ST. PAUL — Minnesota policymakers on Monday, Nov. 29, launched the state's first-in-the-nation task force created to understand why African American women and girls experience disproportionate rates of violence.
The Minnesota Legislature earlier this year voted to approve the creation of the new panel as part of a larger budget bill and Gov. Tim Walz signed it into law. The 12-person group is modeled after a similar state task force that examined instances of violence against Indigenous women and girls.
African American women face the highest rates of homicide death of any ethnic group, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they die by homicide at twice the rate of women overall.
After years of working to get the task force up and running, State Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, said the kick-off of the group's first meeting was historic and its work would help create a blueprint for solving cases and reducing violence against African American women and girls.
"What we know right now is we don't know enough about missing Black women and girls and women who have been murdered," Richardson said. "We are going to leave this task force with a blueprint: a blueprint for change, a blueprint to bring Black women and girls home, a blueprint to solve their crimes and to be able to ensure that everyone has equal access to the services that they need when they need them."
The task force will meet and come up with policy solutions before next December that could help in resolving the cases of missing and murdered African American women and girls. Richardson said lower levels of attention from law enforcement agencies, media outlets and the public spurred worse outcomes for African American women and girls, along with their families.
Family members of Minnesotans who'd been murdered met for a news conference ahead of the panel's first meeting and they cheered as Walz signed a copy of the legislation for ceremonial effect. Several shared their stories with lawmakers in an effort to get the task force established.
"The state of Minnesota's not going to set back and look at the statistics and just say, 'That's too bad.' The idea is it has to stop with us," Walz said.
Even before the task force started meeting, law enforcement officials reached out to better understand how they could help, Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said.
"I believe that the notoriety is already having an impact, it is calling the question and there are voices across the United States that are calling this question to say, 'If not now, when?'" Harrington said. "We need to make sure that law enforcement and the community know these cases are important and they deserve our attention."