seemed to trust the judiciary to apply the law appropriately (ha!).

      Paul had big ones to stand up to that, and continues to be one of the better voices in the senate.

      Kudos to him.

      1. yeah i felt bad for Paul, being completely reasonable and then getting buried under the deck of race cards Booker threw at him

    3. I can’t see where in the bill vandalism is defined as a form of lynching. In fact, despite the pages of rhetoric deploring the evils if lynching, I don’t see where lynching is defined in the bill. It probably just incorporates whatever definition us found in the Civil Rights Act, which I’m too lazy to look up.

  5. But under an “anti-lynching” bill that is part of the police reform packages backed by House Democrats and Senate Republicans, the same act could qualify as a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

    So the protests worked…

    1. It’s air tight. Not even the slightest chance that this is going to unjustly create political prisoners.

      1. I wouldn’t say that could never happen, but unless you’re counting anybody who commits a genuine crime for political reasons as a “political prisoner”, probably not.

        1. Political prisoner is admittedly the wrong term. However, creating extra laws that double up penalties for the perpetrators (and the occasional innocent person) so that Congress critters can win political points with their constituencies is one of the reasons that jail sentences so ridiculously out of hand in the first place. Is there a term for people who are being wrongly punished or overly punished so that politicians look good?

  6. Little-known FACT below!

    In the name of fighting lynching, the bipartisan bill ALSO authorizes 30-year sentences for MAJOR crimes like BLOWING ON A CHEAP PLASTIC FLUTE without proper permission!

    So, in these here days of MORTAL DANGER, please BEWARE of the Flute Police, dammit! Fer yer own good!!!

    To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ … This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

    1. Why the obsession with cheap plastic flutes?

      We’re you abused with one?

      1. Actually, in all seriousness, it is just a symbolic item I have picked. About 10 years ago, it pissed me off that this item is highly symbolic of how the FDA treats us all like utter babies! I went on a letter-to-the-editors, letters-to-politicians, etc., spree, thinking that SURELY this is SOOO absurd, that I could get it fixed! I made not ONE tiny dent in “the machine”! I am not a big-wig, nor do I have gabillions in campaign bribes to make! So NO ONE (who matters, excluding us peons of course) gives ONE single tiny little shit, just HOW MUCH the FDA can treat us like babies! “Lung flute” in just ONE item! See “Ear Popper” as well! If you invented a new type of “ass scratcher”, the FDA would require a prescription for that “ass well”! Because ANYTHING new that is vaguely “medical” is too dangerous for us babies to be trusted with, on our own!

        http://www.churchofsqrls.com/ for details… Since I could ***NOT*** get ANY politicians to give ONE single real hoot, about us all being turned into babies by the FDA, I put up a web site to rant and rave! So here we are today!

        This is just ONE tiny example of how Government Almighty has enslaved us, is the short version! Wake the fuck up, USA!

        1. So you’re mad that someone didnt’ listen to your inane ramblings 10 years ago, so you ramble even more. Makes sense.

          1. JesseSPAZ not only LOVES to suck the dick of Der TrumpfenFuhrer, but, above and beyond that, like a GOOD lover of authoritarianism, he LOVES to be treated like a baby, and have to get PERMISSION to blow on a cheap plastic flute! Are you a toady for the FDA as well, slaver?

            HOW do you live with yourself, defending the utterly, pathetically indefensible? Do you want to burn and gas the untermenschen as well? No, don’t answer that, we already KNOW that you are a power pig AND a self-righteousness prig!

        2. OK, SQRLSY, thanks for the explanation.

          It seems to me that repeating it here day after day, month after month is not very constructive and allows others to write off your other comments.

          I don’t often agree with many here, but I appreciate thoughtful, succinct, informative observations that make me think.

  7. But I’m sure the common wisdom will be that if you oppose the bill, you support lynching.
    Isn’t Lynching already illegal under murder and kidnapping laws? And not really a problem anymore?

    So a purely symbolic action that just happens to make some minor crimes into major ones.

    1. All part of defunding the police – – – – – – – –

    2. Symbolic politics is the only kind that anyone is interested in anymore. It also reeks of the same morally righteous bullshit that created the prison industrial complex in the first place. Paint certain groups of people with a broad brush, declare them all evil and determine that there’s no punishment too harsh for them. Create all sorts of political prisoners numbering in the tens to hundreds of thousands, all so politicians can have a symbolic bill to their name so they can say they’re tough on something for the next re-election campaign.

      We’ve learned absolutely nothing.

    3. So is taking thousands of people hostage, but look at CHAZ. Sometimes the local authorities want people to get away with these sorts of crimes.

  8. Is it me is this nothing but a poorly thought out cynical law created to capitalize on a systemic racism lie?

    Also. So. All these ‘peaceful protestors’ vandalizing stuff….it would 10 years for them if caught? Assuming of course law enforcement, you know, enforce the law.

