EDITORIAL: It's gotten even more perilous for black drivers in Missouri

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Driving while black in Missouri is becoming an even more perilous proposition.

Two years after the NAACP issued a travel advisory warning black motorists of the potential problems with traveling through Missouri, a new report finds that in 2018, black drivers in Missouri were 91% more likely to be pulled over than white motorists.

Our state has long had an abysmal record on racial disparities in vehicle stops, but Missouri keeps finding ways to regress further, the latest annual report released by Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office shows.

The numbers have gotten worse every year in the recent past, and it’s no wonder. Lawmakers and state officials have made little to no effort to put a stop to such discriminatory practices.

In 2017, black motorists were 85% more likely to be stopped than white drivers. The number was 75% in 2016 and 69% in 2015.

The most recent report also shows that people of color are disproportionately stopped and searched by law enforcement. Black and Hispanic drivers were 1.48 and 1.4 times more likely, respectively, to have their vehicles searched than white drivers, despite the fact both groups were slightly less likely than whites to possess contraband.

The data should serve as a wake-up call for law enforcement officials, who have spent years lobbying against efforts to combat racial profiling.

“Without significant reform, Missouri will remain a state where minority drivers are harassed and unsafe,” said Sara Baker, legislative and policy director for ACLU of Missouri.

The ACLU has called on the Missouri legislature and Gov. Mike Parson to support the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act to move beyond data collection to actually requiring consequences for officers who engage in racial profiling.

Republican state Rep. Shamed Dogan of St. Louis County suggested members of the General Assembly solicit feedback from law enforcement, prosecutors, defense attorneys, civil rights groups and others in a series of meetings throughout the state this summer. Kansas City will host a meeting at a still-to-be-determined time, he said.

In each of the last four years, Dogan has introduced the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act, which would hold individual officers and departments accountable for profiling. The legislation advanced through a House committee last spring but failed to get a hearing in the Senate. This year, the bipartisan measure stalled in the House.

“We went backwards,” Dogan said.

Racial profiling by police is already outlawed in Missouri. But the law imposes few, if any, consequences for officers or departments that violate the statute.

Dogan’s bill would identify problem officers and offer training and other remedies before they could be fired. Departments would have up to six years to get their collective acts together. The attorney general’s office could withhold state funding if a department failed to comply.

For too long, there have been no ramifications for officers or departments that disproportionately target people of color in vehicle stops.

“If you don’t have any teeth in that law that bans racial profiling, then you won’t get compliance,” Dogan said.

It’s been nearly 20 years since Missouri started collecting racial profiling data to combat unfair treatment by law enforcement against minorities. And the data clearly indicates Missouri has a serious problem with discriminatory policing.

But, as state Sen. Karla May, a Democrat from St. Louis, has said: What is the state going to do about it?

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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