It’s the first state-wide warning ever issued by the civil rights organization.
Photo by Loco Steve/Flickr.
Americans are regularly advised by the State Department to avoid going to countries — like Venezuela, Haiti, or the Philippines — that are considered too violent or politically unstable to visit. But according to the NAACP, people of color don’t need to cross an international border for their lives to be in danger. Racism is so bad in Missouri that the civil rights organization has issued a travel advisory warning people of color that they could be endangering their lives if they visit the state.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Travel with extreme caution.[/quote]
The advisory is the first statewide warning to be issued by the national NAACP in its 108-year history, and it’s an adoption of a warning issued in June by the Missouri NAACP State Conference. “Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION. Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri,” read the state chapter’s warning.
“The advisory means each individual should pay special attention while in the state of Missouri and certainly if contemplating spending time in Missouri,” it continues. “Unlike seasonal weather advisories, where no unnecessary travel on city streets or parking might be directed, the NAACP wants to make Missourians and our visitors aware of looming danger.”
The organization points out that the state was the center of the notorious Dred Scott case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1857 that people of African descent were not citizens and had no right to sue in federal court. That might explain why the NAACP particularly calls out Missouri Senate Bill 43, which was signed into law in late-June by Missouri Governor Eric Greitens. This recent legislation, which goes into effect on August 28, makes it more difficult to hold employers liable for discrimination.
In addition, the advisory calls out data from a recent report from the state’s attorney general that shows black drivers are stopped significantly more often than whites.
“The numerous racist incidents, and the statistics cited by the Missouri Attorney General in the advisory, namely the fact that African Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by law enforcement officers than Caucasians, are unconscionable, and are simply unacceptable in a progressive society,” said Derrick Johnson, the interim president and CEO of the NAACP in a statement.
[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]How do you come to Missouri, run out of gas and find yourself dead in a jail cell when you haven’t broken any laws?[/quote]
And sometimes those interactions with law enforcement have fatal consequences. The NAACP state chapter’s warning references the May death of 28-year-old Tory Sanders, a black man from Tennessee who ran out of gas in Missouri, called police for help, and ended up mysteriously dying in a jail in Mississippi County, about 150 miles southeast of St. Louis.
“How do you come to Missouri, run out of gas and find yourself dead in a jail cell when you haven’t broken any laws?” Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri NAACP told the Kansas City Star.
“You have violations of civil rights that are happening to people. They’re being pulled over because of their skin color, they’re being beaten up or killed,” Chapel added. “We are hearing complaints at a rate we haven’t heard before.”
The 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black teen in Ferguson, Missouri, by white police officer Darren Wilson ignited protests and drew international attention to racial inequality and biased policing in the state. The University of Missouri has also come under fire for racist incidents directed at black students on campus.
At the same time, it should be noted that incidents such as these happen to people of color coast to coast. Since the presidential election last fall, hate crimes are up 20%, as is the number of hate groups. The black Los Angeles Chargers players struggling with housing discrimination are in Orange County, California, not Missouri. And it is in Baltimore, Maryland — where over 60% of the population is black — that police officers have recently been caught by their body cameras allegedly planting drugs on people.
That makes the warning about Missouri all the more startling. The incidents happening in the state are "unconscionable, and are simply unacceptable in a progressive society," said Johnson. The NAACP said it will decide whether to extend the ban after S.B. 43 goes into effect.