Panel backs task force on missing and murdered Black women

A bill to create a task force to develop a comprehensive roadmap for remedying the plight of missing and murdered African American women and girls won unanimous approval Friday in its first hearing before the Minnesota Legislature.

The task force would be similar to a panel created by the Legislature two years ago to address the disproportionately high numbers of murdered and missing Indigenous women. That group came back in December with 20 recommendations for steps to reduce and eliminate the violence.

“We have to consider root causes of historical trauma, systemic racism, sexism, sexual objectification of Black women and girls, and the vulnerabilities that poverty, homelessness, child welfare disparities, domestic violence, sex trafficking and fear of law enforcement create," said Rep. Ruth Richardson, of Mendota Heights, the lead author.

Lakeisha Lee, of St. Paul, told the House public safety committee how her 18-year-old sister, Brittany Clardy, went missing in 2013. Lee and her mother, Marquita Clardy, said they reached out to authorities right away but were told she probably ran off with her boyfriend or other friends.

“We were adamant that something was wrong. She was not answering her phone. In the world of technology, we were asking friends, we were logging into her accounts, and we could not find any trace of her,” Lee said.

Working with an auto dealer that had recently sold her sister a car, they eventually traced it down. Brittany Clardy was found slain in her car in an impound lot 10 days later. Her killer was ultimately sentenced to 40 years in prison, in addition to 30 years for a similar killing in which the woman's body was also found in a car in an impound lot.

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“Maybe if we found her on that day she would still be here with us,” Marquita Clardy said, choking back tears as she implored legislators for support “so this does not happen again with anyone's child.”

While homicide is one of the leading causes of death for all women, Richardson testified that it's significantly higher for Black women than most other groups. She cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that put the overall homicide rate for women at two per 100,000 — but at 4.4 per 100,000 Black women and 4.3 per 100,000 for Native American women.

And Richardson said preliminary data from 2016 to 2019 indicates the homicide rate for Black women in Minnesota was around 2.2 times higher than for all women in the state and 2.7 times the rate for white women.

An Associated Press investigation in 2018 found that nobody knows precisely how cases of missing and murdered Native Americans happen nationwide because many cases go unreported, others aren’t well documented and no government database specifically tracks them. Testifiers at Friday's hearing told of similar problems in getting data on missing and murdered African American women.

The panel passed the bill regarding Black women with bipartisan support and sent the proposal to its next committee stop. The lead House author on the 2019 bill was Mary Kunesh, of New Brighton. She was elected to the Senate last year and is sponsoring the new legislation there.