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The first travel advisory in the history of the NAACP was issued Aug. 2 for the state of Missouri over concerns about the safety of African Americans, and once again tensions between law enforcement officers, state officials and minorities were thrust into the spotlight.
The advisory, originally set to expire Aug. 28, was renewed, according to The New York Times. Missouri NAACP President Rod Chapel said it will remain in effect until at least late September.
When NAACP Interim President and CEO Derrick Johnson announced the organization’s travel advisory, he cited statistics that depict racial disparities in Missouri.
"The numerous racist incidents, and the statistics cited by the Missouri Attorney General in the advisory, namely the fact that African Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by law enforcement officers than Caucasians, are unconscionable, and are simply unacceptable in a progressive society," Johnson said in the statement.
The advisory was issued largely in response to SB 43, which requires employees who claim workplace discrimination prove bias is an explicit reason for being fired, rather than just a contributing factor. It was also in response to a "series of questionable, race-based incidents occurring statewide recently."
We wanted to look into Johnson’s statement about racial disparities in Missouri. Are law enforcement officers a full 75 percent more likely to pull over and search an African American?
Stops versus searches
When we reached out to the NAACP, communications director Malik Russell said Johnson may have gotten some of his numbers mixed up, since he didn’t have the data in front of him. But he emphasized the larger point, saying the difference between the numbers that he might have mixed up is small.
Russell didn’t give any additional evidence, but the statement announcing the advisory cited data from the attorney general’s office.
In 2000, concerns from both Missouri residents and the legislature prompted the passage of a law that requires law enforcement officers collect specific information, including race, for every traffic stop. Each agency must provide this data to the attorney general, who in turn sends it to the governor.
A team of researchers has been compiling this information for the attorney general since 2001.
The 2016 Vehicle Stops Report Executive Summary from the attorney general’s office breaks down the data related to vehicle stops last year. There were 21 agencies that did not submit the data by the required date and 58 agencies that reported no stops out of 682 law enforcement agencies in the state.
Blacks represent 10.9 percent of the driving population and 18 percent of all traffic stops, while whites represent 82.8 percent of the population and 78 percent of stops.
Richard Rosenfeld, a criminology professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has been on the research team since 2001.
Rosenfeld said the researchers divided stops made by the number of people 16 years and older in the state to come up with a "stop rate." A value of one means there is no disparity, values greater than one mean there is overrepresentation, and values below one mean there is underrepresentation.
The disparity index, which is the proportion of stops divided by the proportion of the population, was 1.65 for blacks last year, overrepresenting the black population by 65 percent. Whites, on the other hand, were stopped at a .94 rate, underrepresenting the white population by 6 percent.
Researchers divided 1.65 by .94 to get 1.75, or a 75 percent higher stop rate for blacks than whites. This is the number Johnson used in his statement.
But stops and searches are different things.
Blacks are 57 percent more likely to be searched than whites. (Formula: 8.77 percent search rate for blacks divided by 5.57 search rate for whites = 1.57.)
Johnson stated that African Americans in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped and searched by law enforcement officers than caucasians.
Blacks in Missouri are 75 percent more likely to be stopped by law enforcement officers than whites, which is reflected in the attorney general data.
That’s not true about searches. Blacks are 57 percent more likely to be searched than whites. The discrepancy in searches is huge, but it’s not 75 percent.
We rate Johnson’s statement Half True.
NAACP statement, "NAACP Travel Advisory for the State of Missouri", NAACP’s website, August 2, 2017
Senate bill, "SB 43", Missouri Senate website, June 30, 2017
NYT article, "N.A.A.C.P. to Missouri: You’re No Safe Space (Still)," New York Times, Aug. 31, 2017
Government report, "2016 Vehicle Stops Executive Summary," Missouri Attorney General’s website, 2016
Kansas City Star article, "Greitens signs bill that raises standards for fired employees to win discrimination cases," The Kansas City Star, June 30, 2017
Kansas City Star article, "NAACP issues a first-ever travel advisory for a state — and it’s Missouri," The Kansas City Star, Aug. 1, 2017.
Phone interview, Richard Rosenfeld, Sept. 1, 2017.
Phone call, NAACP Media Contact Malik Russell, Sept. 5, 2017.
News article, "Missouri’s policies ‘detrimental’ to African Americans’ health, national NAACP leader says," St. Louis Post Dispatch, Aug. 29, 2017
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