He was driving on his way out of town and hopeful of positive news after his rallying efforts when Rod Chapel, president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, received a less-than-optimistic phone call from Gov. Eric Greitens.
“The governor calls and says, ‘Hey Rod, just wanted to call ya about Senate Bill 43,’” said Chapel, who was about to turn his car around and head back in the direction he came from.
“I fully anticipated he was about to say, ‘Come stand with me as I veto this bill,’ but unfortunately he tells me, ‘I’m gonna sign the bill’ and told me, ‘I understand we got some differences about this, but I just wanted to tell you before I did it.’”
The practicing trial attorney who handles 30 to 40 employment cases annually, said he was still trying to process the phone call when he immediately began receiving calls from people letting him know what had happened.
“He signed it unceremoniously. Not a lot of fanfare — nobody to my knowledge from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce — no representative of any of the businesses that he says this is supposed to help — no pens given out, no signed copies — nothing that I know of,” said Chapel about Greitens moving forward with the signing of a bill that Chapel says will reduce protections for minorities.
Senate Bill 43 requires alleged victims of religious, gender or racial discrimination to prove that discrimination itself is the “motivating” factor, rather than just a “contributing” factor.
Chapel’s call with the governor took place on June 30 and has left us here, a month later, with a “proceed with caution” travel advisory to Missouri put in motion by the NAACP, warning of imminent discrimination ahead — a first of its kind by the organization.
Chapel illustrates how SB 43 affects minorities by giving the example of working at a fast food restaurant where someone’s loved one gets harassed by a co-worker and the accountability of the harasser is waived — preventing them from being taken to court or suspended.
To add more context, he elaborated on his concern regarding potential caps in awarded damages: “If you have a company, for example, with 50 people, then it would be capped damages at $50,000 even though you can have a 50-person company and inflict way more than $50,000 worth of damage on a person through discrimination or harassment” — because, he said, damages can be both “verbal” and “physical” and “both of those are encompassed in that.”
The NAACP is now focused on educating minorities about how to protect themselves while in Missouri, and is preparing for a two-day rally slated for September.
The purpose of the rally, Chapel said, is “to talk about — from a political standpoint — what the travel advisory is for Missouri and how we should move forward.”
The NAACP and allies rallied at the Capitol in Jefferson City to dissuade the signing of a bill that fails to protect minorities.
Prior to the signing of SB 43, the NAACP, together with around six dozen individuals, including Rabbi Doug Alpert and Rev. Rodney Williams, president of the Kansas City NAACP, rallied in Jefferson City to air their concerns to the governor. But it wasn’t enough to sway Greitens’ swift decision.
However, Chapel explained, “We have a Republican legislature who has been working to undercut some of the gains socially that we have made in the civil rights arena with Senate Bill 43.
“Ultimately, I’ve talked to the Republican legislature and many of them privately and publicly have said that it is not about morality — that it is not about whether discrimination is or is not a sin.”
He continued, “The truth is, and this is what they told me, they have the votes and so they’re going to pass it.”
Chapel equates the lack of accountability to that of Jim Crow, an era of rigid laws where Blacks faced discrimination — sometimes murder — with few options for justice through the law because “either they didn’t have standings in courts or the claims they sought would not be recognized.”
“This is the same way, but it will affect not only people of color but everyone, every senior citizen, every person with a disability, real or perceived, people of an international background and even people of faith,” Chapel said. “It’s much more wide reaching and far reaching than some of the historical limitations with some citizens, and we intend to have a full discussion about that in September.”
Missouri’s Checkered Past
Missouri isn’t new to what Chapel described as having a “long history” of civil rights being in question — even in education.
As an attorney who was silenced by a Missouri House committee chairman while speaking against the legislation earlier this year, Chapel said he was appalled after the University of Missouri system backed an earlier version of SB 43.
The university landed in hot water back in 2015 after a student was called a racial slur, resulting in student demonstrators forcing the president to resign for his inaction. Concerned Student 1950, a student activist group named in reference to the year the first Black students were admitted to the University of Missouri, spearheaded the protests.
Protests following racist incidents lead to University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe's resignation.
In Ferguson, Mo., the killing of an unarmed young Black man, Michael Brown, by a police officer in 2014 drew national heights and became the focal point of modern-day tension between the police and minority communities.
The NAACP’s advisory also depicts racial disparities after citing a recent attorney general report showing Black drivers in Missouri were 75 percent more likely to be pulled over than whites. Disproportionate numbers have appeared in reports since the Justice Department began releasing the data in 2000.
Chapel acknowledged that the governor had carved out time to hear his case at the Jefferson City rally — 30 or 40 minutes — painting the image of a politician who isn’t completely callous.
Greitens, a former Navy SEAL who was born in St. Louis, told a local Fox affiliate that SB 43 was a “really important bill.”
“What SB 43 did was it brought Missouri standards in line with the federal government and 38 other states, so now Missouri is using the same standards that are used to analyze claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Greitens said in the interview.
There’s no mistaking the confusion in the fine print that one man sees as a service to humanity and the other as a “Jim Crow Bill.”
When asked if the Missouri NAACP is considering a boycott in addition the a rally, Chapel said the possibility is not off the table. He explained the difference between a rally and a boycott as a rally meant to send a message to “be careful,” whereas a boycott means “don’t come” or “don’t support business here,” something he said he wouldn’t want to happen to a city he loves and doesn’t want to leave despite his state’s regressive laws. “We want people to be aware that that is what’s happening in Missouri.”
Chapel said people should be “ready” for the very real possibility of being thrown in jail without money or means of contacting loved ones, similar to 28-year-old Tory Sanders, a Black man from Tennessee who took a wrong turn while driving and died in a southeastern Missouri jail, not having been accused of a crime to begin with.
Or be “ready” for a situation that can echo a similar outcome to that of Emmett Till, who was brutally lynched in 1955 while visiting family in Mississippi. Till, a 14-year-old from Chicago, wasn’t aware of the racial nuances that took place just a couple of states below, despite racism being active throughout the country.
In 2017, nuances affect everyone.
“If you are driving along and the bridge was out and somebody put up a roadblock, that isn’t saying that you shouldn’t go to that area, that you can’t go to that area, but what it is saying is that you should be very aware that to travel over this bridge that’s partially gone or rickety, is not advised,” Chapel said. “And so that’s what it is, this an advisory to say: Be careful. Be aware. And if you come — be ready.”