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Driving While Black

April 7, 2000
By: Laetitia Thompson
State Capital Bureau

Over the past few years black drivers complaining they were handcuffed and forced face down to the ground during illegal car searches have prompted several states to confront racial profiling.

But the Missouri Legislature has only just begun to confront the problem this year.

Laetitia Thompson has the story from the state capitol.

Story:
RunTime: 4:53
OutCue: SOC

Matt LeMieux calls it DWB or Driving While Black.

LeMieux is Executive Director of the Eastern Missouri ACLU and claims his office has received hundreds of racial profiling complaints.

Actuality:MATT2
RunTime: 34 SEC
OutCue: "CLASSIC RACIAL PROFILING STOP."
Contents: LEMIEUX SAYS COMPLAINTS INCLUDE NOT BEING TOLD WHY ASKED EMBARRASSING QUESTIONS AND SEARCHED WITH NO CITATION.

LeMieux testified in favor of a law requiring the police to record the age, race and gender of each driver they pull over and why to help identify and eliminate racial profiling in Missouri.

Blue Springs Representative Carson Ross sits on the committee that considered LeMieux's testimony.

Ross is the only black Republican in the legislature and one of the most outspoken critics of racial profiling.

Actuality:ROSS6
RunTime: 19 SEC
OutCue: "I WANT IT STOPPED."
Contents: ROSS SAYS THAT JUST BECAUSE HE LOOKS DIFFERENT IS NO REASON FOR THE POLICE TO STOP HIM AND TRY TO FIND SOMETHING WRONG...WHEN THEY DO IT INFRINGES ON HIS CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS AND HE WANTS IT STOPPED.

Ross and other black legislators who testified before him in favor of the bill told personal stories of how police stopped them because of their race.

Each claimed only their legislative license plates protected them from further abuse.

Earlier in the year Missouri State Highway Patrol Superintendent Weldon Wilholt testified his department doesn't tolerate profiling of any sort.

Wilholt said the State Highway Patrol has already begun to collect statistics on race.

Actuality:WILHOLT2
RunTime: 20 SEC
OutCue: "PEOPLE WERE WHITE."
Contents: WILHOLT SAYS THAT BY SEPTEMBER HE WILL BE ABLE GIVE STATISTICS ON THE RACIAL MAKEUP OF SEARCHES AND THAT IN 1998 91% OF THE PEOPLE

ARRESTED WERE WHITE.

According to the ACLU's LeMieux racial profiling is in part defined by the fact a search is conducted but no charges are filed but Wilholt's data is based on arrests and not searches.

Plus LeMieux says he's received complaints against all levels of enforcement including the State Highway Patrol.

The only black male in the Missouri Senate echoes LeMieux's concerns.

St. Louis Senator Lacy Clay says the Highway Patrol can't claim a problem exists because there are no statistics available for proof.

Actuality:CLAY1
RunTime: 18 SEC
OutCue: "THE INFORMATION."
Contents: CLAY ASKS IF THERE IS A PROBLEM OR NOT SINCE PLENTY OF DATA EXISTS FOR THE NATION BUT MISSOURI CAN'T DETERMINE BECAUSE IT DOESN'T HAVE THE INFORMATION.

But Clay admits the State Highway Patrol is not the problem.

The real problem Clay says are Missouri's local police departments.

Actuality:CLAY2
RunTime: 14 SEC
OutCue: "FEAR DRIVING THROUGH."
Contents: CLAY SAYS RACIAL PROFILING IS AN EVERYDAY OCCURRENCE IN ST. LOUIS AND PEOPLE COMPLAIN ABOUT SMALL MUNICIPALITIES THAT THEY FEAR DRIVING THROUGH.

Relatively few lawmakers have openly opposed creating laws aimed at eliminating racial profiling.

But southern Missouri Senator John Russell did publicly question potential police reaction to data collection.

Actuality:RUSSELL3
RunTime: 22 SEC
OutCue: "ALREADY OVER QUOTA."
Contents: RUSSELL SAYS IF REQUIREMENTS ARE TOO STRENUOUS THEN COPS WILL WORK THE SYSTEM AND WON'T ARREST THE RIGHT PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY ARE ALREADY OVER QUOTAS.

Despite such concerns, Ross and his committee sent the racial profiling proposal to the House this week.

The bill is the first of three such laws to even reach the floor but has yet to be scheduled for debate.

Which means racial data collection has a slim chance of becoming law this year...a reality prompting LeMieux to urge minority drivers to be polite but firm.

Actuality:MATT3
RunTime: 13 SEC
OutCue: "PROBABLE CAUSE."
Contents: LEMIEUX SAYS PEOPLE SHOULD BE RESPECTFUL AND GIVE INFORMATION BUT POLICE DON'T HAVE RIGHT TO SEARCH A CAR WITHOUT PROBABLE CAUSE.

And if you believe you're victim of racial profiling?

LeMieux says give the ACLU a call.

From Jefferson City, I'm Laetitia Thompson.