Minorities are being warned to exercise caution when travelling to the US state of Missouri because of the potential for discrimination and racist attacks.
The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) has issued its first ever travel advisory for an entire US state.
The move by the civil rights group follows a recent trend of similar alerts issued by other groups for vulnerable people around the United States.
The travel advisory, circulated in June by the Missouri NAACP and now taken up by the national organisation, comes after a plague of US police shootings and widespread racial tension in the wake of Donald Trump’s election as president.
NAACP singled out Missouri first because of recent “Jim Crow-like” legislation making discrimination lawsuits harder to win and its longtime racial disparities in traffic enforcement.
A spate of incidents were cited as examples of harm coming to minority residents and visitors.
Those incidents included racial slurs against black students at the University of Missouri and the death earlier this year of 28-year-old Tory Sanders, a black man from Tennessee who took a wrong turn while travelling and died in a southeast Missouri jail even though he hadn’t been accused of a crime.
“How do you come to Missouri, run out of gas and find yourself dead in a jail cell when you haven’t broken any laws?” asked Rod Chapel, the president of the Missouri NAACP.
“You have violations of civil rights that are happening to people. They’re being pulled over because of their skin colour, they’re being beaten up or killed,” Chapel said.
“We are hearing complaints at a rate we haven’t heard before.”
At the same time, Chapel said, the state government is throwing up barriers to people seeking justice in the courts for discrimination.
The travel advisory cites legislation signed by Republican Governor Eric Greitens that will make it more difficult to sue for housing or employment discrimination.
Asked about the travel advisory in Kansas City on Friday, Greitens said he hadn’t seen it yet. His office did not return messages seeking comment on Wednesday (NZ time).
The new law on discrimination lawsuits takes effect on August 28, and Chapel urged people to file any complaints they had before then.
Chapel, who was silenced by a Missouri House committee chairman while speaking against the legislation earlier this year, said he was especially alarmed that the University of Missouri System backed an earlier version of the bill.
The most recent attorney general’s report showing black drivers in Missouri were 75 per cent more likely to be pulled over than whites.
Those reports have been showing the disparity since the attorney general began releasing the data in 2000.
In May, the owner of a Blue Springs barbershop found his shop windows stained with racial slurs. The same two words appeared on three separate windows in black paint: “Die (N-word).”
Last week, national NAACP delegates voted to adopt the travel advisory, sending it to the national board for ratification in October.
“The advisory is for people to be aware, and warn their families and friends and co-workers of what could happen in Missouri,” Chapel said.
“People need to be ready, whether it’s bringing bail money with them, or letting relatives know they are travelling through the state.”
Missouri reported 100 hate crimes in 2015, the most recent year statistics were available from the FBI’s hate crime reporting programme.
That put the state at 16th in the country, though not all law enforcement agencies participate in the programme.
– The Kansas City Star