Cory Booker blasts Rand Paul for blocking anti-lynching bill on day of George Floyd memorial

Posted Jun 04, 2020

On the day that George Floyd was remembered, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker sought to finally make lynching a federal crime in this country.

But Republican Sen. Rand Paul stood in the way, and nothing Booker or U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris said could move him.

“God, if this bill passed today, what that would mean for America,” Booker, D-N.J., said on the Senate floor. “Let us pass this legislation today of all days. Let us give a headline tomorrow or something that will give hope to this country that we can get it right.”

The Senate debate raged as the nation continued to reel from the death of Floyd, a black man, at the hands of police. A Minneapolis officer pushed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, ignoring complaints that he could not breathe.

Coming on the heels of several other deaths of black men at the hands of law enforcement officers, Floyd’s death sparked protests across the country and demands for Congress to rein in police brutality.

The Senate often passes bills and resolutions through a process known as unanimous consent. But that means one senator can gum up the works and force the Senate majority leader to either schedule a debate and vote on the bill, which could take up days of discussion and amendments, or shelve the legislation for lack of time.

No one objected, not even Paul, when the Senate by unanimous consent last year passed the anti-lynching bill sponsored by the three black senators: Booker, California Democrat Harris and South Carolina Republican Tim Scott.

The House passed its own version in February, naming the measure after Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Chicago boy who was abducted and murdered for allegedly looking the wrong way at a white woman while visiting Mississippi in August 1955.

That brought the bill back to the Senate, where Paul blocked action this time around.

“This bill would cheapen the meaning of lynching by defining it so broadly as to include a minor bruise or abrasion,” Paul said. “Our nation’s history of racial terrorism demands more seriousness from us than that.”

Booker and Harris said Paul was wrong in his reading of the bill and that every civil rights group and all of the congressional leaders lined up behind the legislation.

“The idea that we would not be taking the issue of lynching seriously is an insult, an insult to Senator Booker, to Senator Tim Scott, and myself, and all of the senators past and present who had understood this is part of the great stain of America’s history,” Harris immediately responded.

“There is no reason for this, there is no reason other than cruel and deliberate obstruction on a day of mourning,” she said. “It should not require a maiming or torture for us to recognize a lynching when we see it and recognize it by federal law.”

Harris also decried what she called a “modern day lynching,” the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man, while he was jogging in Brunswick, Georgia. Three white men have been charged in his murder.

“We cannot pretend that lynchings are thing of the past,” she said.

Booker, a liberal Democrat, and Paul, a conservative Republican, have found common ground on criminal justice issues. Booker said that Paul was one of the first senators he shook hands with when he came to Washington.

“He is my friend,” Booker said. “I’ve had too many conversations with him to question his heart.”

Still, Booker said, “I do not need my colleague, the senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country.”

“One man is standing in the way of the law of changing.”

According to the NAACP, 3,446 blacks were lynched from 1882 to 1968. Around 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced from 1882 to 1986, and all failed to clear Congress, according to the findings in the Senate bill.

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