Vehicle Stops and Group Position: How Missouri Agencies Use Place and Race to Explain Disparities

AuthorMiltonette O. Craig,Jonathan C. Reid,Kelsey L. Kramer
Published date01 November 2022
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice
2022, Vol. 38(4) 411 –431
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10439862221110996
Vehicle Stops and Group
Position: How Missouri
Agencies Use Place and
Race to Explain Disparities
Miltonette O. Craig1, Jonathan C. Reid1,
and Kelsey L. Kramer1
Missouri has been a part of the national discussion on racial profiling for several
years—most recently with the NAACP’s issuance of a statewide travel advisory
warning Black motorists of high disproportionality in vehicle stops. In their annual
reports of stop data, agencies can submit a response to explain their numerical
data. This study inductively analyzes the content of these written responses (N =
806), which were submitted between 2001 and 2019. Findings indicate that agency
responses contain rationales in accordance with a sense of group position, with
explanations for stops, searches, and arrests of motorists of color framed in terms of
outsiders as a problematic influx upon insider spaces. The responses also show that
the explanations are more about policing place than a legitimate effort at maintaining
safety of the jurisdiction. The results of this study have several important implications
for research, theory, and policy.
policing, race/ethnicity, racial profiling, group position, out of place
In August 2017, news outlets began covering a travel advisory issued by the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) (Cornish, 2017;
1Sam Houston State University, Huntsville, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Miltonette O. Craig, Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Sam Houston State University,
P.O. Box 2296, Huntsville, TX 77341-2296, USA.
1110996CCJXXX10.1177/10439862221110996Journal of Contemporary Criminal JusticeCraig et al.
412 Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 38(4)
Moore, 2017; V. Williams, 2017). Unlike the typical advisory that the American public
is accustomed to seeing, this one did not warn of potential hazards for travelers going
abroad. Rather, this one warned of impending harms for travelers within the home-
land—specifically, in the state of Missouri. The NAACP’s advisory read in part: “each
individual should pay special attention while in the state of Missouri and certainly if
contemplating spending time in Missouri . . . the NAACP wants to make Missourians
and our visitors aware of looming danger” (Missouri NAACP, 2017, p. 1). These con-
cerns were grounded in an apparent pattern of state-sanctioned racial- and ethnic-
based discrimination against motorists (Blake, 2017). Encompassed within the
NAACP’s advisory is an impassioned warning to motorists to be cautious of “[over-
zealous] enforcement of routine traffic violations in Missouri against African-
Americans, [which] has resulted in an increasing trend that shows African-Americans
are 75% more likely to be stopped than Caucasians.” (NAACP, 2017).
Some motorists attribute these disparities to racial profiling by law enforcement
officials. As mentioned by a member of a local NAACP chapter,
Racism here in Missouri is hidden, and that can be the most devastating racism . . . We’re
not talking Mississippi Burning racism. We’re talking about the sort of racism of being
pulled over and asked additional questions that you might not be asked [elsewhere].
(Sanchez, 2017, p. 2)
Scholars have noted that racial and ethnic discrimination of this nature is neverthe-
less pervasive, violative of individuals’ constitutional rights, and can have a detrimen-
tal and lasting impact on the psyches and future outcomes of those who are subjected
to and subjugated by it (Brunson, 2007; Gaston et al., 2021; Rosenthal, 2003; Russell-
Brown, 1999; Warren et al., 2006; Weatherspoon, 2004; Wiley et al., 2013).
The state of Missouri and its law enforcement agencies have been a consistent part
of the national discussion on racial and ethnic profiling. Several years before the fatal
shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, community members repeatedly expressed con-
cerns that police agencies in the state employed discriminatory procedures and poli-
cies against minority residents and within minority neighborhoods (Chaney, 2015;
Patel, 2016). Due to these frequent contentions from Missouri citizens, the state legis-
lature passed Section 590.650 in 2000 (R.S. Mo. 2000). This statute requires all law
enforcement officers to report specific information for each vehicle stop made in the
state (e.g., driver’s race, reason for the stop, stop outcome, etc.). Notably, in addition
to the stop data, agencies can submit written responses to explain any racial and ethnic
The current study seeks to add to the racial profiling literature by examining written
responses to determine the extent to which they align with aspects of the conflict per-
spective— namely, Blumer’s (1958) group position theory. This theory posits that
Whites, which represent the ingroup, will be threatened by and have negative attitudes
toward outgroup members, such as Black Americans, when they “encroach” upon
seemingly White social spaces, including neighborhoods. Race relations scholarship
argues that social institutions, such as the police, are racialized in critical ways

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