WASHINGTON — The Senate is at an impasse over a widely backed bill to designate lynching as a federal hate crime, and tempers boiled over on Thursday in an emotional debate cast against a backdrop of widespread protests over police treatment of African Americans.
Raw feelings were evident as Sen. Rand Paul — who is single-handedly holding up the bill — sought changes as a condition of allowing it to pass. On Wednesday, Paul told reporters the bill might allow more minor altercations to be punishable as lynchings.
ABC News reached out to Paul's office for clarification and was pointed in the direction of a statement about Paul's proposed amendment to the legislation.
"The bill as written would allow altercations resulting in a cut, abrasion, bruise, or any other injury, no matter how temporary, to be subject to a 10-year penalty," the statement read. "My amendment would simply apply a serious bodily injury standard, which would ensure crimes resulting in substantial risk of death and extreme physical pain be prosecuted as a lynching."
Paul's office did not clarify which part of the law would allow bruising and other offenses to be punishable as a lynching, ABC News reported it is possible he was referring to language that already exists in U.S. law, which punishes anyone who "willfully injures" or "intimidates" while committing certain civil rights violations.
But the Senate’s two black Democrats, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, protested, saying the measure should pass as is.
“It would speak volumes for the racial pain and the hurt of generations,” Booker said. “I do not need my colleague, the Senator from Kentucky, to tell me about one lynching in this country. I’ve stood in the museum in Montgomery, Alabama, and watched African-American families weeping at the stories of pregnant women lynched in this country and their babies ripped out of them while this body did nothing.”