US civil rights organisation issues travel advisory on state of Missouri to people of colour

Police arrest more than 50 demonstrators who blocked traffic on Interstate 70 outside of Ferguson to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown on August 10, 2015 near Earth City, Missouri.
Police arrest more than 50 demonstrators who blocked traffic on Interstate 70 outside of Ferguson to mark the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown on August 10, 2015 near Earth City, Missouri. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), a civil rights organisation in the US, has issued a warning to people of colour venturing through the state of Missouri that they do so at their own risk.

The advisory came after the state passed a law that made it more difficult for employees to prove that their race or gender directly led to unlawful discrimination. The NAACP said the law allows for legal discrimination and cited several discriminatory incidents in Missouri as examples of "looming danger" in the state, reported CNN.

"Individuals travelling in the state are advised to travel with extreme CAUTION," the advisory warns. "Race-, gender- and colour-based crimes have a long history in Missouri."

The NAACP said the travel advisory was a first for the organisation at either the state or national level. The advisory was first published in June before it was adopted at the NAACP's national convention last week.

The Missouri Bill that prompted the advisory was signed into law by Missouri Governor Eric Greitens not long after it was cleared by the legislature in June. Mr Greiten's and other supporters of the Bill said it aligned Missouri's standards for lawsuits with those of other states.

But the NAACP's Missouri Conference President Rod Chapel Jr said, "This does not follow the morals of Missouri... I hate to see Missouri get dragged down deep past the notion of treating people with dignity."

The NAACP has cited other instances of discrimination in the state that could have been grounds for an advisory before the Bill was passed, including racist incidents at the University of Missouri that prompted campus protests in 2015, as well as the state attorney general's annual report that found black drivers were stopped by police at a rate 75 per cent higher than white drivers.

The advisory stops short of telling people not to go to Missouri; rather, the NAACP says it wants people to be aware of what it says are potential risks.

"People should tell their relatives if they have to travel through the state, they need to be aware," Chapel said. "They should have bail money, you never know."

While the travel advisory was supposed to last until Aug 28, the NAACP says it will now remain in place for the foreseeable future following the passage of the Missouri Bill. It wants to see several changes in the state before the advisory is lifted, starting with the repeal of the law that led to the advisory in the first place, reported CNN.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a non-profit organisation that seeks to defend individual liberties, has issued similar travel advisories in the past, one for the state of Arizona in 2010 and one for Texas earlier this year. The advisories were circulated after state laws were passed allowing law enforcement officials to question a person's immigration status.