The United States Senate’s three black members introduced a bill on Friday that would make lynching a federal hate crime.
The move came more than two weeks after a similar bill was introduced in the House of Representatives. Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in Congress from 1882 to 1986. None were approved.
“This sends a very powerful message,” said Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, who introduced the Senate bill along with Kamala Harris, Democrat of California, and Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican. “Literally thousands of African-Americans were being lynched throughout history, and the Senate never stepped up to pass any legislation to stop this heinous, despicable behavior.”
Under the bill, lynching would be punishable by a sentence of up to life in prison. The measure would not preclude murder charges that can already be brought under existing law.
“In the course of a crime there can be multiple charges,” Mr. Booker said in a phone interview. “This bill will make lynching another charge on top of murder.”
Sixteen other senators, including Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont; Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat; and Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia, have signed on as co-sponsors. The bill also has the support of the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky.
“I thought we did that many years ago,” Mr. McConnell said Friday in an interview on Sirius XM. “I hadn’t thought about it, I thought that was done back during L.B.J. or some period like that,” he said.
“If we need one at the federal level, I certainly will support it,” he said.
The bill comes nearly 100 years after Leonidas Dyer, a United States representative from Missouri, introduced anti-lynching legislation. In 2005 the Senate agreed to apologize to the victims and the descendants of the victims of lynching, for its failure to enact anti-lynching legislation.
“The Senate’s apology, while laudable, stills falls short of the mark,” Ms. Harris said in a statement. “It is time for the Senate and the House finally to take up and pass this legislation, and end this stain on American history.”
More than 4,000 people were lynched in the United States from 1882 to 1968, according to the three senators who introduced the bill. The documented killings have been recorded as having occurred in all but four states.
Earlier this month, Representative Bobby Rush, Democrat of Illinois, introduced a bill in the House that would make lynching a federal hate crime. Thirty-five other members of the Congressional Black Caucus co-sponsored it.
“While many may argue that lynching has been relegated to history, you only need to look at the events in Charlottesville last year to be reminded that the racist and hateful sentiments that spurred these abhorrent crimes are still prevalent in today’s American society,” Mr. Rush said while introducing the bill.
The only memorial in the United States for lynching victims opened in April, in Montgomery, Ala.
The memorial, officially called the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, is dedicated to the victims of white supremacy. It features a walkway with 800 worn steel columns that hang from the roof. The names of the different counties and the people who were lynched in those counties are engraved on the columns. Some of the reasons for the lynchings are also engraved on the columns.
“This bill,” Mr. Booker said of the Senate measure, “finally rights a wrong that should have been done a long time ago.”