When I ran for office, I promised to read the bills. Apparently, that is not a requirement for Courier Journal columnists. Had The Courier read the anti-lynching bill and listened to the floor debate before launching into an ad hominem attack on me, they might have discovered that not only did I not “block” the bill, I actually sought the Senate’s immediate consideration and passage of the Emmett Till Antilynching Act with an amendment.
I offered an amendment to strengthen the bill because of my long-standing commitment to work in a bipartisan fashion to enact criminal justice reform and ensure that all people, regardless of race or class, are treated equally under the law.
Second, understanding what the anti-lynching bill actually addresses is particularly relevant. To be perfectly clear, lynching and murder are already against the law. Hate crime statutes have been on the federal books for more than 50 years and murdering someone because of his or her race has been a federal hate crime for over a decade.
Because I stand so strongly behind the belief that a hateful crime such as lynching deserves a severe sentence, I could not support a bill that places such a low threshold on what could be considered a lynching. My immediate concern was the unintended consequence of making victims out of the very people we seek to protect.
For example, Tiffany Harris is a black woman from New York and was arrested in December 2019 after slapping three Jewish women and making a religious slur. Harris was initially charged with a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail. But, if she were convicted under a federal hate crime statute, she could be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison.
I fear that, with the low threshold provided in this bill, the jury trial will be eroded. Prosecutors will inevitably threaten people guilty of the crimes like those committed by Tiffany Harris with trumped up charges in an effort to obtain a plea bargain.
Prosecutors already have enough blank checks. I do not intend on giving them another one.
This is why I have led on criminal justice reform. For too long, Congress ignored the impact of our system’s harsh penalties, turning a blind eye as mandatory minimum sentences led to the problem of over-criminalization and mass incarceration. A 10-year sentence for slapping someone is an abomination and the law has already incarcerated too many people unfairly. I am trying to preclude that kind of unintended consequence.
But you don’t need to take my word for it. I actually encourage you to take a look at my record and the nearly two dozen justice reform bills I’ve authored and co-sponsored In the Senate. But the left would prefer to politicize my record on criminal justice reform – contorting facts and quotes to fit a rigid narrative that all Republicans are to blame. That is not only uncalled for, but completely counterproductive to what I thought we all were fighting for.
Instead of personal slander and innuendo you would think a newspaper of record would have the decency to portray my attempts to strengthen the Emmett Till Antilynching Act honestly.
We passed the First Step Act to begin to fix some of the racial disparities in criminal justice. I led that bipartisan effort, first meeting with President Obama and ultimately getting it passed under President Trump. It only happened because partisans put away the slings and arrows of partisanship to address serious inequities in our system.
Is it too much to ask that we try again, in a bipartisan way, to work together to come up with an anti-lynching bill that doesn’t unintentionally mete out 10-year sentences for minor altercations?
The terrible act of lynching deserves the most severe penalty we can apply. But the bill as written could potentially define slapping someone as a “lynching” and thereby eligible for 10 years in prison. That is an injustice and the public deserves to know the facts.
We can work together for a better future, or we can continue to divide our nation by hurling unfounded insults and silencing important perspectives that could lead to real progress. No matter how loud the noise gets, no matter what comes my way, I will always continue to work for a more just America.