June 04, 2020

Harris Rejects Attempt To Water Down Her Historic Anti-Lynching Legislation

Full Video of Harris’ Remarks

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Thursday objected to Senator Rand Paul’s (R-KY) attempt to undermine anti-lynching legislation by severely limiting what is considered a lynching. Harris explained the effort is as an insult to all current and former Black legislators who have worked tirelessly to make lynching a federal crime for 120 years.

In 2018, Harris, along with Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Tim Scott (R-SC), led the Senate’s passage of anti-lynching legislation— the first time in American history that federal anti-lynching legislation had passed the Senate. The senators’ anti-lynching legislation passed the Senate again last year. 

Key Excerpts:

  • The idea that we would not be taking this 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 a part of the great stain of America’s history. To suggest that anything short of pulverizing someone so much that the casket would otherwise be closed except for the heroism and courage of Emmitt Till’s mother. To suggest that lynching would only be a lynching if someone’s heart was pulled out and produced and displayed to someone else is ridiculous.
  • Senator Paul’s amendment would place a greater burden on victims of lynching than is currently required under federal hate crime laws. There is no reason for this. There is no reason other than cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning.
  • On this very day, at this very hour, there is a memorial service to honor the life of George Floyd, who was murdered on a sidewalk by a police officer with a knee on his neck. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, George Floyd pleaded for his life, called for his late mother, and said he could not breathe.
  • So, it is remarkable and it is painful to be standing here right now, especially, when people of all races are marching in the streets of America outraged about the hate, and the violence, and the murder that has been fueled by racism during the span of this country’s life.
  • Our country has waited too long for a reckoning on this issue of lynching. And I believe no senator should stop the full weight of the law in its capacity to protect these human beings and human life.

A full transcript of Harris’ remarks are available here: 

HARRIS: The idea that we would not be taking this 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 a part of the great stain of America’s history. To suggest that anything short of pulverizing someone so much that the casket would otherwise be closed except for the heroism and courage of Emmitt Till’s mother. To suggest that lynching would only be a lynching if someone’s heart was pulled out and produced and displayed to someone else is ridiculous.

And on this day, the day of George Floyd’s funeral, on this day, a day that should be a day of national mourning.

Mr. President, in 2018, the Senate unanimously passed bipartisan anti-lynching legislation, which I proudly introduced with the only other Black members of this body, Senator Cory Booker and Senator Tim Scott.

It was a historic moment, it marked the first time in the history of our country that federal anti-lynching legislation had been passed by the United States Senate. It passed again by unanimous consent in 2019.

Senator Paul is now trying to weaken a bill that was already passed. There’s no reason for this. There’s no reason for this.

Senator Paul’s amendment would place a greater burden on victims of lynching than is currently required under federal hate crime laws. There is no reason for this. There is no reason other than cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning.

On this very day, at this very hour, there is a memorial service to honor the life of George Floyd, who was murdered on a sidewalk by a police officer with a knee on his neck. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, George Floyd pleaded for his life, called for his late mother, and said he could not breathe.

The pain experienced not only by that man, that human being, and his family and his children, but the pain of the people of America witnessing what we have witnessed since the founding of this country, which is that 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, and call it what it is, which is that it is a crime should be punishable with accountability and consequence.

So, it is remarkable and it is painful to be standing here right now, especially, when people of all races are marching in the streets of America outraged about the hate, and the violence, and the murder that has been fueled by racism during the span of this country’s life.

And America is raw right now. Her wounds exposed.

Raw from the fact that in the history of our country Black people have been treated as less than human.

I stood here with Senator Booker when we first proposed this lynching law. And we talk about the pain and the history of the pain of this issue in America. And the fact is that the country is raw because America has never fully addressed the historic and systemic racism that has existed in our country.

And our bill in its current form is an opportunity, it’s an opportunity for this body to acknowledge seriousness of this. To acknowledge that if someone places a noose over someone else's neck, why would you require that in addition their heart would be pulled out? Or their body pulverized to the point beyond recognition?

Our bill is an opportunity to right a wrong. And an opportunity for a reckoning in federal law. And we cannot pretend that lynching’s are a thing of the past. Ahmaud Arbery was a victim of a modern-day lynching. He was murdered on February 23, 2020, just three months ago. Today, we learned that someone heard one of the men who killed Mr. Arbery used a racial slur after shooting him. He should still be alive today. And his killers should be brought to justice.

No longer should the crime of lynching go unpunished. No longer should victims and their families go without justice.

And in closing, Ida B. Wells, Ida B. Wells once said, “Our country’s national crime is lynching. It is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It represents the cool, calculated deliberation of intelligent people who openly avow that there is an ‘unwritten law’ that justifies them in putting human beings to death without complaint under oath, without trial by jury, without opportunity to make a defense, and without right of appeal.”

Our country has waited too long for a reckoning on this issue of lynching. And I believe no senator should stop the full weight of the law in its capacity to protect these human beings and human life.

Senator Booker and I are working on a comprehensive bill to address this hurt and the tragedy at the heart of this national day of mourning.

And I object to Senator Paul’s efforts to weaken our legislation.

I yield the floor.

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