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“It is time for us to speak up and…take up space to make sure our lives matter in the ways in which others seem to,” Omar told theGrio.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., is on a mission to address the national crisis of missing and murdered Black women and girls.
On Tuesday, the progressive lawmaker introduced new legislation to create the Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls within the U.S. Department of Justice to better respond to the national occurrence of missing persons and homicide cases involving Black women and girls.
The Brittany Clardy Act, named after an 18-year-old Black woman found murdered in the trunk of her car in Omar’s state of Minnesota in 2013, would spearhead efforts to counter the racial disparities in violence. Those efforts include conducting research and collecting data, developing policy, and providing federal grants to local organizations providing “culturally appropriate services” to victims or impacted families.
“I don’t think of this as just a piece of legislation. I think of it as a beacon of hope for Black women and girls across the nation,” Congresswoman Omar told theGrio. “We are not only going to address this alarming disparity in violence, but we are affirming our commitment to ensuring that every Black life is valued and protected.”
According to a study published by Research in Action, more than 60,000 Black women and girls are missing in the U.S. Black women are also twice as likely to be victims of homicide.
Omar said she believes the alarming and disproportionate number of missing and murdered Black women and girls is a symptom of an “underlying dismissal of our existence.”
The congresswoman, who immigrated to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia, said that while there is often “wall-to-wall coverage when a white woman or a white girl goes missing,” there isn’t the same nationwide attention for Black women and girls nor a “recognition of the pains that we experience as human beings.”
She told theGrio, “I think it is time for us to speak up and…take up space to make sure our lives matter in the ways in which others seem to.”
The Brittany Clardy Act is fashioned after a similar law passed earlier this year in Minnesota that established the nation’s first Office of Missing and Murdered African American Women and Girls. The state also established a task force working to understand why Black women and girls go missing, and helping families, much like a similar task force created for missing and murdered indigenous women.
Illinois and Wisconsin have followed the lead of Minnesota in implementing their own task forces to address disparities around violence against Black women and girls.
Congresswoman Omar said that while Black women make up only 7% of the population in Minnesota, they make up 40% of domestic violence victims. She believes the disparities for Black women and girls on the national level should also be a priority.
“We’re trying to do that on a federal level because we think every state should have the ability to be able to do this,” she said.
For Omar, the issue is personal. “I’m a mother of two beautiful Black girls. I’m also a daughter,” she told theGrio. “I think when you think about what representative democracy means, we want people who are out there fighting for that representation and trying to make sure that they are addressing the things that are not addressed.”
The three-term congresswoman also raised concerns about the role of law enforcement in cases of missing or murdered Black women and girls. In the case of Clardy, police initially dismissed the concerns of her family. Her body was found two weeks later.
“There is a clear bias,” said Omar. “There’s so many other families that experienced it. We also know just anecdotally, oftentimes when you have serial killers who kill Black women, they tend to get away with it a lot longer.”
The lawmaker said she hopes that establishing the office within the DOJ and the subsequent data collection that will potentially come from its work will lead to “further training” for law enforcement agencies on how to better respond to cases.
As a mother, Omar understands the dangers and fear for Black women and young girls, whom she urged to “utilize every precaution.” That includes her own home, where her 11-year-old daughter expressed wanting pepper spray to be able to protect herself.
“We want young girls thinking about the dangers that are out there, and we want families talking to young girls and women, particularly Black girls, about [those] dangers,” said Omar. “And to make sure that families…have the ability to advocate vigorously for themselves as well.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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