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New state task force will focus on missing Black women and girls

The Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women is said to be the first of its kind in the country.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Nearly nine years after her sister's murder, Lakeisha Lee still remembers the wait.

"For two weeks, we couldn't even think. You can't eat. You can't sleep. We knew something was wrong," she said. 

In February 2013, her family reported her younger sister, Brittany Clardy, missing. They couldn't get in touch with her and her frequently-updated social media accounts were silent. 

"We knew. She is missing. Something is wrong," Lee said. 

Lee recalls it was two weeks later when Clardy's body was in a vehicle in a Columbia Heights impound lot. 

Clardy's killer, Alberto Palmer, later pleaded guilty to murdering Clardy and another woman, Klaressa Cook. Police said Palmer had met both women online. Lee said her sister was the victim of sexual exploitation. Palmer was sentenced to life in prison. 

Lee said she was thankful for the investigators who took on her sister's case, but can't shake the initial response she said her family received when they reported Clardy missing. 

"The first dispatcher, someone that we spoke with, said, 'Oh, she's 18. This is something that they usually do. She could come home in just a couple days,'" Lee said.

Before Clardy was found, Lee remembers reaching out to Clardy's friends and scouring her social media looking for answers. She says her family also reached out to the Jacob Wetterling Resource Center for help getting the case exposure.

Moving forward, a new state task force in Minnesota will help families like Clardy's.

The Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women was tucked in the Public Safety and Judiciary Omnibus Bill, which passed this summer. Representative Ruth Richardson is the chief author of the bill which called for the task force. She says it will be the first of its kind in the country. 

RELATED: Minnesota lawmakers close in on public safety bill

"It's not just about one thing or one system," she said. "There's a lot that needs to be done in order to ensure that we have not only more equitable coverage, but also to address the fact that when Black women and girls go missing their cases are open four times longer."

According to information from the National Crime Information Center, 90,333 Black women and girls were missing in 2020. The number amounts to nearly 34% of all missing females in the country in 2020, far higher than the percent that Black females make up of the entire female population. 

Richardson says there are many reasons for the disparity, including law enforcement response, media coverage, and the Black community's distrust of certain systems. She points to Black children sometimes being labeled as runaways when they are reported missing. 

"If they're classified as runaways, you don't get the same response, right? You don't get Amber Alerts. You don't get the same media response," she said. 

The new task force will work similarly to the panel set up to focus on missing Indigenous women and girls, which sent a report to the state legislature in December 2020.

RELATED: Why are Indigenous women and girls murdered at such a high rate?

The Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women plans to submit its report to lawmakers in December 2022. 

The task force will look at the systemic causes behind the violence and ways to end it, to give all families hope. 

Richardson said Clardy's case was an inspiration for the task force, and reached out to Lee about it. Lee is grateful for the group, and wants it to be a source of hope. 

"Hope is humanity's fuel, and this population, they're really low on it," she said. 

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