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NAACP Warns Black Travelers To Use 'Extreme Caution' When Visiting Missouri

The NAACP has issued a travel advisory for the state of Missouri, citing recent "race-based incidents" and new state legislation that makes it harder for fired employees to prove racial discrimination.

It's the first time the national civil rights organization has issued a travel warning for an entire state, the Kansas City Star reports.

The group warns "African American travelers, visitors and Missourians" to "exercise extreme caution" in the state.

The state NAACP first issued an advisory in June. It described "looming danger" and recommended that "each individual should pay special attention while in the state of Missouri and certainly if contemplating spending time in Missouri."

Nearly three years ago, racial bias in Missouri seized national headlines after Michael Brown was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., prompting widespread protests.

The Missouri NAACP focused on more recent deaths and incidents of harassment in its advisory, including death threats toward students at the University of Missouri, Columbia. It also noted that, according to the state's own attorney general, black drivers in Missouri were 75 percent more likely last year to be stopped and searched than white drivers. (The same report says black drivers are less likely to be found with contraband — but more likely to be arrested — than white drivers.)

Black travelers in the state are "subject to unnecessary search seizure and potential arrest," the Missouri NAACP warned.

"Race, gender and color based crimes have a long history in Missouri," the original advisory stated. "Warn your families, co-workers and anyone visiting Missouri to beware of the safety concerns."

The advisory wasn't just prompted by concerns about safety on the road. At the time, the state's Republican governor had not announced whether he would sign or veto legislation that the NAACP has described as bringing back "Jim Crow."

As St. Louis Public Radio has reported, the measure "would make fired employees have to prove that race, religion, sex or age was the main reason for his or her dismissal, not just a contributing factor."

"Supporters say it'll protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits," St. Louis Public Radio reports, while opponents say it makes it harder for employees to fight back against discrimination.

Controversially, the sponsor of the legislation owns a business that is being sued for racial discrimination.

In April, the head of the Missouri NAACP tried to express his concerns about the measure at a hearing. As soon as he compared it to Jim Crow, the Republican committee chair ordered his microphone turned off, St. Louis Public Radio reports.

Gov. Eric Greitens has since signed the bill into law.

The NAACP decided last weekto adopt the Missouri travel advisory on a national level. The announcement went out on Wednesday.

"We share the alarm and concern that black individuals enjoying the highways, roads and points of interest there may not be safe," Derrick Johnson, interim president and CEO of the NAACP, said in the statement.

The national organization also points to the employee discrimination measure, saying it "legalizes individual discrimination and harassment within the State of Missouri."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.