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House passes bill to establish Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

A new office could review cold cases for missing Black women and girls, along with death investigation reviews of Black women and girls that were ruled as a suicide or an overdose under suspicious circumstances.

Establishing the office is a long overdue response to the failure of law enforcement to adequately investigate crimes that victimize Black women and girls, said Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL-Mendota Heights). She said Black women are nearly three times more likely to die of homicide than white women, missing persons cases involving Black women and girls stay open four times longer than their white peers, and missing and murdered Black women are less likely to receive media attention or Amber Alerts.

“These disparities are simply unacceptable,” Richardson said at a Monday pre-session news conference.

[MORE: Watch the news conference]

The Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls would be within the Office of Justice Programs, a division of the Department of Public Safety.

House approval was given to create the office. Following the 110-19 vote, the Richardson-sponsored HF55 next goes to the Senate.

Minnesota House passes HF55 2/20/23

“This office is not asking for more attention; it’s about getting the same attention and having our lives honored in the same ways. We matter and we deserve the same energy and coverage in our cases,” she said. “We are worthy of attention, we are worthy of resources, we are worthy of protection and investment and prevention resources.”

The office would build accountability, leverage responsibility, and facilitate resources and services to reduce and prevent violence against Black women and girls.

Modeled after the Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives established by the Legislature in 2021, the bill would enact recommendations in the December 2022 report of the Missing and Murdered African American Women Task Force and would be dedicated to preventing and ending the targeting of violence against Black women and girls.

The bill would require the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to operate an alert program and require the bureau to issue an alert when a person is determined to be missing and endangered.

A General Fund appropriation of almost $1.25 million is called for in each year of the 2024-25 biennium: $948,000 each year to operate the office and $300,000 to provide grants to community-based organizations that “provide services designed to prevent or end the targeting of Black women or girls, or to provide assistance to victims of offenses that targeted Black women or girls.” Of the latter, at least $50,000 is to be spent on an office awareness campaign.

A trio of Republican-offered failed to garner enough votes: the office would expire June 30, 2026; a reward fund be created for information that’d help an investigation; and instead of creating an office, the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would “establish a procedure for specialized investigations into the disappearance and murder of Black women and girls and provide technical assistance to local law enforcement agencies regarding the unique aspects of investigations involving missing or murdered Black women and girls."

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