The Missouri NAACP anchored a rally at the state capitol Tuesday to draw attention to recent events and legislative moves it claims infringe upon civil rights.
And after publicly asking for a conference, the organization’s state president, Rod Chapel, also met with Republican Governor Eric Greitens.
Among other things, the NAACP Missouri chapter has issued a travel advisory to instruct individuals to be extremely cautious when passing through or spending time in Missouri. It says incidents involving residents and visitors offer examples of looming danger, and lists a number of occurrences to support its conclusion.
In one of them, an African American man from Tennessee died in jail after an altercation with a sheriff who had been suspended. In another instance, two internationally born men were killed by a person who thought they were Muslim.
The advisory notes that black high school students in St. Louis have been attacked with hot glue while being denigrated racially.
It further acknowledges a report by the attorney general that African Americans are 75% more likely to be stopped while driving than whites, and references a statement by a state Representative Rick Bratton that homosexuals are not human beings according to his faith.
The advisory also contends racial threats and attacks at the University of Missouri have threatened civil rights.
A coalition of faith and labor groups joined the NAACP at the rally, which also drew attention to legislation passed this year that would make it more difficult to sue for employment and housing discrimination.
Governor Greitens hasn’t said whether he’ll sign the measure. He’s been critical of discrimination in general, but has also strongly backed legislation to limit lawsuits that could hamper the state’s business climate.
The Missouri Chamber of Commerce, which has given a full throated endorsement of the litigation bill, was also a strong supporter of Greitens. Some lawmakers have speculated that Greitens will avoid any political fallout and let the bill become law without his signature.
NAACP leader Chapel doesn’t think the governor, who was a Rhodes Scholar and a Navy Seal, will back away from the consequential decision.
“He’s a man of courage” said Chapel. “He served his country with distinction. I think that he would take the same high road in terms of any action that he would issue. Either he would veto it, or sign it, but not let it pass. No pocket pass is what I’m saying.”
Greitens will have to sign or veto the litigation bill by July 14th, or the measure will automatically become law. Enforcement of it would begin August 28th.
Chapel says his move to release a travel advisory is extraordinary, but necessary.
“To say that you have to be careful because of the conditions that are present in the state, that you, in your person may not be safe, that’s very uncommon. It’s an extreme step, but I don’t think that we had any choice. We couldn’t shirk our obligation to our membership or to the public to let everyone know what’s happening, and what’s happening now.”
Republican Mike Kehoe of Jefferson City, the state Senate’s Majority Floor Leader, was a vocal supporter of the litigation bill like many of his fellow party members. He doesn’t think Chapel’s travel advisory is a fair representation of Missouri.
“I know it’s positioning on a discrimination bill, they feel that way” said Kehoe. “And of course the report about how many people get pulled over and what race they might be. But at the end of the day I think Missouri is welcoming and open for business. I don’t see through the same glasses as Rod does on this issue.”
Chapel agrees that Missouri is welcoming, but doesn’t think the hospitality is being extended to all people. “I thinks that there’s a little work to be done, but I certainly join him in that sentiment, and would love to see things change so that we can lift this travel advisory.”
Chapel issued a statement Tuesday evening regarding his meeting with Governor Greitens.
“The Missouri State NAACP conference and our coalition partners are delighted to have had an opportunity to meet with governor Greitens today. We believe that an open and honest conversation about Senate Bill 43 (the litigation measure) and the attending harms that would flow from it to Missourians of all sorts was not only productive but also informative. The governor is, in his own words, as he has said publicly, listening to all sides and shared that he has not made his mind up.”