A new Minnesota task force is examining why Black women experience higher rates of violence than any other race, a first-of-its-kind effort that leaders hope will inspire action at the Capitol and in other states.
Black women and girls have been victims in a spate of violence in Minneapolis and St. Paul this year, and statistically they are killed by homicide at nearly three times the rate of white women, according to a 2017 study from the Centers for Disease Control.
But their cases get less attention from media and law enforcement and Black women stay missing four times longer on average than women in general, said Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, who sponsored legislation to create the task force.
"What I'm most excited about is we are going to leave this task force with a blueprint, a blueprint for change, a blueprint to bring Black women and girls back home," Richardson said ahead of a ceremonial bill signing on Monday.
Lawmakers passed the Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women in July as part of the state's budget, modeling its work after a panel that spent nearly two years digging into why Native American women are murdered and go missing at disproportionately high rates. Native women experience violence at nearly the same rate as Black women, according to the CDC.
"There is an important intersection in the disproportionate violence that is perpetrated against Native women and African American women," said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe. "The disproportionate violence that our communities experience is very real. We need to enter a place where the value of Black women is the value of women, period."
The 12-person task force will spend the next year trying to identify the root causes of violence against Black women and the systemic failures that keep so many cases from being solved.
Between 64,000 and 75,000 Black women and girls are currently missing in the United States, Richardson said, numbers that remain high because Black girls are less likely to prompt Amber alerts. That results in less media coverage and fewer resources devoted to their recovery.
Homicide rates for Black women and girls are also intertwined with human trafficking, domestic and intimate partner abuse and violence in communities, said Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. The bill signing Monday was held at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis, not far from where 6-year-old Aniya Allen was shot earlier this year while eating McDonald's in the back seat of the family car.
"Together we have to understand why our sisters go missing," Harrington said. "Together we must learn how to bring our moms and our nanas home. We must never stop trying to protect our daughters from the violence of the streets."
Parents and siblings who lost loved ones to violence pushed at the Capitol earlier this year to create the task force, including the family of Brittany Clardy, an 18-year-old from St. Paul who went missing in 2013. Her body was eventually found inside a car in a Columbia Heights impound lot, but her family testified they thought she could have been saved if her missing persons report had been taken seriously by law enforcement.
Peter Hayden remembered the day a police officer came to his door and gave him a phone number to call regarding his daughter, Taylor. Before he even dialed the number, he said he knew "in my heart" she was gone. She had been caught in gun crossfire while waiting for an Uber on a girls trip in Atlanta.
"I have two other daughters that I continually think about when they go out," said Hayden, whose son Jeff is a former state senator from Minneapolis.
The task force must draft recommendations for policy changes and send them to the Legislature by December 2022. Gov. Tim Walz, who signed a ceremonial copy of the legislation Monday, acknowledged the deep racial disparities Black men and women face in Minnesota and promised accountability on the task force recommendations.
"I'm very, very cognizant that being here today, signing the bill, putting things in motion, all of those things are precursors to what's really important," Walz said. "We need results, we need the numbers to go down, we need the violence to ebb."