Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls in Minnesota
By Brittany Lewis and Catherine R. Squires | April 12, 2023
On February 20th, 2023, the Minnesota State House of Representatives voted to establish the nation’s first Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls (MMBWG). If the legislation passes the Senate, this will be the first agency dedicated to addressing systemic violence against Black women and girls. The office is one of six recommendations of the Missing and Murdered African American Women (MMAAW) Task Force. In 2021, the state charged the MMAAW Task Force to examine and report on systemic causes of violence against African American women and girls, and to recommend measures to reduce violence and provide necessary support to victims, their families, and their communities.
Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls in the US
Statistics paint a devastating picture of the magnitude of the issue of missing and murdered African American women and girls.
Though Black girls and women make up only 15% of the U.S. female population, of the 268,884 girls and women reported missing in 2020, 90,333, or nearly 34% were Black.
Nationally, cases involving Black girls and women stay open four times longer than other cases on average. The thousands of Black women and girls missing include abductees, sex trafficking victims, and people fleeing abuse. Black women also have the highest rates of death due to homicide (4.4. per 100,000 compared to 1.5 per 100,000 for white women).
Violence against Black Women and Girls in Minnesota
In Minnesota, the statistics are similarly grim: Black women are murdered at a rate 2.7 times higher than white women. But beyond homicide, Black women and girls are made more vulnerable to violence due to systemic inequalities, from cradle to grave.
For example, the maternal mortality rate for Black mothers is double the rate of white mothers; the infant mortality rate for Black infants is twice that of white babies. Black women and girls are also more likely to experience housing crises or have sub-standard housing; safe, affordable housing is one of the most important factors in protection from violence. However, Black renters and homebuyers have been excluded from equal housing opportunities by segregation, discriminatory landlords, redlining, and a historically imbalanced housing market in Minnesota. Indeed, the House Select Committee on Racial Justice noted that these disparities “created severe and damaging impacts that disproportionately impact BIPOC Minnesotans” (p,14).
The MMAAW Task Force and Community Advisory Council, like the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Task Force, examined a range of historical factors and contemporary systems that place Black women and girls in vulnerable positions. To focus our research solely on law enforcement agencies that react to missing and murdered cases would have missed the multiple structural and institutional causes of violence. Through this research, they sought to identify the necessary policy, practice, and resource investments needed to eliminate these injustices.
Recommendations for Action
Six recommendations were developed from the data analysis and facilitated discussion sessions with the Task Force and Advisory Council. These recommendations were proposed to address disparities and harm Black women, girls, and their families experience in systems that are meant to protect them from violence or support them in the wake of violence.
- Establish a Missing and Murdered African American Women Office to coordinate efforts to disrupt systemic harms that drive disproportionate harm to Black women and girls.
- Create and fund specific spaces and resources to serve Black women and girls.
- Develop effective, culturally appropriate, anti-racist trainings and professional education for systems professionals.
- Hire and retain more African American staff.
- Design and support better coordination across agencies.
- Make emergency and long-term housing accessible and affordable.
The issues driving the disparities that make Black women and girls more vulnerable to violence are complex with deep historical roots. The MMAAW report recognizes and emphasizes that a single office cannot solve all the intertwined, multi-layered problems that contribute to disproportionate violence against Black women and girls.
The report also emphasizes the need for the MMAAW office and other related institutions to listen to and get direct guidance from Black women and girls with lived experience of these problems. For example, our data analysis illuminated the ways that when Black women and girls seek help to escape or report violence, they encounter multiple, disconnected agencies. Staffers often greet them with suspicion, subject them to stereotyping, or expect them to have extensive knowledge of rules and procedures, as well as sufficient free time to seek out resources on their own. The recommendations to develop training and re-design coordination across services, then, must be read in that context.
Any new training or coordination protocols developed without centering the lived experience and knowledge of Black women and girls would, like past reforms, fail to remedy these problems and would continue the cycle of harm.
As we write, we’re waiting to hear the results of an upcoming Minnesota Senate vote on whether to establish a state Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls. Minnesota lawmakers can and should invest in this groundbreaking effort to address systemic violence against Black women and girls in our state.
Dr. Brittany Lewis is the Founder and CEO at Research in Action, a ground-breaking social benefit corporation established in 2018 to reclaim the power of research by centering community expertise.
Catherine R. Squires is Professor Emerita of Communication Studies at the University of Minnesota.
Photo credit: “Protect Black Women March, St. Paul Minnesota October 10, 2020,” by Fibonacci Blue. CC By 2.0 Creative Commons License.