Minnesota State Capitol. Photo courtesy of Minnesota House of Representatives.
Minnesota House legislators on Thursday advanced a bill to create an office to investigate murdered and missing Black girls and women — a month after a state report showing Black women are nearly three times more likely to be murdered than white women in Minnesota.
The report from the Missing and Murdered African American Women Task Force recommended establishment of an office to investigate the violence. While Black women make up 7% of the state’s population, 40% of reported domestic violence homicide victims in 2020 were Black women. In the United States, there are more than 60,000 estimated missing Black women — and the number of unresolved homicide cases is skyrocketing.
“This is a crisis, and it doesn’t have to be this way. Behind these numbers are real people and real families devastated,” said chief author of the bill Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, who also sits on the task force.
Similar bills passed the House twice but stalled in the formerly GOP-controlled Senate. It’s modeled on Minnesota’s Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives, established in 2021 as the first state office of its kind in the nation. Richardson said passing the bill is long overdue, given that family members of murdered Black girls and women must relive their trauma every time they return to testify in support of the office.
The Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls would provide grants to community organizations, require the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to operate a missing person alert system and support families on cold cases. Advocates said the office would also legitimize family reports to police officers, who are more likely to dismiss violence against Black women and girls than their white counterparts, according to the report.
Missing and murdered Black women are less likely to receive media attention or Amber Alerts — and the media sometimes portrays them as complicit in their homicide. Lakeisha Lee, co-chair of the task force, told legislators that newspapers in St. Paul called her 18-year-old sister, Brittany Clardy, a ‘prostitute’ after she was murdered in 2013 by a man soliciting sex.
“My sister worked for the city of St. Paul, working with students in the North End neighborhood every day at Rec Check,” Lee said, referring to a free after-school program. “My sister was an amazing caretaker. My sister was a part of the community. She was not a prostitute. She was a victim.”
The report also identified root causes of violence against Black women and girls, such as extreme poverty and racism faced by Black women. The proposed office would work with the community on prevention and public awareness campaigns.
“Since Black girls have been brought here on slave ships, they have been seen as expendable — and we are not. We matter, and I want the state to show that we matter,” said Verna Cornelia Price, who founded youth mentorship group Girls Taking Action. “Give us an office.”
The bill has support from the National Black Police Association’s Minnesota chapter.
Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, proposed an amendment to allow law enforcement to apply for grant funding set aside for community organizations in the bill. Richardson said law enforcement had “vetted” the grants in the bill, and that the bill already laid out law enforcement’s role coordinating with the office. The amendment did not pass.
Rep. Walter Hudson, R-Albertville, asked why the office would not also investigate missing and murdered Black men. Many murders of Black men in recent years remain unsolved. Richardson and Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, offered to work with him on future legislation to address missing and murdered Black men.
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