The NAACP is sending a strong message to people of color traveling through Missouri: Go at your own risk.
The organization is circulating a travel advisory after the state passed a law that Missouri’s NAACP conference says allows for legal discrimination. The warning cites several discriminatory incidents in Missouri as examples of “looming danger” in the state.
The NAACP says this is the first travel advisory ever issued by the organization, at the state or national level. The Missouri conference initially published the advisory in June, and it was recognized nationally at the NAACP’s annual convention last week.
“Individuals traveling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION,” the advisory warns. “Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri.”
The advisory was issued after Senate Bill 43 — which makes it more difficult for employees to prove their protected class, like race or gender, directly led to unlawful discrimination — passed through the Missouri Legislature in June. Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens signed it into law soon after.
Greitens and other supporters of the bill have said it puts Missouri’s standards for lawsuits in line with other states.
But that’s not how the NAACP sees it. The Missouri NAACP State Conference called the legislation a “Jim Crow Bill.”
“This does not follow the morals of Missouri,” Conference President Rod Chapel Jr. told CNN. “I hate to see Missouri get dragged down deep past the notion of treating people with dignity.”
There have been other instances of discrimination in the state that could have elicited an advisory before this, several of which are listed in the warning. Among them are racist incidents reported at the University of Missouri that prompted protests across campus in 2015, as well as the state attorney general’s annual report that found black drivers were stopped by police at a rate 75% higher than white drivers.
Chapel said he met with Greitens about the Senate bill several times. After the bill passed, he said they had a “fair and frank discussion” about what the legislation would do. At a later meeting, Chapel said he brought several faith leaders in the community to talk with the governor about theology and morality.
“Ultimately, none of that worked,” Chapel said.
Neither the governor’s office nor the Missouri Division of Tourism responded to multiple requests for comment.
What does it mean?
The advisory doesn’t tell people to not go to Missouri. Rather, the NAACP wants minority travelers to be aware of what it says are potential risks.
“People should tell their relatives if they have to travel through the state, they need to be aware,” Chapel said. “They should have bail money, you never know.”
In the advisory, the NAACP urges individuals to “warn your families, co-workers and anyone visiting Missouri to beware of the safety concerns with travel in Missouri.” These concerns, the organization writes, could include unnecessary search and seizures and potential arrest.
Traditionally, travel advisories are released ahead of severe weather or political disruptions. The State Department publishes international travel warnings and alerts for countries with ongoing violence, frequent terrorist attacks or increased health risks, to name a few.
The ACLU has issued travel advisories similar to the NAACP’s in the past: one for Arizona in 2010, and one in Texas earlier this year. Both advisories were circulated after state laws passed allowing law enforcement officers to question a person’s immigration status.
What will it take for the advisory to be lifted?
After SB43 passed through the Legislature, the initial travel advisory was supposed to last until August 28, when the bill would potentially go into effect.
That changed when Greitens signed it into law.
“We see this travel advisory remaining in effect for the foreseeable future,” Chapel said.
He wants to see several changes in the state before the advisory is lifted, starting with the repeal of the law that prompted the advisory in the first place.
Chapel also said there should be a plan in place on how the state is going to address people of color being stopped by police at a disproportionate rate. He also wants to see a change in how Missouri prosecutors handle hate crimes.
“We need to have some basic ground rules for how human beings treat each other,” Chapel said.