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Pressure builds on Missouri officials after statewide report on racial profiling practices

Updated 6:20 p.m. June 2

Missouri state officials are under pressure to respond to a report that shows disparities between blacks and whites in traffic stops are the worst they've been since the state began collecting data 15 years ago.

According to the annual report released by the Attorney General’s office on Monday, black motorists in 2014 were 75 percent more likely to be pulled over by police officers than white motorists.

A coalition of social justice groups is calling on Attorney General Koster and other state officials to take meaningful steps to address the issue.

“This is data. This was not testimony; this was not video of an experience. These are just cold hard numbers,” said Montague Simmons, executive director for the Organization for Black Struggle, at a press conference on Tuesday.

Simmons criticized Koster and Governor Jay Nixon for allowing the problem to persist.

“We’ve been collecting this data since the year 2000. Our current governor was then attorney general and Koster’s been in office for a number of years. We still do not have a system of accountability that allows us to say that something real could be done.”

The coalition includes nearly a dozen regional organizations, which, as of June 2, include:

·       ACLU Missouri

·       Anti-Defamation League, Missouri/Southern Illinois

·       Don’t Shoot Coalition

·       Empower Missouri

·       Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council

·       Missouri Civil Liberties Association

·       North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice

·       Organization for Black Struggle

The coalition is calling on Attorney General Koster to convene a policing summit to address racial profiling before the end of 2015.

Executive Director for Empower Missouri Jeanette Mott Oxford said the summit would look at ways to promote impartial policing and improving police and community relations.

“We need better training with police and that needs to include training about unconscious bias. Community conversations between police officers and community groups are absolutely essential to making that happen.”

A spokeswoman for Koster said the Attorney General’s office has scheduled to meet with Mott Oxford to discuss the coalition’s ideas and convening a statewide summit on policing. 

Our original story

The percentage of African-American motorists in Missouri being pulled over by police is the highest it’s ever been since the state began collecting data to guard against racial profiling.

The annual "Missouri Vehicles Stops" report, issued by the Missouri attorney general's office, said that during 2014 black motorists were 75 percent more likely to be pulled over by law enforcement officers than white motorists.

That’s a nine percentage point jump compared to 2013, when black motorists were 66 percent more likely than whites to be pulled over by cops. Attorney General Chris Koster calls the pattern "striking."

Credit Jason Rojas | Flickr

"Just 14 years earlier, in 2000, the difference was only 31 percent," Koster said in the report.

This year's report also found that the disparity index was below average for Hispanics, Asians and motorists of other races. However, Hispanic motorists were more likely than blacks to be searched and arrested.

The numbers in the report are based on the percentage of drivers aged 16 or older pulled over in traffic stops in Missouri.

Koster states in the report that there is no single explanation for the disparities, but he also says the findings "continue a disturbing trend for African-American drivers in Missouri."

Eleven law enforcement agencies did not submit their traffic stop data to the attorney general's office, which Koster says is required by state law. The Wellston Police Department and the St. Louis Park Rangers are in this area. Other police departments are Edgerton, Lilbourn, Morley, Deepwater, Naylor, Camden, Hurley, New Melle and the BNSF Railway Police.

Credit From Attorney General Koster's report

The full 2014 report can be viewed here.

Follow Marshall Griffin on Twitter:  @MarshallGReport

Copyright 2015 St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis Public Radio State House Reporter Marshall Griffin is a native of Mississippi and proud alumnus of Ole Miss (welcome to the SEC, Mizzou!). He has been in radio for over 20 years, starting out as a deejay. His big break in news came when the first President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989. Marshall was working the graveyard shift at a rock station, and began ripping news bulletins off an old AP teletype and reading updates between songs. From there on, his radio career turned toward news reporting and anchoring. In 1999, he became the capital bureau chief for Florida's Radio Networks, and in 2003 he became News Director at WFSU-FM/Florida Public Radio. During his time in Tallahassee he covered seven legislative sessions, Governor Jeb Bush's administration, four hurricanes, the Terri Schiavo saga, and the 2000 presidential recount. Before coming to Missouri, he enjoyed a brief stint in the Blue Ridge Mountains, reporting and anchoring for WWNC-AM in Asheville, North Carolina. Marshall lives in Jefferson City with his wife, Julie, their dogs, Max and Liberty Belle, and their cat, Honey.
Leahy anchors St. Louis Public Radio's weekday afternoon newscasts and produces news on local and regional issues. He previously produced and reported news for WERS 88.9 FM in Boston and is a former correspondent for the Boston Globe’s online news section, "Your Town." He holds a master's degree in print and multimedia journalism from Emerson College in Boston.