Bearing a message of accountability, responsibility and justice for all Missourians, Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the Missouri chapter of the NAACP, spoke Monday night to students and faculty at Missouri Southern State University during the school’s 21st annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.
The event was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic, with musicians performing from the university’s television studio or area churches, and Chapel himself speaking from his office in Jefferson City.
After greetings from MSSU President Dean Van Galen and Joplin Mayor Pro Tem Keenan Cortez, who also brought a message from Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, Chapel, who also works as a trial attorney in the state capital, talked about how COVID-19 forced this event to the internet and how the pandemic has also brought the loss of thousands of people across the state and country.
He asked for a moment of silence before going into his message.
Chapel said he was deeply troubled by the events of Jan. 6 when thousands of people stormed the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., as the House and Senate gathered to make official the electoral count confirming Joe Biden as president of the United States.
“I think that it’s important that we remember the legacy of Dr. King, one in which he called upon us to love each other, to bring dignity to each other and to do that together,” Chapel said. “The question is how do we do that, and I think before we can even get to that, we’ve got to think about where are we now, how has it been working over the last year or even over the last decade.
"I can tell you here from the safe confines of my office that I am deeply troubled as many of you must be, having witnessed the Jan. 6 takeover of Congress, witnessed violence being placed, not through some verbal litany but through its physical presence upon law enforcement, there to guard those people who we have sent to Congress to do our business as a democracy.”
Chapel gave a brief history of the NAACP, which formed “because of the injustices that were being suffered upon people because of the skin color.”
Then he spoke about the national NAACP’s travel advisory, issued Aug. 28, 2017, calling for African American travelers and visitors to Missouri to “pay special attention and exercise extreme caution when traveling throughout the state, given the series of questionable and race-based incidents occurring statewide recently.”
“I can tell you that from the NAACP’s perspective, we can see that the travel advisory of 2017, the first ever of its kind, was issued because of those injustices right here in Missouri,” Chapel said. “And it doesn’t matter if you're in Jefferson City or if you’re in Springfield or Joplin or St. Joe, whether you’re in Kirksville or in the Bootheel someplace. The truth is that if you’re a person of color, you have been catching hell for far too long.”
Chapel called out elected leaders for turning “a blind eye to what must be thought of as everyday racism.”
He decried the lack of people of color in the state’s judiciary and a judicial system where outcomes are not the same for people of color compared with others.
Chapel talked about how people of color are suffering disproportionately from the COVID-19 pandemic because of health disparities between the races that have existed for years.
“At one point, and this is not in the far past, just a few years ago, in Southeast Missouri, infant mortalities compared with that of Third World countries, and in some places exceeded those,” Chapel said. "It’s no wonder we’re dying of COVID-19 when there’s no plan.”
Chapel spoke of the NAACP's lawsuit against Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft over policies he said disenfranchised tens of thousands of voters throughout the state.
Chapel also expressed concerns about a push in the state Legislature this year to put limit the liability of companies and employers because of the pandemic. He also expressed concerns about the erosion of civil rights protections in Missouri.
“Dr. King, plain and simple, would prefer that we protect everybody,” Chapel said. “The civil rights protections are necessary because we recognize that not everybody is being protected equally. Without these protections, all Americans are at greater risk. So when we look at enemies at the gate and we wonder, what is it, what will be our call from action, I would say retreat from violence. But don’t shrink from our duties as citizens to ensure that people are held accountable.”
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