When it comes to racial profiling in Missouri, every year is like Groundhog Day, writes St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Tony Messenger. The state attorney general releases the annual vehicle stops report, finding that blacks are pulled over at significantly higher rates than whites. Attorney General Eric Schmitt said this year that blacks in Missouri are 91 percent more likely to be pulled over than whites. People of color are searched for contraband at significantly higher numbers than whites, even though police find such contraband at similar or lower levels for minority groups. Police chiefs rail at the report, saying more information is needed.
It was like this before Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson in 2014 brought national attention to the annual racial profiling numbers in Missouri, and it is thus five years later. Now, some police chiefs seeking more information have a problem. St. Louis activist Phillip Weeks sued several cities and St. Louis County last week because they won’t share information to add clarity to the racial profiling numbers. With the help of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center, Weeks sued St. Louis because it refused to provide the database with officer-by-officer data. This would allow researchers to determine if any officer was skewing the numbers, or if there was anything else unusual that raises suspicion. It appears that agencies across the state are trying to cover up policing practices by hiding records that should be made public by state law, Weeks said. “If there wasn’t something to hide, why would they go through all the trouble to hide it?” The point of the vehicle stops report when it began 18 years ago was to bring public accountability to racial profiling. Nearly two decades later, Weeks’ lawsuit offers a path toward that goal, Messenger says.