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Recent Missouri Editorials

December 16, 2019 GMT

The Joplin Globe, Dec. 15

We urge state Rep. Mike Moon to introduce legislation requiring Aurora — the largest town in his district — to change its name.

Aurora — a fine town in every other respect — was named after the Roman goddess of dawn, and we fear this pagan reference will provoke frenzied bacchanalian outbursts that will not reflect well on the 8,000 or so people in this otherwise decent, God-fearing community.

And, by Jove, how about a bill removing from textbooks any reference to the largest planet in the solar system being named Jupiter? In deference to Moon, let’s just refer to it as “that gaseous body.” For that matter, the names Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus must also be consigned to Hades. Or hell, if that Greek reference is verboten.

But please, Mike, just don’t introduce any of your legislation on days of the week named for a pagan deity, lest you be seen as honoring them.

We’re having fun, of course, but all of this and more follows now that Moon has written to Missouri Gov. Mike Parson asking him to prevent the 10-foot bronze statue of Roman goddess Ceres from being restored to the Capitol dome.

Moon, of Ash Grove, claims that putting the statue back is an affront to Christians because Ceres is a “false god.” It was first put on the dome in 1924, and perhaps our ancestors could not foresee the ways in which that statue would lead many of those who occupy the Capitol into error, scandal and outrageous nonsense.

Ceres, of course, is the Roman goddess of agriculture, grain crops and more, and thus “cereal” is another offensive word we urge Moon to legislate out of existence.

It is also now clear that Mike Moon must change his last name — “moon” being scandalously associated with the word “luna,” which is Latin for “moon,” and Luna also being the name of a Roman goddess of Earth’s only satellite. Unless he changes his name, people might draw associations between the words “Moon” and “lunatic.”

Truly, we hope Moon, who is no stranger to dramatic gestures to make his point, will indulge us if we go over the top to make ours: The Ceres statue is not offending anyone, nor provoking pagan rituals in the Capitol. It just seems to us there are more serious battles for lawmakers to fight.

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The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Dec. 15

President Donald Trump likes to present himself as a tireless defender of Christmas. But in the most Grinchy policy decision in recent memory, the administration says it is moving forward with work requirements for food stamp recipients that ignore the real-world circumstances faced by the poor. The changes will cause almost 700,000 struggling Americans to lose their access to needed assistance.

The rule change announced last week affects only childless, able-bodied adults, but there’s coal coming down the pike for other stockings as well: Additional restrictions expected to be announced later would affect another 3 million poor Americans — and close to 1 million children who could lose their subsidized school lunches. Merry Christmas, kids!

The food stamp system, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, provides food aid to Americans near the poverty level. Current rules require able-bodied, childless adults between ages 18 and 49 to work at least 20 hours a week to maintain full benefits. But states currently can seek waivers of that work requirement in geographic areas where jobs are scarce.

The new rule that goes into effect April 1 will restrict states’ ability to get those waivers, making them available only for areas where unemployment is at 6% or above. The national unemployment rate currently stands at about 3.6%.

That means that even those living in areas with significantly higher-than-average unemployment would still be required to work 20 hours a week or face benefit cuts, despite the demonstrated scarcity of jobs in those areas. The national economy has been growing steadily since early in the Obama era, but large pockets of the country still haven’t felt that recovery. The net result of these cuts will be to punish people who live in those hardest-hit regions.

Additional proposed rule changes coming later would tighten the noose on the poor even further. The administration wants to remove the ability of states to factor in recipients’ utility payments when determining benefits, and tighten access to free or reduced-cost school lunches for kids.

Not only are these changes unnecessary and mean-spirited, they are unpopular with the public and were already rejected last year by the Republican-controlled Senate. So the administration is instituting them by executive order. This to save a little over $1 billion a year — a pittance compared to the almost $2 trillion this White House and congressional Republicans have added to the federal deficit with their massive tax cut for the rich.

