Missouri Report: Blacks Stopped at Record-Breaking Numbers, but Whites More Likely to Be Caught With Contraband

Police searching man’s car. Photo by © Masterfile Royalty Free

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Nearly four years after protests in Ferguson raised concerns about racial profiling of blacks in Missouri, a report from the state attorney general shows that African-American drivers are 85 percent more likely to be pulled over than whites — the highest percentage in the 18 years the state has compiled data.

Attorney General Josh Hawley on Friday released his office’s annual Vehicle Stops Report. The “disparity index” comparing traffic stops among races showed a jump from last year, when blacks were 75 percent more likely than whites to be stopped. Until now, last year’s percentage had been the highest since the reports began in 2000.

John Gaskin, spokesman for the St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP, said the numbers are shocking.

“Quite frankly, it’s really deplorable,” Gaskin said. “It’s why we’ve ended up in a situation where people are talking about travel advisories and African-American groups are less likely to come and do business in our state.”

Last July, the national NAACP issued a travel advisory for Missouri, citing last year’s vehicle stop data and other racial concerns in the state.

Police treatment of blacks in Missouri was scrutinized after Michael Brown, a black, unarmed 18-year-old in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, was fatally shot by a white officer on Aug. 9, 2014. The shooting and decisions not to charge the officer who shot Brown, Darren Wilson, resulted in months of often violent protests and was a catalyst for the national Black Lives Matter movement.

The shooting also prompted a U.S. Department of Justice investigation. A Justice Department report released in March 2015 cited racial bias and profiling in Ferguson’s policing, and a profit-driven municipal court system that frequently targeted black residents.

The attorney general’s report found that Ferguson’s disparity index was lower than the statewide average even though 88 percent of drivers stopped in Ferguson, and 85 percent of those arrested, were black. That’s because two-thirds of Ferguson’s 21,000 residents are African-American.

The statewide report, based on data self-reported by police agencies, found that Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and people of mixed or unknown races were stopped statewide at rates below their proportion of the driving-age population.

Richard Rosenfeld, a University of Missouri-St. Louis criminologist who analyzed the data for the attorney general’s office, said the report does offer evidence that police are becoming more selective in their traffic stops. The total number of stops has declined in recent years, and a higher percentage of stops are resulting in confiscation of weapons, drugs and other contraband.

“That’s all to the good,” Rosenfeld said. “We want the police to make quote, unquote, ‘good searches,’ that is, searches that produce contraband.”

White motorists were less likely to be searched than blacks, Hispanics and American Indians, but more likely to be caught with contraband. The report also found that 7.1 percent of Hispanics and 6.6 percent of blacks were arrested after stops, compared to 4.2 percent of whites.

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