'Jim Crow' State Law and Rise in Hate Crimes Provokes NAACP to Issue Missouri Travel Advisory

Posted Aug. 9, 2017

MP3 Interview with Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington bureau and senior vice president for advocacy and policy, conducted by Scott Harris

naacp

For the first time in its 108-year history, the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for a U.S. state. On Aug. 2, the civil rights group’s national board adopted a travel advisory for Missouri that had earlier been approved by the state chapter. The advisory calls on people of color to exercise extreme caution when traveling in Missouri due to an increase in hate crimes and discrimination, as well as a Jim Crow-era law recently signed by the state’s Republican Gov. Eric Greitens.

Among the issues cited provoking the travel advisory were statistics from the Missouri Attorney General’s office revealing that African Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped by police and searched than Caucasian drivers. Also cited was the recent signing into law of Senate Bill 43 that would make it more difficult to sue a business for discrimination. The controversial measure takes effect Aug. 28, and was sponsored by Republican State Sen. Gary Romine, whose business is currently defending against a racial discrimination lawsuit.

Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Hilary O. Shelton, director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy. Here, he discusses the reasons behind the issuance of the Missouri travel advisory, the response thus far from state officials and the goals of issuing the advisory. [Rush transcript}

HILARY O. SHELTON: The travel advisory is not limited to just black, certainly African Americans have taken the lion's share amid the challenges, problems and other concerns in Missouri. But the travel advisory also includes the LGBTQ community, other people of color and even women, as a matter of fact, as we look at the challenges in Missouri.

This is something that actually came of out the state conference in Missouri. They'd had a meeting about two weeks before the national (NAACP) convention, when it was determined that the governor of Missouri would move a new piece of legislation and sign into law a bill that actually makes it easier for corporations, businesses and other entities to discriminate against a racial and ethnic minorities, women, religious minorities and others, including the LGBT community in Missouri without any option for protection or compensation. It makes it easier for corporations to discriminate.

But even prior to that, a number of concerns have been lifted up. Many of your listeners, I'm sure, heard about what happened to Michael Brown just a couple of years ago now, an 18-year-old African American American scheduled to begin college one week before he was killed by police officer, unarmed, in Missouri. And of course, all that ensued around that.

But there are a number of other concerns that have affected Missouri, St. Louis and other places around the state. A driver pulling into Missouri for just a minute because he missed a turn was pulled over by police and ended up dead. Other concerns of African American women actually seeing a higher number of homicides in the state of Missouri and beyond. The lack of protection for the LGBT communities seems to be something that was growing and creating problems. So when the governor decided to actually sign a bill into law, just a few weeks ago that would actually eliminate protections for racial and ethnic minorities, including African Americans, of course, women, the LGBT community ad others – you knew something need to be done. And as hard as the NAACP had worked in state and realized it, Missouri had become a very dangerous place to be.

Following the lead from the actual U.S. State Department that actually issues travel advisories when it finds that Americans could be endangered in some places, other places across the world, (the NAACP) decided to let people know that this is a very dangerous place to be. You should know the problems that have occurred and very careful if you decide you're going to go into Missouri. Of course, we've always believed people should have travel freedom to go wherever you want to go, but also believing that wherever you go, you should be made aware of the challenges, the threats and the other concerns that may occur in the places that you're considering traveling, and decided that Missouri was on that list as well. Like other foreign countries where we have these concerns, the country can actually request of the U.S. government, guidelines what does it need to do to improve its conditions? What levels of adherence does it need to make sure that it's aware of and begin to make the changes that will make them safer?

BETWEEN THE LINES: What about the response of Missouri Gov. (Eric) Greitens? Has he responded at all to the NAACP and the concerns expressed in this travel advisory?

HILARY O. SHELTON: We've not heard one word from him speaking specifically to the issues around the travel advisory. And that's saddening, as well. You can't begin to address a problem or begin to repair it if you don't first claim it, own it, and realize you need to do something about it. When we look at the data and the challenges and the problems that the state of Missouri faces now, one thing is very clear. Something needs to be done. The homicide rate is too high. The unemployment rate is too high. The other issues and challenges of allowing things like "concealed carry" permits are one of the easiest things you can get in the state of Missouri that's of any illegal concern. And beyond that, they have wants called "stand your ground" laws that makes it easier to get away with shooting and killing someone else. In essence, with all these things and so many other challenges going on, for the governor stand silent when a nationally renowned organization like the NAACP and your own constituents throughout the state of Missouri vote unanimously - that something needs to done and you're hearing nothing – concerns raised.

But it is our hope that with this action, the people of Missouri – those in the elected office and even those who simply have a voter registration card, will see the importance of moving and working together to address these problems.

For more information, visit the NAACP at naacp.org and Hilary O. Shelton's webpage at naacp.org/naacp-leadership/hilary-o-shelton.

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