Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, State Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL 52B, Former State Senator Jeff Hayden and Dr. Peter Hayden at bill signing at Capri Theater in North Minneapolis last Monday.

The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word crisis.  One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity.  In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.  the late John F. Kennedy

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz last Monday signed into law a bill creating a task force to explore why the statistics on missing and murdered Black girls and Back women are so staggering. Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan, Public Safety Commissioner, John Harrington, State Representative, Ruth Richardson, and a room almost filled to capacity joined Walz in a press conference at the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis to question why the lives of Black women don’t command the same attention from law enforcement, the media, and city and state leadership as their white counterparts.

Richardson, who penned a large segment of the bill, said Minnesota will be the first state in the country to bring attention to the crisis. She said it took two legislative sessions to bring the bill to fruition. 

“When I first became a St. Paul police officer at the Western District,” said Commissioner Harrington, “the murder rate was the highest in the city’s history.  I met a lot of moms and Nannas from the Black community in particular whose worlds were shattered by the disappearance of a child or a loved one.  But that’s not what started my career in law enforcement.  It was an early meeting with Anita Carter and Joy Freeman with “Breaking Free” who showed up at our office to talk to me about human trafficking and the disappearance of young girls and women in the St. Paul area. Since 1996, the organization has helped thousands of women escape prostitution through survivor advocacy, empowering them to build new lives.  I also met with Neita Pressley, a mother from the Aurora St. Anthony block club, whose murdered daughter’s body was left in a cornfield in Wisconsin.”

Harrington said while 13% of Minnesotans are African Americans, some 30% of murder victims are African American women. “We have seen Black women shot and killed in both St. Paul and Minneapolis and in a manner never experienced before.  We know a few things.  We know that Black women die of homicide at twice the rate of  the general population of women.  We know that cases involving Black women tend to receive less attention from both law enforcement and from the media.  As of this week, nationally, 543,000 women are are missing and 33% or 145,000 are people of color.”

“What we know right now is that we don’t know enough about missing Black girls and women or those who have been murdered,” said Richardson. “What we do know is that in the U.S., somewhere between 64,000 and 75,000 Black girls and women are missing.  We know that cases involving Black girls and women stay open four times longer than other cases on the average.  Black girls are less likely to receive an Amber alert -- which means there are no Amber reports that will get the media’s attention, as is common for a white girl. Black families don’t get the same resources if their child is classified as a runaway versus a child who is missing and in need help.”

Richardson said structural deficiencies need to be addressed in how we respond to domestic violence, human trafficking, law enforcement, sexual exploitation, and economic exploitation.

Dr. Peter Hayden,founder and CEO of Turning Point, described how his daughter was gunned down on an Atlanta, GA street by an unknown assailant.  “For a woman who carries a baby for nine months, delivers that child, and twenty-five years later that child is dead, how do you explain the why?  But understand,” he said, “in many cases, there are fathers like me right there watching that child being born and loving that child every day of our lives.  I have three daughters and a son, but the child who was most like me, who protected me, was the first daughter,Taylor.”

Hayden said Taylor “was not raised on the streets. She went to the best schools, graduated from Prairie View A & M, and was a born leader.  She was out with a few friends just on a weekend trip when someone close by has a beef with someone else. Shooting breaks out. Bullets fly. and our precious child is hit.  When the police came to their door, Hayden said, he “knew Taylor was gone.  Many of you are here because you feel my pain, and some of you have your own loss.  I just want you to understand that some parents take care of their families and are not prepared to envision their child left bleeding in the street taken out by someone who didn’t care about the sanctity of life.  Taylor is in our hearts today.   Her spirit is here in this place.”

“We’re gathered here today just a few days after Thanksgiving, the most family focused holiday we celebrate in this country,” Governor Walz said greeting the audience.  “Tens of thousands of families are reminded of their loss when they look at that empty chair every single year.  To all the family members who are here, thank you for doing what seems almost unimaginable to those of us who have never gone through what you have.  You have turned this tragedy into something positive for the entire community.  And yet, every time you tell the story, you relive the heartbreak.  And every time another young girl is murdered or missing, your heart is ripped out again.

Walz said Minnesota needs to tell its whole story and that of Black women.  “We need to make sure we are lifting up Black women.  Where’s this story on the news?  If tragedy happens to a white woman, it will be on the news for two or three weeks.  We must change the narrative to valuing every single woman and girl.  Our administration must make sure resources are available.  Allow me to be very clear.  I will expect a strong critique.  If this task force suggests things and it doesn’t happen, I want to hear the loudest voices asking why it hasn’t happened.  That’s called accountability.” 

Flanagan said “We know these issues are not new ones.  And we have answered the call to do whatever we can to end violence towards Black girls and women.  The task force will rely on the experiences of survivors and their families as it works towards identifying effective strategies that are grounded in community.  That has always been Representative Richardson’s vision amplified by her leadership, determination, and tenacity.” 

Flanagan went on to thank Senator Koonish and legislators who helped get the bill across the finish line.  “As women of color, as indigenous women, and as Black women, we will not be used for political maneuverings.  This work should simply be supported and done.  We will prove this is possible.  And to every task force member and every family member, thank you for making sure this issue was front and center and making sure it got the attention it deserved.  We will be beginning an action plan by first listening to the experts and then moving forward.  We can make Minnesota a safer place for everyone.  When African American girls and women are safe, that makes us all safe.  We have a lot of work to do and I’m proud to be in this moment to stand with you to commemorate this incredibly important step,” she said.

 “For us to be on the forefront of this historic move is paramount, but we also know we have some of the largest disparities in this state and in this country.   And that is why the work must begin here.  We know that Black women carry this load.  As you are caring for your families and community, you are also caring for the policies and solutions.  Let us bear some of that load along with you. This is our collective responsibility.  Take care of yourselves in this work, too.  We need you in this fight   for the policies and solutions that will come afterwards.  I'm honored and humbled to stand here with you to do this work.  As Representative Richardson said, we’re going to leave this task force with a blueprint for change; a blueprint that will help bring back Black girls and women; a blueprint that will help solve crimes perpetrated against them; and a blueprint that will be able to ensure everyone gets equal access to the services they need when they need them.  We are not going to leave anyone behind in the process.”

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