Members Only | May 12, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Will the new anti-lynching law stop cops from lynching Black people? Don’t count on it

Police are the greatest source of anti-Black violence.

President Biden signs the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act.
President Biden signs the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act.

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Though it took more than a century as well as countless lives lost to white supremacy, the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act is now US law.

It has been widely hailed as an important piece of symbolism. 

Considering America’s longstanding love affair with lynching, however, which continues to this day, symbolism is the most we can take away.

While it’s good that those terrorists of lynching now potentially face another layer of punishment, it’s too little too late. Why? 

Because the new law does not deal with a core problem: police.

White men in uniform lynch the most.

They are also most likely to get away with it.

It’s tempting to get all starry-eyed about the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act. The long history of racial oppression and its modern ramifications in America, however, do not permit such a luxury.

One hundred years ago, the police and white vigilantes worked in tandem to murder Black people. In the 1950s, the police and white vigilantes conspired together to kill Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black child.  

In 2022, we might ask, what has actually changed?

It might be tempting to get all starry-eyed about America’s new anti-lynching law. The long history of racial oppression and its modern ramifications in America, however, do not permit such a luxury.

Things are too dangerous for Black people.

Racial bias among police is well documented. Police continue to terrorize Black America, knowing what the right thing to do is. They refuse to follow laws that should already ensure that being Black in America at the wrong time and place is not a death sentence.

Days ago, a video was released of an incident in 2021. It shows the shooting and execution of an unarmed Black man named Quadry Sanders at the hands of police in Lawton, Okla. 

What preceded the incident does not matter. Sanders was unarmed. After being shot, while lying on the floor, when asked to “raise his hands,” he does so from a near fetal position. 

He’s already dying. 

Again, the cops shoot him. 

All of these videos are awful, but the shooting of Sanders is especially stomach churning. The moment he’s asked to raise his hands while on the floor riddled with bullets, dutifully complying, only to be shot several more times, sums up everything wrong with anti-Black policing. 

Comply, don’t comply, carry a gun or don’t carry a gun, asleep in your home or out with your kids – if you’re Black in America, the hunt is on.

So will the new Emmett Till anti-lynching law apply to police officers too?  Well, they would need to be charged first, and this is the real issue.  

Qualified immunity feeds the problem.

Bishop Talbert Swan is president of the NAACP chapter of Springfield Massachusetts and a strong critic of racist policing in the United States.  

He told the Editorial Board:

While I commend Congressman Bobby Rush for sponsoring and pushing the anti-lynching legislation, we understand the epidemic of legalized lynchings of Black people by law enforcement across this nation will not be abated by the threat of increased sentences. 

Especially when most police officers who kill Black people are never charged. It is not the severity of a punishment that is likely to prevent hate crimes. It is the certainty of it. 

In America, white police officers and white vigilantes almost certainly will not be punished for murdering a Black person.

Last year, the Asian-American community succeeded after a couple of months in seeing the anti-Asian hate crime law become a reality.

Black people have been in America before the first European settlers arrived. They’ve experienced hundreds of years of state-sanctioned murder. And yet not an anti-Black hate crime bill in sight.  

President Biden doesn’t have to wait to be lobbied.

Black communities need a solid commitment from the government to uproot white supremacy within policing. That needs to happen now.  

Richard Sudan covers human rights and American foreign affairs for the Editorial Board. Based in London, his reporting has appeared in The Guardian, Independent and others. Find him @richardsudan.

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