    What a sick mess American justice finds itself in. And we haven’t mentioned the Flynn travesty.

    1. No, those crimes are done. No ex post facto laws.

    2. “What a sick mess American justice finds itself in.”

      Glad to be in Montreal, Rufus?

  9. Is lynching a problem nowdays? I haven’t heard of any.

    Larding up this proposed bill with things that clearly are not lynchings is expected and reprehensible.

    1. “expected and reprehensible.” would be a good subtitle for a modern civics course textbook.

    2. No. It isn’t.

      There hasn’t been a legit lynching in 40 years. And although each lynching is tragic, it was never even a huge problem in our entire history. Since 1882 less than 5k people of all races and ethnicities have been lynched in one form or another. More black people will die this decade being shot by other blacks than died in the entire history of lynching. The heyday of lynching was over 130 years ago in the 1890s. It’s also not specifically a race-based thing. Over 1/3 of those lynched in total were white on white lynchings. Though there are no records documenting pre-bellum lynchings (and they’re not counted in any statistical analyses of lynchings), it’s reported that the vast majority were of whites.

      This is all virtue signaling.

      1. The purpose of lynching wasn’t just to kill people. It was to terrorize people. And it seems to have done that rather well.

        That said, I agree with your larger point that it seems to have receded into history. Even if it is purely symbolic, I wouldn’t be opposed to an anti-lynching bill that criminalized actual lynching.

    3. How dare you downplay so many people’s lived experience.

  10. So the Congress responds to situation developed from arguably overly harsh laws by making a harsh law, because they do not know how to do anything else.

    Is lynching a problem we actually have in 2020? This manipulation of language to get approval of things that should not be by giving them names that make it hard to against is a corrupt practice.

    I hope you are suggesting that we should not really have hate crime laws, not that black people should not be subject to hate crime laws.

    1. I’m not seeing where this problem developed from overly harsh laws, unless you’re talking a fairly long chain of causation, and even then only partially responsible.

      What we’re looking at here is a communist insurgency using an unfortunate crime by a police officer, in the context of lockdown induced tensions, to try to kickstart a communist revolution. It’s not going to work, they’ve got too few supporters, but it’s going to be a long, bloody slog before they’re put down, and keeping this from happening again is going to take some major reforms of our educational institutions which aren’t going to be easy to pull off.

      1. Overly harsh because we have made so many offenses felonies on the front end that we have talked ourselves into dumbing down what a felony means on the back end because we do not like the consequences of having so many felons.

  11. The DemonRats can pass whatever bill or act that they like… Wherever it is repugnant to the constitution, it is automatically null & void, ab initio. That’s all there is to it. My unalienable rights are not abrogated by any statutory process of the criminal BAR Association.
    Anyone attempting to arrest me on such false grounds is exceeding their jurisdiction, acting outside their authority and subject to whatever defense I decide is needed to provide for MY safety.

  12. Members of Congress, otherwise known as ass-kissing, mob-pandering attention whores who would sell their mothers for a modest campaign donation (but can’t stay bought themselves).

    Perhaps this is really a condemnation of what democracy has evolved into in the US. Or a reflection of what the People deserve.

    1. In a way you’re correct, this is what a democracy will always devolve into & always has. That is why this nation was founded as a constitutional republic, not a democracy.
      Democracy is the lies of the BAR Association trying to usurp our constitutional rights & republic with mob rule.
      It’s time to cut out the tumors.

      1. Convincing most Americans that we’re a Democracy and not a Constitutional Republic was one of the early victories of the progressives.

        1. We lost that one, and also lost the idea that the real federal power was in congress, or at least shared. The same easily manipulated simple thinking about governance also prefers a single Great Leader. My own speculation is that as the desire for a Great Leader increased, the election of Trump was double-plus bad since it turned a progressive dream into a nightmare.

  13. Under the D.C. Code, that act of vandalism, assuming the damage costs less than $1,000, is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and up to six months in jail. But under an “anti-lynching” bill that is part of the police reform packages backed by House Democrats and Senate Republicans, the same act could qualify as a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

    How about a compromise? Call it a civil infraction, punishable by whatever it costs the guilty party to implement a complete restoration.

    1. Excuse me. You want the federal government to pass another unconstitutional law?

  14. It’s the thought that counts.

    1. Hate crimes ARE thought crimes.

      1. Wait, I heard that thought crimes are hate crimes.

        1. I hate the thought of that.

      2. There is no such thing as thought crime in a civilized society.

  15. “In other words, Donoghue thinks prosecuting a black woman for slapping Jews in 2020 is authorized by the amendment that abolished slavery in 1865.”

    It’s enough to make me cry, but Cory Booker was crying for the wrong reason.

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