Coalition responds to Missouri report showing police stop more black drivers

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JEFFERSON CITY - A coalition of several local and statewide organizations hosted two news conferences in Jefferson City and St. Louis Thursday to respond the 16th annual Vehicle Stops Report that was released by Attorney General of Missouri Chris Koster on Wednesday. The report shows African-Americans were more likely to be stopped and searched by police than white people.

"The report documents convincingly that African-Americans are particularly stopped disproportionally. But there's a lot of questions still given that broad conclusion," Don Love, Chair of the Human Right Task Force of Empower Missouri, said.

Koster called on the General Assembly to make the report “more meaningful.” He said while the report illuminated some racial disparities, it is not a comprehensive look at police and community relations because it only tracks vehicle stops. Love said normal people would have implicit bias or certain stereotypes, so do police officers.

"All the same sort of things happen for the officers that they are not racists, they just need a little help or a little training, ignoring the skin color, ignoring the pressure that's on them that makes them suspicious of a person of color, and looking instead of facts related to that person," Love said.

Love said the coalition will analyze whether the officers knew ahead of time that they were stopping black drivers, whether the officers stopped black drivers on purpose because of racism, or whether there was a misunderstanding the number of African American who were committing crimes.

"One of the things we look at is the taking complete data set and looking for hidden meaning there that gives a clear indication of what the problem is," Love said.

Farai Madzura, a Columbia African-American driver, thought there needed to be some dialogue to dig more to understand the problem.

"Where these stops are happening, for example. Are they in areas where the majority of drivers are colored drivers? Is it just a color issue? Is it also immigrants now live with threats with global terrorism?" Farai Madzura said.

The Coalition includes ACLU, Coalition Against Police Crimes and Repression, Empower Missouri, Metropolitan Congregations United (MCU), Missouri Faith Voices, Missouri Immigrant and Refugee Advocates (MIRA), Missouri NAACP Conference of Branches, Paraquad, Organization for Black Struggle (OBS), PROMO and SEIU Missouri/Kansas State Council.

According to the press release, the coalition believed "the clearest path to end biased-based policing in Missouri is through the passage of the Fair and Impartial Policing Act and a commitment from elected officials and agency chiefs to improve police and community relations."

"I think there are a lot of people from different backgrounds that are beginning to realize this is something that can be fixed, that something will benefit everyone, will make us a better society, gives us a better town to live in and protect public safety much better," Love said.

Madzura said if law enforcement officers could go through training and have dialogue with different groups would help to change the situation.

"It's so much going on in the world today. Obviously we are getting smaller in terms of how interdependent we are with each other, so we definitely need to come together and have those conversations and be honest about what are fears are," Madzura said.