How Rand Paul blocked the Emmett Till anti-lynching bill while nation mourned George Floyd
Rep. Bobby Rush, in an Axios interview, said Paul wanted to do more than modify the measure — he was “trying to gut the bill.”
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., has been trying to pass a federal anti-lynching bill named after Emmett Till and now it’s suddenly in limbo, because in an outrageous move, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. blocked the Senate version of the measure Thursday.
Paul’s legislative chop came as a memorial service for George Floyd was being held in Minneapolis. Floyd, an African American, died after Derek Chauvin, a white police officer, brutally pinned him down with his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
In 1955, Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago’s South Side visiting Mississippi, was kidnapped and savagely murdered by white men.
Till’s mother insisted on an open casket at his funeral at the Roberts Temple Church of God in Christ, 4021 S. State St., so the world could see his mutilated body and witness the deadly results of race-based violence.
That’s what it took to be believed in the era before ubiquitous video. Till’s original casket is on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington.
Rush’s 2018 anti-lynching bill – his first – went nowhere in the GOP controlled House.
Meanwhile, on the Senate side, the three African Americans — Kamala Harris, of California, and Cory Booker, of New Jersey, both Democrats, with Republican Tim Scott, of South Carolina, won approval of similar anti-lynching legislation on Feb. 14, 2019 — with Paul not raising any public objection.
Once the Democrats took the House, Rush’s second try, this time in a bill named the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act, passed on a 410-4 bipartisan roll call on Feb. 26.
In a compromise, Rush’s House bill adopted the less tough Senate language but kept Till’s name on the legislation, which meant the Senate had to vote on it again in order to make the title change.
Approval this week should have been a mere formality, since it was basically the Senate bill approved in 2019 revised to name after Till.
Any senator can block legislation — and that’s what Paul did Thursday, since the bill was still in play. He said he takes lynching seriously, calling it a “tool of terror” but didn’t agree with its approach.
“This bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion,” Paul said from the Senate floor. “Our nation’s history of racial terrorism demands more seriousness from us than that.”
Harris delivered a strong rebuke to Paul’s move in her Senate speech.
“The idea that we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult, an insult to Senator Booker, to Senator 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.
“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 and reduced and displayed to someone else is ridiculous.”
Referring to the 2019 Senate passage, Harris said, Paul “is now trying to weaken a bill that was already passed. There’s no reason for this. There is no reason for this. Paul’s amendment would place a greater burden on victims of lynching than is currently required under federal hate crimes for this. There is no reason for this.
“There is no reason other than cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning,” Harris said, noting that Floyd’s memorial service was taking place “on this very day, at this very hour.”
Since the founding of this country, Harris said, “Black lives have not been taken seriously as being fully human and deserving of dignity. And it should not require a maiming or torture in order for us to recognize a lynching when we see it and recognize it by federal law.”
Rush, in an Axios interview, said Paul wanted to do more than modify the measure — he was “trying to gut the bill.” Rush noted that he had already made a deal with his compromise, to back the Senate version of the anti-lynching bill.
If the GOP run-Senate can’t outmaneuver Paul, then the Till measure will remain in limbo. Said Rush, Paul “is acting as a scoundrel here,” [standing] in the pathway, standing in the doorway of passing a federal anti-lynching bill.”