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Organizations respond to continued racial disparities in traffic stops

by Joe Gamm | June 2, 2020 at 5:05 a.m. | Updated June 2, 2020 at 5:05 a.m.

Despite two decades of data showing police pull black drivers over at higher rates than white drivers, nothing has changed, a number of community leaders pushing for social change pointed out Monday.

Empower Missouri, Missouri Faith Voices, the NAACP, state lawmakers and others held a Zoom meeting to respond after Missouri released its annual Vehicle Stops Report.

The Vehicle Stops Report, released Friday, showed in detail that traffic stops for black drivers remain far disproportionate from the population.

Intending to address the issue of racial profiling, Missouri legislators passed a statute in 2000 requiring all peace officers to report information, including the race of drivers, to the state.

Data released Friday show that despite black people making up only about 11.8 percent of residents of the state, they represented about 19.8 percent of all drivers pulled over during traffic stops in 2019.

“This is an issue that we have highlighted over and over again,” said Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the State Conference of the NAACP. “The data is what it has been and does not improve.”

In June 2017, following the passage of a Missouri law that made it more difficult for employees to prove their protected class — like race or gender — the NAACP issued a travel advisory for Missouri. The advisory warned individuals traveling in the state should use “extreme caution.” The advisory remains in effect, Chapel said Monday.

“That can only be buttressed by the fact that Gov. (Mike) Parson says now, in the wake of property damage, he invoked a state of emergency and called up the National Guard,” Chapel said. “For over a decade (the NAACP has) been complaining about due process violations, about the ability of people to just travel up and down the road being impaired based just on their skin color — with no action.”

Local, state and federal officials have not protected all citizens, he said. There will be attempts to parse the data and try to find trends. That’s important, Chapel continued.

“There has been little or no sustained effort by any elected politician in Missouri to make a difference in this racial profiling that is happening,” he explained, “that is evident from the data we have.”

If there has been any effort, it’s been ineffective and wasteful, he said.

The disparity of traffic stops goes hand in hand with civil rights violations the NAACP has complained about for years.

Additionally, mayors are not holding police chiefs accountable for their bad actors, he said.

“We see this as being a lack of moral will, a lack of professionalism, and a lack of the ability to lead, and we’ll see you at the ballot box,” Chapel said.

St. Louis Metropolitan Police Sgt. Heather Taylor, president of the Ethical Society of Police, who is black, said protests happening around the country following the death of George Floyd demonstrate that people across the nation are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

They are also concerned the traffic stop numbers have not changed in Missouri.

“You’re seeing more aggression — more conflicts between police and the community, most of them generated by us as police officers,” Taylor said. “Either through our traffic stops, and after the traffic stops, what we’re doing.”

Minorities are being stopped in Missouri more. They are being searched, but found with less contraband than whites.

“Nothing has changed. We’re talking about two decades. This has been my entire career that this has been a problem,” Taylor said. “And it’s time for change and it’s time for us to continue fighting.”

There is bias in departments toward African Americans and Hispanics, she said.

Justice Gatson, with the American Civil Liberties Union, said that as a black woman, she lives in fear.

“This is not just about numbers,” she said. “It’s about lives.”

She and all black women across the state hold their collective breath, worrying about their sons, husbands and sisters, Gatson said.

Her husband travels around Missouri, operating a carpet-cleaning business.

“You all cannot comprehend the fear that I have when he goes out to do some of those jobs,” Gatson said. “This is something that we live with, and we carry, and we keep pushing and we keep on.”

The ACLU is committed to fighting for legislation to address racial profiling, she said.

“For countless lost lives, we need to get it together and we need to act,” Gatson said. “It’s not about numbers but us. We bury people.”

Print Headline: Organizations respond to 
continued racial disparities in traffic stops

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