As massive protests over police brutality continue throughout the country, including in Missouri, a broad coalition of state groups came together to advocate for a proposed change to Missouri law regarding how law enforcement agencies conduct stops.
The Coalition for Fair Policing met Monday via a Zoom conference to voice support for the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act. The meeting was in response to the annual report from the Attorney General’s Office showing a disproportionate rate at which minority groups are stopped by police in Missouri.
The report found a rise in the disparity of black motorists being stopped from a rate of 1.76 in 2018 to 1.79 in 2019. The report found black motorists were also 36 percent more likely to face arrest than white drivers.
The Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act — which activists want implemented in Missouri — would require law enforcement agencies to review their vehicle stop data yearly, require discipline for unfair policing, mandate officers to ask for consent before searching someone, establish a procedure to put law enforcement agencies under review by the attorney general, and redirect revenue to additional training rather than fines if an agency exhibits consistently high discriminatory stops.
“The Missouri Vehicle Stops Report for the last year demonstrates a complete lack of commitment by many major police departments and small towns alike to the American values of due process, equality, and justice,” Nimrod Chapel, Jr., president of the Missouri Conference of the NAACP, said. “Until local communities press for change, blacks and others will be disproportionately stopped while traveling the roads in Missouri.”
Chapel noted the NAACP’s travel advisory, implemented in 2017, is still in effect. It contends Missouri is a high-risk place for black motorists to travel. The initial advisory followed a new law that makes it more difficult for employees to prove their status as a protected class in unlawful discrimination suits.
“After seeing the [Vehicle Stops Report], this only shows how systematic racism continues to live and breathe and affect communities of color,” said state Rep. Rasheen Aldridge. “I’m not surprised at the report. I would say most people of color would not be surprised. However, I am surprised that after 2014 that these law enforcement departments have not made concrete changes when it comes to over-policing people of color. This report is a huge indication of why there is such a lack of trust between the African-American community and our law-enforcement agencies. This is completely unacceptable and needs to be addressed, fixed, and revamped.”
Kevin Merritt, executive director of Missouri’s Sherriff’s Association, told The Missouri Times in an email that his organization’s views on the report remained the same as in the past: that the report is “effective at determining disparity, but it cannot determine an accurate reason for a disparity.”
Last year, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the 2018 report, Merritt said “race is not dispositive of why the stop was made; neither is a disparity index.”
Other organizations represented at Monday’s meeting included: Missouri Faith Voices, Empower Missouri, the ACLU of Missouri, Mid-Mo Civil Liberties Association, Grass Roots Accountability Movement, and the Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression.
The call for the change in Missouri’s law came as the U.S. grapples with the death of George Floyd, a black man, after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on this neck for nearly 9 minutes, killing him. Protests have erupted across the country — including in Missouri — with calls to end police brutality and address racism in the U.S.