Jun 14, 2022 - Politics

Utah's MMIWG task force holds listening session in Cedar City

Illustration of an Indigenous woman holding a "Please Find Me" sign with a map of Utah, protest signs, and missing people photos in the background.
Photo Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios. Photo: Andy Cross, Anadolu Agency, Universal Images Group/Getty Images

The Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls Task Force held a listening session in Cedar City on Saturday.

  • Community members spoke about their loved ones and recounted negative experiences with law enforcement.

Driving the news: The state-sponsored task force was created in 2020. Its priorities include working with tribal leaders to learn about the scope of the issue and develop protocols and best practices for law enforcement officials to apply to new and unsolved MMIWG cases.

Details: Some attendees said they were distraught by law enforcement's handling of their relatives' cases.

  • "A lot of that happened in the past, and so you can still see how it still lives with many of the survivors, which are the family members of people who were murdered … or who went missing," said Utah Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City), who co-chairs the task force.
  • Romero said jurisdiction issues and complications often arise when investigating MMIWG cases. But she hopes the task force can provide recommendations to improve the process.

What they said: During the session, Brianna Garcia, who is from the Navajo Nation, said the subject of MMIWG was an issue that was never discussed in her household.

  • "I grew up with my mother, never understanding why she was always afraid," she said referring to her mother's fear of going missing or being murdered. "She lived with this fear that it could happen to her at any time."

By the numbers: Utah ranked No. 8 in the nation for the most MMIWG cases, according to a 2018 study by the Urban Indian Health Institute.

  • The report found 24 cases in Utah, which researchers said is likely an undercount.
  • Of note: After its release, The Salt Lake City Police Department called the numbers inflated and "highly erroneous."

Yes, but: Romero said it's difficult to track the exact number of cases in Utah. That's part of the reason the task force plans to commission a statewide report about the matter in the future.

Zoom out: Widespread news coverage of the disappearance and murder of 22-year-old Gabby Petito in 2021 led to recent criticism over how news outlets prioritize the missing cases of white women over women of color.

What's next: A listening session will be held in Salt Lake City, Romero said. The official date has not been announced yet.

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