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Congress Passes Historic Anti-Lynching Legislation

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) called lynchings racially-motivated acts of violence and terror that represent a dark and despicable chapter of our nation’s history. “They were acts against people who should have received justice but did not. With this bill, we can change that by explicitly criminalizing lynching under federal law,” noted Harris, who suspended her presidential campaign late last year.

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"Lynching was a brutal, violent, and often savage public spectacle. They were advertised in newspapers, memorialized in postcards, and souvenirs were made from the victims' remains," members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote in a statement. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Sixty-five years after the horrific lynching of teenager Emmett Till, the U.S. House of Representatives have finally passed H.R. 35, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act.

The legislation would make lynching a crime under federal law.

“Today, under the leadership of Representative Bobby Rush (IL-01), and three other Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), the House of Representatives finally passed legislation to address the heinous act of lynching by making it a federal crime. The first bill to outlaw lynching was introduced in 1900,” members of the Congressional Black Caucus wrote in a statement.

“Lynching was a brutal, violent, and often savage public spectacle. They were advertised in newspapers, memorialized in postcards, and souvenirs were made from the victims’ remains,” the CBC, which is chaired by Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif), added.

A 1930 editorial in Raleigh News and Observer noted the delight of the audience witnessing a lynching as “Men joked loudly at the sight of the bleeding body; girls giggled as the flies fed on the blood that dripped from the Negro’s nose.”

“Make no mistake: lynching is domestic terrorism. It is a tool that was used during the 256 years of slavery to terrorize enslaved African Americans and discourage them from rebelling,” Bass said.

“It was used for almost 100 years after the end of slavery to terrorize free African Americans and discourage them from exercising their rights as citizens. Even today, we hear reports of nooses being left on college campuses and workplaces to threaten and harass Black people,” she stated.

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Tim Scott (R-SC) applauded the passage of the bill, which is identical to anti-lynching legislation the three introduced in the Senate last year.

That legislation unanimously passed the Senate.

“Today brings us one step closer to finally reconciling a dark chapter in our nation’s history,” Booker stated in a release. “Lynchings were used to terrorize, marginalize, and oppress black communities – to kill human beings to sow fear and keep black communities in a perpetual state of racial subjugation.”

He continued:

“If we do not reckon with this dark past, we cannot move forward. But today we are moving forward. Thanks to the leadership of Rep. Rush, the House has sent a clear, indisputable message that lynching will not be tolerated. It has brought us closer to reckoning with our nation’s history of racialized violence. Now the Senate must again pass this bill to ensure that it finally becomes law.”

Harris called lynchings racially-motivated acts of violence and terror that represent a dark and despicable chapter of our nation’s history.

“They were acts against people who should have received justice but did not. With this bill, we can change that by explicitly criminalizing lynching under federal law,” noted Harris, who suspended her presidential campaign late last year.

“I applaud Congressman Rush and the House of Representatives for speaking the truth about our past and making it clear that these acts must never happen again without serious and swift consequence and accountability. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to support this bill’s passage,” she said.

Scott added that it’s essential to show that hate will not win while Rush compared lynching to the French use of the guillotine, the Roman Empire’s use of crucifixion, and the British use of drawing and quartering as a tool of terrorism.

“And, for too long now, a federal law against lynching has remained conspicuously silent,” Rush noted. “Today, we will send a strong message that violence – and race-based violence, in particular – has no place in American society. I am immensely grateful to Senators Harris, Booker, and Scott for working with my office on this landmark piece of legislation, and I look forward to it being quickly passed in the Senate and immediately sent to the President to be signed into law.”

Bass said the last known lynching was as recent as 25 years ago and only then, for the first time in the nation’s history, was the perpetrator convicted and executed. “This is an awful part of our history, but it is our history – our American history – and it is important for us to all know and remember it, especially now that we are facing a resurgence of hate crimes in America under the presidency of Donald J. Trump,” Bass stated.

“Now there is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice to document the known history of lynching and the many reasons why Black people were lynched, such as for making eye contact with a white person, not moving to the other side of the street, or spitting in public,” she said.

Further, Bass added that the bill makes “a long-overdue change to our laws by finally addressing the issue of lynching for the thousands of African Americans who suffered this heinous fate and the countless more we’ll never know.”

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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