Groups: Racial disparity report should mark end of bias and beginning of change

Monday's state attorney general's report on traffic stops and racial profiling didn't tell people of color anything they didn't already know, members of several Mid-Missouri groups told reporters Wednesday.

State law requires the report to be released by June 1 each year, and this year's report showed the racial disparity in traffic stops involving blacks and whites last year surged to its highest level since the state began compiling data 15 years ago.

"Missouri Faith Voice and other faith leaders all across this state stand and say this (report) has to be an ending point for the most vulnerable citizens of this state being victimized," said the Rev. Cassandra Gould, pastor of Jefferson City's Quinn Chapel AME Church.

Gould added: "One of the most glaring things for me was the fact that in Missouri, overall, African-Americans were stopped 75 percent more than our white counterparts last year," while that first report in 2000 showed blacks were only 31 percent more likely to be pulled over.

"Clearly, we are going in the wrong way," Gould said, noting pastors of many churches have heard similar stories "and the cries of people of color who feel victimized by a system that is built on implicit biases, (that) is dysfunctional and - particularly when it comes to policing - is not (designed) to protect all or serve all."

Gould and others want more than just a "diversity training" program, but a serious, ongoing dialog about ways to create a better, safer atmosphere for law officers and the people they come in contact with.

"What it will start is a cultural shift," she said, "and there will no longer be a fear by people of color that, "When I get in my car - with nothing wrong - that I will be subjected to harassment.'

"We will no longer have that fear because we will have gone a long period of time not feeling that we were profiled, when our European brothers and sisters" were not.

As one example, she said, reports from around the country generally show Caucasians are more likely to be carrying drugs or other contraband items in their vehicles - but African-Americans still are stopped more often for a contraband investigation.

Empower Missouri Director Jeanette Mott Oxford said their campaign isn't "against the police. We believe that police have a very important function in our society (and) when police officers are trained in "implicit bias' and build better relationships in their community - we believe that they actually are safer."

Rev. Molly Housh Gordon, representing Faith Voices of Columbia, said Monday's report showed "the necessity of listening to, and seeking to understand, the experience of our African-American friends and neighbors - who have been telling us these things for years."

Housh Gordon added: "None of us would wish to be biased or prejudiced, and yet these forces and these system are insidious. ...

"They separate us from each other and endanger and create problems for all of us."

Mott Oxford reminded reporters the attorney general's annual report deals with all traffic stops, and shows the disparity of treatment among different ethnic groups, including Asians, Native Americans and the nation's growing Hispanic population - not just between Caucasians and African-Americans.

"These numbers that stand out in the vehicle stops report," she said, "stand out to us as the basis for a dialog."

Mott Oxford is one of a number of advocacy group leaders asking the Attorney General Chris Koster and his staff to convene a statewide summit, to "discuss what are best practices (and) ways that we can improve policing."

She noted some Missouri law enforcement agencies have shown improvement over the years, and she thinks a summit could help those people explain how they succeeded, and how others can duplicate those efforts.