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U.S. Sen. Tim Scott joins two Senate Democrats to make lynching a federal crime

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U.S. Tim Scott (copy) (copy)

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, along with the Senate's two other black members, filed legislation Friday to make the Senate's two other black members Friday to file legislation to make lynching a federal crime. File/Brad Nettles/Staff

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott teamed up with the Senate's two other black members Friday to file legislation to make lynching a federal crime — a measure that has repeatedly failed in Congress for more than a century.

Scott, R-S.C., joined Democratic Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris in sponsoring the bill, saying it is time to outlaw an act at the federal level that terrorized blacks in the South for much of the 20th century.

"This measure is certainly well past due and I am glad to be able to join in efforts that will underscore the severity of this crime,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office.

“This piece of legislation sends a message that together, as a nation, we condemn the actions of those that try to divide us with violence and hate,” he said. 

Scott was not available for additional comment Friday, a spokesman said.

Harris of California and Booker of New Jersey are both potential presidential candidates in 2020.

The three lawmakers defined lynching as the "willful act of murder by a collection of people assembled with the intention of committing an act of violence upon any person."

More than 4,000 such acts were reported in the U.S. this past century and during the Reconstruction times post-Civil War. While some states today may address lynching as a crime, the senators' Justice for Victims of Lynching Act of 2018 would specify lynching as a federal crime in itself that would warrant enhanced sentencing under existing hate crime codes.

Efforts to pass similar legislation failed nearly 200 times between 1882 and 1986, Harris, in a press announcement, said her count showed. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, was asked recently if he would support an anti-lynching law and appeared surprised Congress hadn't already passed one, The Hill news site reported.

"Gosh, I thought we did that many years ago. ... Honestly, I hadn't thought about it. I thought that was done back during LBJ or some period like that. But if we need one at the federal level, I certainly would support it," he said.

Booker said the bill "will right historical wrongs by acknowledging our country’s stained past and codifying into law our commitment to abolishing this shameful practice."

The historical stain of lynching returned to the forefront earlier this spring when a museum dedicated to exposing the violent act opened in Montgomery, Ala. The new National Memorial for Peace and Justice contains 800 brown rectangular slabs inscribed with the names of more than 4,000 people murdered in lynchings between 1877 and 1950.

The memorial and an accompanying museum are efforts of the nonprofit Equal Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group in Montgomery. The organization says the two sites are the nation’s first “comprehensive memorial dedicated to racial terror lynchings of African-Americans and the legacy of slavery and racial inequality in America,” The Associated Press reported.

Each column represents one of the 800 U.S. counties where researchers uncovered lynchings. Most of the roughly 4,400 killings happened against black victims in the South, but states coast-to-coast are represented.

South Carolina's reported lynching numbers were not available Friday but are believed to be in the several hundreds, depending on the reporting source.

Michael Moore, president and CEO of the International African American Museum planned for Charleston, on Friday commended the three lawmakers for offering the bill, saying the risk of lynching is still present.

"Unfortunately it still occurs," he said, adding that past uses were as a "tool of terror" designed to suppress voting or "keep people in their place."

The history of lynching will be a part of the Charleston museum, he said.

The Senate bill is companion legislation to a bill introduced last week in the House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Georgia, and 36 members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia.

The NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League and the Equal Justice Initiative all threw their support behind the measure.

Political Editor

Schuyler Kropf is The Post and Courier political editor. He has covered every major political race in South Carolina dating to 1988, including for U.S. Senate, governorship, the Statehouse and Republican and Democratic presidential primaries.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.

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