U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert introduced an amendment to House Democrats’ sweeping police reform bill in hopes of strengthening anti-lynching laws, but his proposal was shot down by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jarrold Nadler, D-New York.
Gohmert’s proposal sought to strengthen the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act passed by the House in February and awaiting action in the Senate. That bill caps the federal punishment for lynching at 10 years in prison, which Gohmert says is not harsh enough. He voted against the act in February, citing concerns over punishment guidelines.
“I do believe lynching, that is murder in the course of kidnapping, ought to be a death penalty case,” the Texas Republican said last week in a Judiciary meeting.
Nadler balked at the punishment, calling the death penalty “barbarous” and “systemically racist.”
“It is essential that we make lynching a federal crime, which we do in this bill. We are not going to contaminate the great act of making lynching a federal crime,” Nadler said in response to Gohmert.
Gohmert offered a compromise.
“I will strike the death penalty part from this since that was your big objection,” Gohmert said. “Will you vote for it if I eliminate the death penalty so that it has a maximum life sentence?”
Nadler again said no.
“I think it does exactly what we want it to do,” the New York Democrat said.
Gohmert’s amendment would have brought the bill closer in line to the original legislation introduced by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Illinois. Rush, who is Black, initially sought life in prison as maximum punishment for lynching.
“The original bill that Congressman Rush had was a much better bill. I asked him on the floor why did this get watered down. It shouldn’t be a 10-year sentence; it should be life,” Gohmert said.
The anti-lynching act is named for Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African American from Chicago who was lynched while visiting relatives in the Mississippi Delta in 1955 after flirting with a 21-year-old white woman.
The woman’s husband and a relative abducted Till, beat and shot him, mutilated his body and threw him in the Tallahatchie River. J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were found not guilty of kidnapping and murder by an all-white jury. The two men confessed to the killings in an interview with Look magazine in 1956 but could not be brought up on charges again.
Gohmert, a former judge, said both killers deserved the death penalty.
“In this case I would have no problem looking these guys in the eyes and sentencing them to death,” he said of Till’s killers.
Till’s parents held an open-casket funeral for their son, and images from his funeral were published in newspapers around the world.