In an unprecedented move, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (or NAACP) in Missouri issued a travel advisory for people of color. The oldest civil rights group in the United States announced the warning after state legislators passed a law that the group deems “legal discrimination.”
The NAACP circulated messages using various mediums that advised people of color — namely, African Americans — to travel throughout the state of Missouri at their “own risk” due to an atmosphere of “looming danger.” The travel advisory cited a number of incidents that it said supported its decision.
Officials with the Missouri NAACP conference made the extraordinary move when lawmakers passed Senate Bill 43 and Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed it into law. According to LegiScan, the first reading of the bill took place on Jan. 4, 2017 and was signed by the House Speaker on May 22, 2017, before Governor Greitens gave it his signature.
The Missouri NAACP travel advisory, which is the first of its kind — locally, regionally, or nationally — was published in June but only recognized throughout the entire organization just last week.
“Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION. Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.”
The state’s business network applauded the passage of the bill, citing a victory for tort reform. Daniel P. Mehan, president and CEO of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, issued a statement in the wake of the law’s enactment.
“This new law ends a decade-long period where Missouri was one of the easiest places in the nation to sue a company and win. Our abnormally low standard for discrimination lawsuits was a major reason why Missouri has been labeled a ‘judicial hellhole’ and ranked among the states with the worst legal climates in the nation.”
The NAACP and opponents of the new law cite its inherent discriminatory elements; it places the burden on a person of color to prove their protected class status. In short, critics say the requirement for a person to prove their gender or race amounts to “unlawful discrimination.”
President Rod Chapel Jr. is the NAACP’s Conference president. During his chat with CNN, he referred to the Missouri law as a “Jim Crow Bill.”
“This does not follow the morals of Missouri. I hate to see Missouri get dragged down deep past the notion of treating people with dignity.”
Governor Greitens disagrees. He countered the NAACP’s assertion and said the passage of Senate Bill 43 places Missouri on even terrain as other states in terms of its standards.
The “Show Me State” has a long history of racial strife between whites and people of color. The report recalled that several “racist incidents” made national news at the University of Missouri and sparked national protests. Moreover, a 2015 report uncovered a systematic and disparaging rate of police motor vehicle stops: 75 percent of drivers stopped by law enforcement officials are black drivers.
Long before the NAACP issued its travel advisory, Chapel met with the governor on more than one occasion to have a “fair and frank discussion” about the optics and impact of the bill’s passage. To bolster his efforts, Chapel enlisted the support of local clergy officials who injected morality and theology into the conversations.
Ultimately, their efforts failed and the NAACP decided on the travel advisory — the first in the group’s 108-year history — to send a strong message of dissent. Chapel denied charges of attempts by the group to direct people away from the state as part of an economic strategy to repeal the law.
Instead, he said the advisory is meant to warn black travelers about the social environment and risks should they include the state as a destination.
“People should tell their relatives if they have to travel through the state, they need to be aware. They should have bail money, you never know.”
Despite the issuance of the travel advisory, the NAACP is holding out for the hope that lawmakers will revisit SB43 and hold good faith discussions about an equitable solution before it goes into effect on Aug. 29.
“We need to have some basic ground rules for how human beings treat each other,” Chapel said.
Is the NAACP’s travel advisory an effective tool in preventing or lessening discrimination?
[Featured Image by Scott Olson/Getty Images]