State leaders held a press conference Jan. 31 on the Million Dollar Staircase in Albany to celebrate the signing of the BIPOC Task Force bill.

Signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul in December, the legislation allotted $750,000 toward the creation of a nine-person state panel to address the issue of missing and murdered BIPOC women and girls in New York state. The task force will consist of representatives from the Office of Family and Children’s Services, the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the New York State Police and additional members appointed by the State Senate and State Assembly. These representatives will work to identify abduction hubs, write legislation to educate communities about this epidemic and report their findings after two years. The bill passed unanimously in both houses of the State Legislature.

State Sen. Lea Webb, who chairs the Women’s Issues Committee and represents the 52nd District, and Assemblymember Karines Reyes, who represents the 87th District, partnered to secure the bill’s funding from the 2024 state budget, which consisted of an estimated $229 billion. Webb acknowledged the legislation’s positive impact on affected communities.

“This landmark law is a huge milestone for the safety and security of BIPOC women and girls across our state,” Webb said. “Each year, an alarming number of women and girls of color go missing or are murdered. No family should ever have to deal with these traumatic experiences. Every community deserves equitable resources, and it is crucial that we do a better job as a state to ensure justice for them.”

Statistics from the FBI’s National Crime Information Center from 2022 show that of the over 271,000 missing women and girls reported in that year, 43 percent were Black, Indigenous or people of color.

“Women and girls of color face a systemic disregard of their cases when they go missing, from law enforcement’s delayed response in addressing these cases and the media’s disinterest in promoting the fact that they are missing,” Reyes said. “This new law will establish a task force to fully understand the gaps that exist in our state’s response in these cases, allow us to understand best practices and ensure that more of these cases are resolved. If followed through, we can return more women and girls of color to their families and provide them with closure.”

A study published in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2022 examined “3,600 articles about missing people that appeared last year, between January and November 2021” and found that a missing white women would be covered by more than 120 stories in the media, compared to an estimated eight stories covering a missing Latinx woman.

Webb and Reyes acknowledged the support of Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the State Senate’s majority leader, Hochul and former State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who passed the bill onto Reyes in the Assembly in 2021. They also thanked Dawn Rowe, an advocate of the bill who worked with the families of missing girls and the president of Girl Vow — “a nonprofit organization launched to address the gender specifics needs of disadvantaged girls, femmes and gender-expansive youth in New York City.”

Hochul emphasized the importance of the task force and her commitment to public safety.

“Public safety is my top priority, and I’m committed to doing everything in my power to protect all New Yorkers,” Hochul said. “The statistics are alarming — thousands of women and girls who are Black, Indigenous or people of color go missing every year. We have a moral obligation to treat these cases with the care and seriousness they deserve, and this new Task Force will be a critical part of that effort.”