Midyear in 2000, I got a call asking me to serve on then-Attorney General Jay Nixon’s Racial Profiling Task Force. Oh no, not me. The idea of regularly traveling to Jefferson City to rub shoulders with white, rural sheriffs and small-town police chiefs was not the least bit appealing.
I was going to take a pass until the persuasive argument of safeguarding a community victory was laid on me. I was part of a community coalition that got Missouri’s first racial profiling bill passed in 2000. A community watchdog was needed to make sure the law got off on the right foot. I conceded to joining the task force.
The main goal of the task force was to ensure all police departments submitted data on their vehicle stops along with the driver’s race. Surprisingly, police departments across that state submitted their required data that first year.
The first report had black motorists being stopped 30 percent more than their white counterparts and 70 percent more likely to be searched. That was 2001.
Eighteen years later, the 2018 report, released on June 1, showed that black drivers were stopped at a rate 85 percent greater than white drivers. The searches of black drivers were less likely to result in the discovery of contraband than the searches of whites.
For almost two decades, the racially charged data (which some believe is under-reported) has worsened with no progress in sight. Here’s the real kicker that gets lost in the chatter: Built into law so that there would be consequences, the governor can withhold state funding from agencies that don’t comply with the law. If my math is correct, some of these departments with consistently racist data should be operating with diminished budgets right about now.
The original law was designed to do basic two things. One was to prove racial profiling had an empirical existence, that it was not based on the vivid imagination of paranoid black drivers. Two, it was to prompt departments to develop remedies where there was proven racial bias and profiling. It’s clear that in 2018 we have over-proof of the problem and under-commitment to address it.
A new coalition of concerned citizens was formed to shine a brighter spotlight on the annual Vehicle Stops Report and to strengthen the existing law and its implementation. For several years, the group has tried to pass the Fourth Amendment Affirmation Act (FAAA) in the Missouri Legislature. The proposed bill calls for police to state the reason for their stops and, if there’s any searching to be done, drivers must be informed of their rights and sign a consent form.
It’s going to be a long, hot summer. Black drivers aren’t looking forward to being stopped and pulled out of their cars for no probable cause other than their skin color. The skin color can’t change. Reaction to that skin color must change.
The 2000 racial profiling law has seen four chiefs in St. Louis City come and go. There’s a new chief in town and a new Public Safety director. Police Chief John Hayden and Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards need a plan to address our city’s atrocious data so that the 2019 Vehicle Stops Report on St. Louis is a beacon of equity for the rest of the state.