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The NAACP issued its first statewide travel warning for Missouri. Here’s why

August 3, 2017 at 6:35 PM EDT
The NAACP issued a travel advisory about the state of Missouri for women, minorities and LGBT people, asking those travelers to use “extreme caution.” The NAACP’s first statewide alert comes after Missouri passed a law that the organization says permits legal discrimination. President Rod Chapel Jr. of the Missouri NAACP joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss how and why the advisory came about.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The NAACP has issued a warning, what they’re calling a travel advisory, for women, minorities, and LGBT people traveling to the state of Missouri. It is asking those travelers to use — quote — “extreme caution” when visiting.

Our Hari Sreenivasan has this conversation, recorded earlier this evening.

HARI SREENIVASAN: It’s the first time the NAACP has issued a travel warning for an entire state. It followed a new state law that makes it harder for fired employees to prove racial discrimination.

Joining us to discuss all this is attorney Rod Chapel. He’s the president of the Missouri NAACP.

For the record, we invited Missouri’s governor to join, but he declined our invitation.

Mr. Chapel, what prompted this action now? I know that this was approved statewide in June, and this was a vote that still has to be ratified, but why now?

ROD CHAPEL JR., President, Missouri NAACP: What led to the travel advisory are a couple of things, one, the recognition that there were widespread civil rights violations that were occurring in the state of Missouri, and that those were not properly being addressed by local or state authorities.

And that was compounded by the fact that Senate Bill 43 was signed into law. It will affect people in the workplace, people searching for housing, as well as just in the general public experience.

It changes the standard that discrimination must be proved to, as well as gives immunity to individuals who discriminate and harass against others.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, some of the language in your text here, it says this travel advisory, travel with extreme caution, that you may not be safe while in Missouri.

You say this is not a boycott, but what are you trying to accomplish?

ROD CHAPEL JR.: Well, honestly, we have done about everything that we can to try to talk with state and local officials about the ways that laws are being enforced, asking that they have appropriate or better laws that allow people to live with dignity.

That has not succeeded. So, at this point, we didn’t have much of an option. We had to warn people, so that they knew what they are coming into in the state of Missouri or what conditions they’re living under if they are already here.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, what about the notion that this is just trying to cut back on frivolous lawsuits? That was one of the rationale given when this was proposed.

ROD CHAPEL JR.: Well, unfortunately, we have heard that argument before.

And so when I talk with the members of the Chamber of Commerce about it or people close to them, when I talk with the governor, one of the questions that we at the NAACP had is, how do you quantity that? And did you try?

There are no numbers that they have for what they say are these frivolous lawsuits. They have a hard time trying to identify businesses that will come forward and say that they had them.

What they do have is a senator who got sued for discrimination in one of his rent-to-own stores in Southeast Missouri who introduced this legislation, and he talked about frivolous lawsuits. But other than one person who would like to keep himself or his stores from being sued for discriminatory conduct, we haven’t heard from a single individual or business that has advocated for Senate Bill 43.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Now, the governor says that the standards that you are referencing, the standards would try to align Missouri with 38 other states with the laws on the books, moving what is called a contributing factor to a motivating factor, whether racism was a contributing factor in discrimination or whether it was the motivating factor.

What is the response?

ROD CHAPEL JR.: You know, unfortunately, I feel like the Missouri Chamber of Commerce has done a poor job of informing the governor on this issue.

Unfortunately, what has been adopted in Missouri is not the federal standard. What this standard is, is the motivating factor. That means that it is the — and I can tell you, my mother is a professor. She would tell you that “a” and “the” do not mean the same thing. There are some jurisdictions that have adopted a motivating factor.

But my third grader would also tell you “a” and “the” are two separate words, and you can’t interchange them however you want to. I challenge those that have said that, that if you had 38 other states that Missouri will be joining and having the same law, show them to me. Point that word out. Show where it says the motivating factor, on top of the fact that I’m not aware that the federal standard would prevent people from being sued for discriminatory conduct.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Finally, what about other states? I know you are responsible for the NAACP in Missouri, but what is the bar for the NAACP to put out a travel advisory like this?

ROD CHAPEL JR.: Well, this is the first time that it’s been done. Missouri is leading the way in this way, and regretfully so.

We wouldn’t have issued if it wasn’t ultimately necessary to ensure that people in the state and traveling through the state were safe. And I think that other states are going to have to make those same determinations.

At the point, though, that you have people readopting what we have consider to be Jim Crow laws, where you say that entire segments of society cannot have access to the courts to address grievances, and, worse than that, legalize what I can consider to be immoral conduct, discrimination and harassment of other people based on God-given characteristics.

Then I think that the states really do have to decide whether or not they have got an obligation to the people there in the state and people who may be traveling through to let them know the conditions that are happening.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Rod Chapel, thanks so much for joining us.

ROD CHAPEL JR.: Hey, thank you. I appreciate it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And we have this development to add.

Late today, the Saint Louis County NAACP released a statement calling on the national organization to revoke the advisory for Missouri.

And I’m quoting. The statement says: “We suggest that, if the NAACP doesn’t rescind their advisory immediately, then they should add to it the other 38 states with similar laws as well.”

They claim that the advisory will hurt many of their members locally, especially those employed in hospitality.