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State Rep. Shelia Stubbs holds press conference demanding action on missing and murdered African American women and girls in Wisconsin

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Elected officials, community members and families came together at the Wisconsin State Capitol May 16 to demand action to start the Missing and Murdered African American Women & Girls Task Force.

State Rep. Sheila Stubbs (D-Madison) held a press conference demanding action from the State Senate to meet and vote on the creation of a task force for missing and murdered African American girls. The bill, which has already been voted unanimously in favor of from the State Assembly, has yet to be scheduled for a vote after Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) who heads the committee overseeing legislation, said he wouldn’t schedule a hearing on the proposal, Wisconsin Watch reported.

Rep. Stubbs brought together local community leaders and families of some of the few missing and murdered Black women to demand the State Senate to reconvene and vote on the proposal.

 “I’m left wondering one question: Why? Rep Stubbs said. “I’m heartbroken that nearly every day we must hear of another missing or murdered person in our state. Enough. It’s enough.”

Wisconsin had the highest homicide victimization rate for Black women and girls in the United States at 20.2 out of 100,000 in 2020, according to The Guardian.

The task force aims to examine systemic causes behind violence that Black women and girls experience at a disproportionately high rate in the state by analyzing underlying historical, generational, social, economic, and cultural factors, policing, child welfare, coroner practices, and governmental practices that contribute to the problem.

The task force would collect data and take measures on how to address and reduce the rate at which Black women and girls experience violence.

“I was shocked to discover that Wisconsin, a state that I love, the state that I’m raising my children in, the state where my husband and I are pastors in, the state where my mother brought me to be raised since the age of 5, had the worst numbers for Black female homicide victimization in the nation,” said Stubbs.

The topic hits close to home for many including Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes. He recounted an experience two years ago where he “felt powerless” after his daughter was followed home while attending graduate school at the California School of Arts.

State Rep. Sheila Stubbs demands action from the State Senate to meet and vote on the creation of a task force for missing and murdered African American girls on May 16. (Photo by Omar Waheed)

“I want you to know that you know as a police officer … I’ve been a police officer now for 25 years … I’ve never felt more powerless before in my life. There was absolutely nothing that I can do,” Chief Barnes said. “We cannot wait any longer for this task force to be assembled and for them to begin their work. We need — I need — all the help we can to bring justice to people who deserve it.”

Families of three missing and murdered Black women and girls from Wisconsin were brought to the press conference where they highlighted continued discontent from police action for how their children’s cases were handled by police.

Sade Carleena Robinson, who went missing on April 1, was represented by the director of Sade’s Voice Foundation’s representative Erica Brown. Brown highlighted the issue and necessity for the task force after relaying her anger and Robinson’s family’s ongoing grief. She called for Senate to reconvene to vote.

“This isn’t a Back, white, brown, male or female issue. It is a public safety issue,” Brown said. “Our mission is clear to amplify the voices of those who have been silenced and to advocate for justice and equity in cases of disappearance.”

Tanisha Howard, the mother of Joniah Walker, who went missing in June 2022, came out to urge the State Senate to pass the proposal after frustrations with how police handled the case, deeming not classified as a “critical missing person.”

She recounted being dismissed and not taken seriously with Milwaukee Police finally coming to ask Howard about the day Walker went missing and collected DNA evidence in January 2023 — around six months after the incident was reported. She took matters in her own hand and sought out help from the FBI and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Tanisha Howard, mother of Johniah Walker
(Photo by Omar Waheed)

“She was dismissed as just another runaway teenager, when in reality she’s a vulnerable child who was likely manipulated and protocoled. It’s heartbreaking and enraging to realize that I had to fight tooth and nail for basic assistance in finding my baby,” Howard said.

Lasheky Hill, who went missing in March 2023, was represented by her mother Georgia who is taking care of Lasheky’s son. Georgia, after not receiving enough support from local law enforcement in Racine, decided to push the issue to national platforms. The story of Lasheky’s missing was covered by Dateline in its “Missing in America Series.”

“My need to keep sharing Lasheky’s story and keep Lasheky’s name alive is to help pass this bill for missing women of color,” Georgia said. “It’s a shame when money is more important than a life. I need everyone to put their feet in my shoes as if it were their child. How would you feel?”

Others present in the press conference, who all called for the State Senate to reconvene to vote, included: Reverend David Hart, attorney, reverend at Sherman Avenue United Methodist Church and president of Blacks for Political and Social Action of Dane County (BPSADC); Reverend Marcus Allen of Mt. Zion Baptist Church; Greg Jones from the Dane County NAACP; Madelyn Cobb, state and policy manager for March for our Lives; Shannon Blackamore, president of the Capitol City; Chapter of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Madison Police captain; Candace McDowell accompanied by Kirbie Mack, vice president of BPSADC; Calvin Lee with the Milwaukee Common Council; and State Senator Jeff Smith.

Representative Stubbs again called for action and requested all media present provide her phone number for anyone with a missing relative to contact her office to share their story or arrange a time to meet.

“I will travel across the state of Wisconsin to meet with these families and loved ones so they know somebody cares about them and they deserve a chance to have their loved ones’ voices heard,” Rep. Stubbs said. “Their family members may be gone, but we will make sure that they are never forgotten.”

Representative Stubbs can be reached at (608) 237-9177.