Parson has opportunity — and experience — to show leadership on NAACP travel advisory

NAACP issues travel advisory for Missouri

For the first time, the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for a state, warning travelers and residents about possible discrimination and racist attacks. The Missouri NAACP circulated the advisory in June, and it was adopted by national delegates
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For the first time, the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for a state, warning travelers and residents about possible discrimination and racist attacks. The Missouri NAACP circulated the advisory in June, and it was adopted by national delegates

Here is something every elected official in Missouri should remember: The state is still under the travel advisory issued in 2017 by the Missouri chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Is the advisory warning people of color to proceed through the state with caution still warranted? You bet. Minorities in all corners of the Show-Me State have continued to face indefensible, if not illegal treatment and discrimination in the two years since.

In Kansas City, for example, 15-year-old Tyree Bell was arrested and locked in juvenile detention for three weeks in 2016 after officers mistakenly arrested him for unlawful use of a weapon. A federal judge, citing qualified immunity for the officers involved, just this year tossed a lawsuit claiming the teen was deprived of his civil rights.

And that’s only one instance.

The NAACP issued its humiliating warning in 2017 after then-Gov. Eric Greitens signed into law a bill making it more difficult for people to sue for housing or employment discrimination, among a number of other intolerable offenses against minorities.

That 2017 legislation also prohibits anyone from suing the individual who harassed or discriminated against them. They can sue only business entities.

The Missouri NAACP State Conference’s advisory was backed by the national office. It was the first of its kind in the civil rights organization’s 110-year-old history.

The cautionary warning was back in the news recently after the state’s NAACP office raised concerns over harassment in the small, predominantly white town of Leadwood about 70 miles southwest of St. Louis.

The NAACP questioned — deservedly so — why a black student at West County Middle School was suspended from class for three days last month for fighting a white student who he says called him a racial slur and cornered him in a bathroom, while the white child received only two days of after-school detention.

Nimrod Chapel, Jr., president of the Missouri NAACP, said the incident highlights one of the reasons the advisory has been extended.

Chapel called on elected leaders to set the template for what kind of state Missouri wants to be. It was the appropriate plea.

“The civil rights issues that Missouri continues to face have to come to the forefront,” he said.

Gov. Mike Parson has been immersed in his duties as the state’s top executive since he replaced Greitens, who resigned last June amid a scandal-filled tenure that lasted less than half a term.

That’s understandable. Governing is hard work. It’s certainly not easy to cure all of society’s ills in a few months, if at all.

And it’s a testament to Parson’s leadership style that representatives of his office and administration have met with leaders of the Missouri NAACP, although the governor himself has not.

That should change in the near future, said Steele Shippy, a spokesman for the governor’s office. Parson plans to meet with the NAACP, which never did get the ear of Greitens or his staff.

Parson is not completely off the hook. As the most recognizable leader of the state, the governor must set the example on how authority figures react when faced with challenges such as the travel advisory.

“We need state governmental officials to protect the rights of citizens.” Chapel said. “I trust that (Parson) will do that.”

The first step Parson could take is to publicly call on the Missouri Highway Patrol to conduct a thorough and timely investigation into the alleged harassment and threats facing Leadwood’s only black family.

He then should call on the state attorney general’s office to make police agencies more accountable for their racial profiling data and policies.

Black drivers in Missouri were 75% more likely than whites to be pulled over by police in 2016. In 2017, it was 85%.

“The governor strongly believes that under no circumstances should any type of discrimination ever be tolerated,” Shippy said. “Missouri’s doors will and should remain open to welcome citizens of all walks of life and background, regardless of race.”

Clearly, Missourians need guidance from someone in high authority on combating discriminatory practices and unfair treatment. To do that, leaders must call attention to the issue, admit that it’s wrong and find solutions.

Who else besides Parson, a former sheriff, is better equipped to raise awareness of the travel advisory?

Parson hit the ground running after moving into the governor’s mansion, and he has had to wade through a wide range of issues left unresolved by his predecessor. Unfortunately, the travel advisory has not yet been a pressing matter for the current administration. Shouldn’t it be?

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