ACLU Praises Lawmakers as Missouri Becomes Fourth State in Nation to Pass Racial Profiling Legislation

Affiliate: ACLU of Missouri
May 12, 2000 12:00 am

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ST. LOUIS–The American Civil Liberties Union of Eastern Missouri today praised lawmakers for making Missouri the fourth state in the nation to pass legislation prohibiting racial profiling and requiring police departments statewide to keep racial statistics on all police stops.

The bill, which passed by an overwhelming margin, was spurred in part by advocacy and public education by the ACLU about the extent of racial profiling, also known as “DWB” — Driving While Black or Brown.

“This is an historic moment for race relations in the state of Missouri,” said Matt LeMieux, Executive Director of the ACLU of Eastern Missouri. “Racial profiling — the practice of police stopping people based upon race or ethnicity — is pervasive across the country. We believe that data collection of the kind adopted by the legislature today is the best way to document and end this insidious practice.”

The legislation follows a year of outreach and advocacy by the ACLU and other civil rights groups in St. Louis about racial profiling.

The legislative initiative here kicked off in February, when State Rep. Russell Gunn introduced a bill outlawing racial profiling and pretext stops and calling for the data collection. Soon after, a similar bill, SB 1053, was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Wayne Goode. The bill was overwhelmingly approved in the Senate before being championed back in the House by Reps. Gunn and Rita Days to similar overwhelming support.

“This is an important step towards promoting racial equality,” said Leland Ware, Vice President of the ACLU’s Eastern Missouri affiliate. “The practice of racial profiling has long been a matter of profound concern to the African American community.”

“The Missouri legislature’s overwhelming approval of this bill signals an acknowledgment of the problem and is a large step towards reducing racially motivated police encounters and improving police-community relations in our state,” he added.

With the passage of its bill, Missouri joins a nationwide legislative trend to end racial profiling. Last year, North Carolina and Connecticut passed legislation requiring law enforcement agencies to collect data during traffic stops. This year, some 25 states introduced legislation requiring data collection. Washington State passed similar legislation earlier this year, and Missouri’s bill makes it the fourth state in the nation to do so.

The Missouri initiative was spurred by recent national attention to the practice of DWB by the ACLU. A 1999 report issued by the ACLU entitled, “Driving While Black: Racial Profiling on Our Nation’s Highways,” reviewed a number of studies around the country showing that non-white drivers are much more likely to be stopped and/or searched by the police.

The ACLU report, along with a national public education campaign and ACLU-led litigation challenging racial profiling in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Oklahoma, New Jersey and California, is helping to convince an increasing number of law enforcement agencies to review how traffic stops are being conducted. Numerous law enforcement agencies nationwide now voluntarily collect data during traffic stops.

“Data collection is the best way to document the problem of racial profiling and will ultimately allow us to put an end to this practice,” LeMieux said. “Racial profiling has been statistically documented across the country, and the reports we receive suggest that the practice occurs in Missouri as well.”

Results from a recent Gallup Poll and reported incidents across the country reaffirm the need for gathering statistics. According to the poll, released in December 1999, 59 percent of the public believes that racial profiling is widespread, and an overwhelming 81 percent disapprove of its use by police.

LeMieux said his office has received numerous complaints of racial profiling by police. Frequent targets include black males, particularly those in nice cars or those in predominantly white neighborhoods. People of color call it one of the most prominent examples of racism thriving in American society.

One victim said that after being stopped by police, “I have a hard time telling my children the police are here to protect everyone regardless of who they are.”

The ACLU’s national Campaign Against Racial Profiling is documented on the ACLU’s website:

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