There are legitimate ways to incentivize work, but holding hunger and destitution over peoples’ heads isn’t one of them. As Trump this season continues to spout his nonsense about the supposed “war on Christmas,” he has personally declared a war on the poor.

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The Kansas City Star, Dec. 15

Driving while black in Missouri is perilous. Will these changes reduce racial profiling?

For nearly two decades, law enforcement agencies in Missouri have been required to collect racial profiling data to combat unfair treatment of minorities by police.

But the state’s appalling record on racial disparities in vehicle stops has only continued to worsen during the last 18 years. Last year, black drivers in Missouri were 91% more likely to be pulled over than white motorists — a finding so outrageous that it should compel to state officials to immediately enact sweeping reforms.

Now, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt plans to make changes to the way vehicle stop data is collected. But will the adjustments actually reduce racial profiling of minority drivers?

Schmitt’s plan is a start, but without legislation that would hold individual officers and law enforcement agencies accountable and impose consequences for discriminatory policing, the disparities will persist.

A lawsuit filed by St. Louis-based activist Phillip Weeks against the St. Louis Police Department and three other agencies seeks the release of its vehicle stop database. The suit highlights additional information that must be made public if Missouri is serious about addressing racial disparities in law enforcement.

Weeks wants the records to determine whether individual officers have a record of racial profiling, but so far, he’s been denied. He contends that the databases are open records that need to be scrutinized to better understand policing practices that lead to disparities.

The annual vehicle stops report does not include data on specific officers. But it should.

“Withholding governmental records from the public is a disservice not only to the public, but to the legislators who are elected to be effective lawmakers for our society,” Weeks said in a statement.

The finding that in 2018, black drivers in Missouri were 91% more likely to be stopped than white people behind the wheel was the most significant racial disparity for vehicle stops since the state began collecting that data.

In 2017, black motorists were 85% more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. The number was 75% in 2016 and 69% in 2015.

Agencies consistently refuse to admit that their officers engage in racial profiling. And there are few, if any, consequences if they do.

Schmitt consulted with law enforcement officials, citizen advocates and other stakeholders about the changes that will go into effect in January and will be included in the 2021 vehicle stops report.

“Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt takes seriously his responsibility to all six million Missourians, no matter their race, zip code or age,” said Chris Nuelle, a spokesman for his office.

Changes include adding three questions that will provide more detailed traffic stop information, including the driver’s zip code. Alcohol-related stops will be counted separately in the contraband category to more accurately reflect drivers that carry illegal drugs.

And the AG’s office is also expanding existing response options to help more accurately document traffic stops and searches.

But without changes to state law that would impose penalties for racial profiling and without information about individual officers, the attorney general’s efforts likely will have relatively little impact.

The Star Editorial Board asked law enforcement agencies in Kansas City, Blue Springs, Independence, Lee’s Summit, North Kansas City, Raytown and Jackson County if they have identified any problem officers.

Independence and Raytown police and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office did not reply to the inquiry. Kansas City police were still analyzing data last week.

Police chiefs in Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit and North Kansas City said their agencies have not identified any officers who have stopped minority drivers at a disproportionate rate. But how can we know that without public access to that information?

In 2018, black drivers were nearly three times more likely to be stopped than white drivers in Blue Springs, Lee’s Summit, Liberty and North Kansas City. In Independence, black drivers were four times more likely to be stopped than their white counterparts.

“Any abnormalities that may be identified are handled as either remedial training and/or counseling/disciplinary action,” Blue Springs Police Chief Bob Muenz wrote in an email response.

North Kansas City Police Chief Steve Beamer wrote: “If there was an officer that had traffic stops that were not reasonably within or near the parameters established by the five-mile radius demographics, the issue would be addressed with training and counseling.”

In Missouri, black drivers are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, more likely to be searched and more likely to be arrested.

The question is: What will officials do to put a stop to discriminatory policing?

Creating a public database of individual officers’ vehicle stops and enacting state laws that actually punish misconduct would be a start.