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Harris, Booker call attack on black gay actor an 'attempted modern-day lynching'

The two senators, both of whom have eyes on the White House, have sponsored a federal anti-lynching bill.
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Two African-American senators with eyes on the White House denounced the attack on Tuesday of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, who is black and openly gay, calling it a "modern-day lynching" that necessitates a Congressional response.

Smollett was attacked in Chicago by two men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him and wrapped a rope around his neck, according to police, who are investigating the act as a hate crime.

Image: Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett, in Hollywood last year.Tasia Wells / Getty Images for Espolon

The two senators, Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., last year introduced an anti-lynching bill that would make attacks like the one on Smollett a federal crime.

“This was an attempted modern-day lynching,” tweeted Harris, who last week announced her 2020 presidential bid. “No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate.”

Booker, D-N.J., shared a similar post on his Twitter account.

“The vicious attack on actor Jussie Smollett was an attempted modern-day lynching. I'm glad he's safe,” Booker wrote. “To those in Congress who don't feel the urgency to pass our Anti-Lynching bill designating lynching as a federal hate crime — I urge you to pay attention.”

The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act was introduced in June by Harris, Booker and Tim Scott, R-S.C. — the Senate’s three black members — and it applies to lynchings motivated by a victim’s “actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.”

The bill passed unanimously in the Senate last month and has not yet been voted on in the House. The bill notes that at least 4,742 people, mainly African-Americans, were reportedly lynched in the U.S. from 1882 to 1968.

In a statement released shortly after its Senate passage on Dec. 19, Booker called it “an emotional and historic day.”

“For over a century, members of Congress have attempted to pass some version of a bill that would recognize lynching for what it is: a bias-motivated act of terror. And for more than a century, and more than 200 attempts, this body has failed,” Booker stated. “We have righted that wrong and taken corrective action that recognizes this stain on our country’s history.”

The Justice for Victims of Lynching Act made news earlier this month when Liberty Counsel, an evangelical nonprofit that opposes gay rights, took issue with the bill’s inclusion of LGBTQ people.

"The old saying is once that camel gets the nose in the tent, you can't stop them from coming the rest of the way in," the organization's chairman, Mat Staver, said in an interview with conservative Christian news outlet OneNewsNow. “This is a way to slip it in under a so-called anti-lynching bill, and to then to sort of circle the wagon and then go for the juggler [sic] at some time in the future."

Staver told OneNewsNow that his organization, which has been labeled an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center, is lobbying lawmakers in the House to have them remove the bill’s “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” language before taking a vote.