After a century-long effort, lynching is now a federal hate crime. The Emmett Till Antilynching Act is meant to hold people convicted of hate crimes accountable. Legal experts warn that the law may not be as effective as intended, NPR reports. The law targets defendants who conspire to commit a hate crime that results in serious bodily injury or death. Federal prosecutors can seek up to a 30-year sentence in addition to prison time stemming from other charges, such as murder or assault. Kara Gotsch of The Sentencing Project argues that compiling sentences does more harm than good. She says there's little proof that hate crime laws such as the anti-lynching act deter hate crimes.
The certainty of a punishment is more likely to prevent crimes, rather than the severity. "We often react and assume that somehow crime will end if we just make sentences longer or punishments tougher," Gotsch says. "But that's not how crime works." A Justice Department report found that laws and policies intended to deter crime by focusing on increased sentences are ineffective. The Sentencing Project didn't endorse the law, but worked with Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) to negotiate the law's maximum penalty down to 30 years from the originally proposed life sentence. Researchers and civil rights advocates point out that hate crime laws are often applied against the communities they are designed to protect.