Bill would create office to prevent, investigate murders of Black women and girls

Person talks at podium
Rep. Ruth Richardson speaks on Jan. 31 at the Minnesota Department of Revenue.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Many schools, businesses and government offices are closed Monday, but it’s business as usual at the Minnesota legislature. One bill up for debate would create an office for missing and murdered Black women and girls.

Black women in Minnesota are nearly three times more likely to be murdered than their white peers and those cases go unsolved far longer than cases for white victims. The chief author of the bill, Rep. Ruth Richardson, talked with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is supported by Members. Gifts from individuals power everything you find here. Make a gift of any amount today to become a Member!

Audio transcript

CATHY: Many schools, businesses, and government offices are closed today because of the holiday. But it's business as usual at the Minnesota legislature. When the house meets in session this afternoon, several bills will be voted on including a ban on the practice of conversion therapy that's aimed at trying to change a person's gender identity or sexual orientation.

Another bill up for debate would create an office for missing and murdered Black women and girls. Why is such an office needed? Well, Black women in Minnesota are nearly three times more likely to be murdered than their white peers, and those cases go unsolved far longer than cases for white victims. The chief author of the bill is Representative Ruth Richardson, and she's on the line right now. Representative, welcome back to the program.

RUTH RICHARDSON: Thanks for having me, Cathy.

CATHY: These are bleak statistics here. How would the office begin to tackle this disparity?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Yeah, the data is simply horrific. And I think it's important to always remind folks that behind this data are real people and real families that have been devastated. But this work started in earnest at the Capitol in 2019. And since then, we've seen an increasing disparity related to this crisis. And what we know is that we need dedicated funds, and we need a dedicated community-based response if we're going to be serious about really turning the needle on this crisis within our state.

CATHY: What have you learned about the experiences of the office for murdered and missing Indigenous women, which was the first office of its kind. What lessons have you learned that you might want to use in the new office?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Yeah, so the work that was done around the Indigenous relatives office has been a great opportunity for us to have some learning. And as we think about what's important here, it's important that we have a bridge between law enforcement and families who are struggling. That is a huge learning.

And also understanding the impact that community plays within this work as well, ensuring that there are community-based responses that include not only those who are doing this work within nonprofits, within the domestic violence spaces, and human trafficking spaces but also thinking about how our church communities and others can also play a role in really bringing attention to cases. You note that cases involving Black women and girls stay open longer than cases involving their white peers.

And it's, in fact, four times longer than cases involving their white peers. And so there's definitely an opportunity for us to do better to ensure that there is not only law enforcement resources but media attention. Because families deserve that and victims deserve that.

CATHY: I was looking through the bill quickly here before we got on the air, and I see part of it also involves preventing violence against Black women and girls. Does that mean there will be a focus on perpetrators? And if so, how would that look?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Yeah, but ultimately, when we're talking about this work, what we have before us is a huge opportunity to have investments within prevention. So when you're hearing those data numbers that Black women are almost three times more likely to be killed in a homicide. And also understanding that with domestic violence Black women make up 7% of our state's population, but they're more than 40% of the reported domestic violence cases.

And so as we are doing this work, we're really focused on ensuring that we are not only supporting families that they're navigating through the trauma of a cold case, but we're also doing the work upstream to ensure that we're preventing individuals from going missing and individuals from being killed by homicide as well. And so that's an important part of the investments in this office.

CATHY: What about-- and when I say perpetrators, is there an education piece to this too, especially when you talk about domestic violence of younger men, maybe doing some education well upstream on that.

RUTH RICHARDSON: Yes, we think about the root causes that contribute to this crisis. We know that it is-- it's complicated. And so this is going to be thinking about not only what is happening in terms of with domestic violence but human trafficking, how gaps within our foster care system can contribute to this as well and ensuring that we are also focused on what's happening within cases so that there can be coordination with courts, coordination with law enforcement, and even thinking to the point that you're making about moving further upstream. As we're working with our youngest Minnesotans and with the youth programs, what are the opportunities that we have to really move that prevention further upstream.

CATHY: So you are one of the sponsors of this bill. And I need to ask you about another bill you have on the floor. You're busy today. One of the bills on the floor today that you have is aiming to crack down on catalytic converter thefts in Minnesota. And maybe folks don't know this, but Minnesota is one of the states with the most thefts of this kind which may surprise people. Why do you think more marketing and record-keeping will slow the theft of catalytic converters?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Yeah, I mean, Minnesota ranked in the top five for catalytic converter theft insurance claims. And so these thefts are skyrocketing in Minnesota, and they're hitting Minnesotans hard because we know that replacement costs can exceed $2,000. But what this bill is really doing is it's giving more tools to law enforcement to really be able to crack down on this.

One of the things that we've heard from several law enforcement agencies, they pull folks over. They have lots of cut off catalytic converters within their vehicle. And there's really no mechanism at this point to be, sort of, be able to investigate further or hold folks accountable. And so what this bill is going to do is require that detached catalytic converters be marked with VIN numbers, so you can actually do the work of tracking whether those are lawfully obtained catalytic converters.

And also we know that Minnesota was just part of a pretty large extensive nine states catalytic converter factory, where there was more than $37 million worth of converters stolen. But that translated into over $545 million once the precious metals were extracted from those catalytic converters. And so this is really about giving tools to be able to address those large theft rings as well.

CATHY: Minnesota scrap dealers say that these converters are being sold to out-of-state buyers in a lot of instances. And they're worried about the added burdens for them. Are you addressing those concerns in this bill?

RUTH RICHARDSON: Well, I think it's also important to note that a number of those converters are also being processed here within the state. There was a recent case out in Otter Tail County with a 34-year-old guy who was going through the same scrap metal dealer once a week bringing two to three catalytic converters. Did that for months. Stole over 150 of these.

And so I think it's also important to understand that we're seeing cases like that. This recent nine states theft ring, those converters are also being purchased here in Minnesota as well. And I think it's important that we're leading the nation on this because Minnesotans have been asking for this for a number of years. And I've been carrying this bill for a number of years. And happy that it's finally going to get across the finish line.

CATHY: All right. Representative, thank you for your time.


CATHY: We've been talking to Representative Ruth Richardson. She's the chief author of two bills on the House floor today. You just heard about the catalytic converter bill and also a bill that would create an office for missing and murdered Black women and girls. House is in session at 3:30 this afternoon. You can follow NPR News for the latest on these bills and a whole lot more.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.