A “lynching,” or “to lynch someone,” is an illegal killing by a group. So when a mob executes someone, that’s called a lynching, regardless of the method.
We often associate lynching with hanging, as that’s very common, but it’s not required. It’s also not technically required to be related to race, though that’s historically been very common as well.
Why I Looked It Up
On March 8, 2022, Congress passed The Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. I was curious how “lynching” was any different than just plain murder, which led to the definition above.
I looked up the act. It amends Title 18 (“Civil Rights”), Section 249 (“Hate Crime Acts”) of the United States Code.
Section 249(a) of title 18, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:
(5) LYNCHING. – Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.
(6) OTHER CONSPIRACIES. – Whoever conspires to commit any offense under paragraph (1), (2), or (3) shall, if death or serious bodily injury (as defined in section 2246 of this title) results from the offense, or if the offense includes kidnapping or an attempt to kidnap, aggravated sexual abuse or an attempt to commit aggravated sexual abuse, or an attempt to kill, be imprisoned for not more than 30 years, fined in accordance with this title, or both.
Paragraphs 1, 2, and 3 are –
- Offenses involving actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin.
- Offenses involving actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.
- Offenses occurring in the special maritime or territorial jurisdiction of the United States.
What’s odd is that the text never seems to formally define “lynching.” The only hint you have is the usage of the word “conspires.”
Also very odd is that my reading of this – and I know this has to be wrong – is that it actually reduces the penalties for lynching. If we assume that lynching means a death has occurred, the original text of paragraphs 1 and 2 already provide for this punishment in cases of death, kidnapping, and rape:
[The convicted] shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life, fined in accordance with this title, or both
The new bill appears to reduce that to 30 years?
If we don’t assume lynching means death, then it stiffens penalties from 10 years to 30 years, so maybe that’s it? Perhaps the law is just mean to apply to mob violence that results something that is categorized as a hate crime? Or perhaps it applies to people who “conspire” to commit a lynching, even if they don’t commit it themselves? But wouldn’t these people already be liable under existing conspiracy laws?
There’s a lot of posturing going on here. For example, on its passing, Democrat Chuck Schumer said this:
After more than 200 failed attempts to outlaw lynching, Congress is finally succeeding in taking a long overdue action by passing the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act. Hallelujah, it’s long overdue.
This seems a little silly, because clearly the illegality of lynching would fall under other statutes, whether it be murder, attempted murder, or assault. To imply that lynching wasn’t already “outlawed” is disingenuous.
I suspect the first person to be charged under this law will force it to be further defined by an appellate court.