Minnesota launches the nation’s first-ever task force on missing Black women, girls

Photo courtesy of the Office of Gov. Tim Walz Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan held a ceremonial bill signing to launch the nation’s first Missing and Murdered African American Women Task Force.

Minnesota has become the first state in the nation to launch a panel addressing the disproportionately high number of missing and murdered Black women and girls.

On Monday, Gov. Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan, flanked by victim advocates, lawmakers, and public safety officials, including Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights) and Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, held a ceremonial bill signing at the Capri Theater in Minneapolis to launch the nation’s first Missing and Murdered African American Women Task Force.

The 12-member task force, established with bipartisan support in the 2021 Public Safety and Judiciary Omnibus bill, will report recommendations to the Legislature to end violence against African American women and girls in Minnesota. The panel is comprised of victim advocates, law enforcement, and court officials who met for the first time on Monday.

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“We know African American women and girls are disproportionately subject to violent crime,” Gov. Walz said. “That’s why we took action and established a first-in-the-nation Missing and Murdered African American Women task force.”

In 2020, almost 34% of the missing women in the U.S. were Black, according to the National Crime Information Center of the FBI, while Black women comprise just 13% of the female population.

“We are seeing African American women killed in numbers we’ve never seen before,” Commissioner Harrington said at Monday’s press conference. “Despite the small number of African Americans in Minnesota, 30% of the victims in domestic violence settings are African American women.”

A recent Violence Free Minnesota (VFM) report found disproportionate numbers of Black and Native domestic violence homicide victims compared to statewide demographics.

“In 2020, 40% of domestic violence homicide victims were Black, while comprising less than 7% of Minnesota’s population,” read the VFM report. “Four women were pregnant at the time they were killed by a current or former intimate partner, and three of them were Black. These violent disparities are attributed to histories of colonization, chattel slavery, genocide, generational trauma, and ongoing systematic oppression.”

Harrington said that he hoped that together, the panel and lawmakers could tackle the question of “How we can bring our moms and our nanas home? Together we can never stop trying to protect our daughters from the violence in the streets,” Harrington said.

Watch: Missing and Murdered African American Women Task Force met for the first time Monday, Nov. 29

Punctuating the press conference with emotion was Peter Hayden, the father of former Sen. Jeff Hayden, and founder of Turning Point a culturally responsive chemical health clinic. Peter Hayden recounted the tragic shooting death of his daughter Taylor Hayden, 25, who was lost to random gun violence outside of an Atlanta nightclub in 2016.

Peter Hayden noted that Taylor Hayden was “not raised in the streets” and graduated from Prairie View A & M. “Some of the parents take care of their families,” he said. “But nobody tells you when the day is gonna come. No child should be left bleeding in the streets because someone didn’t care.”

Rep. Richardson, who spearheaded the legislation behind the task force, spoke about the disproportionately high numbers of missing and murdered Black women and girls during an appearance on Peacock’s “Zerlina.”

“I think one of the things that we’re really struggling with as a society is that we have not done enough work to place a value on the lives of Black women and Black girls,” Rep. Richardson said. “Because when we look at the data, we see some really concerning disparities. Cases involving Black women and girls stay open four times longer than cases involving other women.”

She added, “Black girls are much less likely to get Amber Alerts than White girls are. And that’s a really important distinction because when there are no Amber Alerts, there are no police resources invested in the critical first 48 hours. And you don’t get the media attention when someone is classified as a runaway versus a child in need of support or seen as a victim.”

According to a 2010 study by Ohio State University researchers, Black children made up 33.2% of missing children cases but receive only 19.5% of news media coverage. This issue was pronounced during the recent media frenzy over the Gabby Petito case. Advocates charged that Black women and girls missing during that same time received minimal coverage compared to the around-the-clock media attention for Petito, which has been the norm historically.

“There are so many examples where the data just tells us that we’re not placing that value or premium on the lives of our Black girls and women,” Richardson lamented. She said she hoped the task force serves as a blueprint for Minnesota and other states. “We are the first [state with a task force] and should not be the last. Other states need to take action to ensure that they’re doing the work to protect Black women and girls.”

The panel is tasked with delving into the underlying causes of missing and murdered Black women and girls— including historic trauma, racism, sex trafficking, intimate partner violence, and media neglect—and producing findings and policy solutions for the Commissioner of Public Safety and Minnesota Legislature by December 2022.