The Missouri NAACP State Conference first issued its travel advisory for the state of Missouri on June 23 in an attempt to pressure Governor Eric Greitens to veto Senate Bill 43. NAACP State Conference President Nimrod Chapel worked hard to defeat SB 43, and it was no surprise to see him going hard for a veto.
The American had urged Greitens to veto SB 43 three weeks previously, on June 1.
“Our new outsider Republican Governor Eric Greitens can save himself and our state a tremendous amount of shame by vetoing Senate Bill 43, which weakens workplace protections for women and minorities. If enacted, the law would require plaintiffs to prove claims of discrimination are ‘the motivating factor’ in an action by an employer; existing law says the plaintiff has only to prove discrimination was ‘a contributing factor,’” The American editorialized.
“If he signs this noxious bill into law, Greitens invites on himself the stench and shame of the bill sponsor, state Sen. Gary Romine (R- Farmington), who owns a rental housing company in Southwest Missouri, Show-Me Rent-to-Own, that is currently being sued for race discrimination. ‘There is nothing more corrupt than someone getting elected to go to Jeff City to sponsor a bill that would directly benefit himself,’ attorney Paul Bullman told KCUR. ‘That’s the definition of corruption.’ Greitens does not want to ally himself with the definition of corruption. He must veto SB 43.”
No one at The American believed for a moment that Greitens would heed our call, but you’ve got to do what you’ve got to.
As a strategy to pressure Greitens to veto SB 43, the Missouri NAACP State Conference’s travel advisory looked even less likely to have any impact on the governor. It was announced as remaining in effect “at least until August 28,” when the law would go into effect if Greitens signed the bill – as he did on June 30, a week after the travel advisory trying to pressure him to veto the bill was circulated.
There were evident strategic problems with the travel advisory. No matter how widely circulated, it wasn’t likely to make any evident negative economic impact on the state in two summer months when most people already had finalized travel plans. Further, the litany of racist incidents with which Chapel embellished the travel advisory would mostly discourage black people (or families with black members) from visiting Missouri. Greitens comes from a metropolitan area, used to at least pose as a progressive Democrat and appeared to admire President Barack Obama, but most of the nearly 1.5 million people who voted for him surely would not be even slightly bothered if fewer black people traveled to Missouri. A travel ban on black people entering Missouri – not very constitutional, but then unconstitutional government action is a rising trend – would satisfy Greitens’ base more than a travel advisory trying to keep black people out would upset them.
This is not to deny most of the claims made in Chapel’s travel advisory. He did conflate two ugly incidents in Ladue schools. One black student was burned with a hot glue gun by an Hispanic student, but neither student claimed it was racial, rather teenagers playing pranks and one of them got hurt. There was a racist language incident on a Ladue school bus on the same day, which was two days after the election of Donald Trump, but the incidents were not connected. Other than that, Chapel was correct – Missouri is a dangerous place to be black. We publish a newspaper that provides regular updates on this troubling fact.
Then on August 2 the NAACP national office endorsed the travel advisory. The NAACP has never before issued a state travel advisory – not even to Mississippi, where the NAACP’s new interim national president Derrick Johnson was former president of the Mississippi State Conference. It became a national story.
Mind you, SB 43 was long ago signed into law, and nothing the NAACP can do would provoke Greitens to call another special session before August 28 to repeal it. It’s going to be state law, but now we have a national story about repressive legislation of a type that Republican-dominated legislatures across the country are passing.
As the story went national, local players who had been sitting this one out were compelled to weigh in. The St. Louis County Branch of the NAACP at first said SB 43 was bad but was so was the travel advisory, then reversed course and endorsed the travel advisory – citing points of substance, but more likely trying to stop being trolled for being an Uncle Tom on the issue.
St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said SB 43 was bad, but was so was the travel advisory.
The ACLU of Missouri said SB 43 was really bad, and while not openly endorsing the travel advisory, hailed Chapel for his leadership.
Now that SB 43 is going to be law, what is the purpose of the travel advisory. Where is he trying to lead us? We asked him via email.
The American: With SB43 a done deal, what is the purpose, goal or end game of the travel advisory?
Nimrod Chapel: We should consider the travel advisory as a warning to people who live in Missouri and who would be traveling into Missouri so that they are aware of potential concerns about their ability to be safe and protect their own civil rights. The travel advisory is a warning. The governor signed Senate Bill 43 on June 30 and while the NAACP was certainly concerned about Missouri reviving Jim Crow, the travel advisory was also issued in response to civil rights violations already existing in Missouri before Senate Bill 43 was enacted into law and local and state governments’ inability or unwillingness to address what the NAACP perceived to be growing civil rights violations.
The American: The travel advisory was issued with the Urban League readying to bring its national conference to Missouri. Was there a message, implicit or explicit, to the UL in issuing the advisory and then giving it a new national push after SB43 was signed?
Nimrod Chapel: While it is interesting that the Urban League was meeting in St. Louis immediately after the NAACP convention, where its delegates recognized the traveling advisory, it's important to note that the travel advisory is not a boycott. The purpose of the advisor is to insure that individuals are aware of existing civil rights violations and how those may come in to play with individuals expecting that their civil rights would be respected and protected in the streets and in the courts.
The American: The NAACP had its convention in Baltimore this year. Is it safe for black folks to travel in Maryland?
Nimrod Chapel: As I understand it, Baltimore has had an unprecedented cease-fire, for lack of a better term, where "nobody is killing anybody.” There are many good people who worked hard to try and protect people there. While I personally am delighted to see lives being saved in Baltimore, the issues that cities and states face can and do differ in a myriad of ways. The Missouri State Conference looked at civil rights violations not being addressed in our state (the Vehicle Stops report for 2016, for example) and the elimination of protections available to individuals privately through the courts. And further compounding those concerns are the convocation of individual immunity for those who discriminate and harass others.
The American: Do you think black people living in Missouri should resettle elsewhere out of regard to their safety?
Nimrod Chapel: The question of where people want to live in light of opportunities and threats is one each person and family will have to decide among themselves. To the extent that Missouri has revived Jim Crow laws through the aid of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, the Missouri Retailers Association and the Missouri Grocers Association, that could be to Missouri's detriment if there is a loss of citizens, businesses and opportunities that smart capable and willing people utilize in making our state better. We sincerely hope that Missouri may one day be a place where people are truly treated equally and with justice.