In the wake of an annual statewide report showing an increase in racial disparity among drivers pulled over in Missouri, Sen. Karla May has a message for police departments.
“If you’re not willing to do something about it, I am,” May, a Democrat who represents parts of St. Louis City and County, said Monday.
The report, released last week by the Attorney General’s Office, showed the disparity between white and black drivers who are stopped by law enforcement in Missouri has increased to the highest level yet. In fact, black motorists are 91 percent more likely to be stopped than white individuals, according to the report.
Additionally, the 2018 report found the statewide search rate for black and Hispanic drivers were greater than white individuals (black: 8.93; Hispanic: 8.44; white: 6.04) in 2018, but the contraband hit rate was higher among white drivers (black: 33.82; Hispanic: 29.15; white: 35.68). Arrest rates were also higher for black and Hispanic people (black: 6.37; Hispanic: 6.26; white: 4.25).
“The question remains: what is the state of Missouri going to do about it?” May said at a press conference Monday. She contended state lawmakers have often attempted to enact accountability measures for the state’s police officers but have been “met adversarily [sic] by lobbyists on behalf of” law enforcement.
“Are you willing to police your own departments? Are you willing to hold those in your ranks accountable for discrimination? Are you willing to hold those accountable who took an oath to protect and serve? Are you willing to hold them accountable for the disproportionate number of African Americans who are being stopped and harassed by police?” May said. “We cannot continue to allow one race, African Americans, in this state to feel like they are unwelcome.”
Republican Rep. Shamed Dogan also called for the addition of “some accountability in our current laws.” He said the report showed there was a “holistic issue,” and the vehicle stops just “scratched the surface of some of the behaviors” of the state’s police.
The lawmakers joined several groups advocating for “fair police” at a press conference in response to the 2018 Vehicle Stops Report in St. Louis Monday morning. Among those in attendance were representatives from the ACLU of Missouri, Empower Missouri, Ethical Society of Police, Grassroots Accountability Movement, and the NAACP, among others.
Jeanette Mott Oxford, executive director of Empower Missouri, charged law enforcement officials to “explain why people of color, despite being less likely statistically to have contraband on them, are more likely to be searched during a vehicle stop.”
“Law enforcement also needs to explain why black drivers are more likely to be charged with resisting arrest than white drivers. If officers are able to effectively de-escalate situations with white Missourians, then why are they unable to do the same with their black neighbors?” she said in a statement to The Missouri Times.
The Attorney General’s Office first began to compile the annual report as a result of a new law in 2000.
“Aggregating the Vehicle Stops Report is an important duty of my office, and it serves as a tool to law enforcement and agencies alike to identify disparities and improve practices,” Attorney General Eric Schmitt said in a statement. “It’s my hope that this report will help provide that Missourians are receiving the best possible protection under the law from law enforcement, who work and sacrifice every day to ensure our safety.”
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is a reporter with The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in March 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City. Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S. and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa. She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.