by Channon Oyeniran
A few weeks ago, a tweet claiming 14 girls had gone missing in Washington DC in 24 hours went viral. Like many of you who are reading this post, I wasn’t too sure what was going on and what the real story was behind these missing teenagers, specifically black and Latina teenage girls. I didn’t see anything on the news, but I did see stories on Facebook, and from the few articles that I did read, this issue seemed to be not only widespread, but it was problematic, surrounded by chaos and not well covered by the media. I want to share what I have learned about what is happening in the DC area, so we can be better informed and in a position to help, should we chose to do so, and the facts about the situation.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare when they can’t find their child, there are no traces of them and the feeling that a huge part of themselves is gone. This is what has happened to many families with black children all over America. While this happens to children everywhere from all different cultures and ethnicities, I am choosing to focus this post on black families, who haven’t had the same opportunity to voice themselves the way others do. According to the FBI, in 2015, “634,908 people were reported missing in the United States and over 40 percent of those cases involve people of color.” Washington DC alone reported 501 cases of missing youth in the first three months of 2017, with many of these youth being black and Latino. What’s so alarming about this is the fact that the public hasn’t heard very much regarding these cases. 501 missing persons cases is a lot to have from January to March 2017. One key factor in why there is so little media coverage about this issue according to a report from 2010 by the Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, says that “African-American children made up 33.2 percent of missing persons cases that year, but they were significantly underrepresented in the media. African-American children received 19.5 percent of media coverage while non-African American children received over 80 percent.” This is a significant difference in the way missing black children in America get their stories showed in the media in comparison to missing white children.
With a clear example of how missing cases of black teens is given so little coverage in the media, the short but powerful 2014 film, Muted, directed by Rachel Goldberg, tells of an African-American family, the Gladwells’, who struggle to get the support of media and law enforcement when their teenage daughter disappears. Meanwhile a few days after the teen’s disappearance, a white teenage girl goes missing, and an Amber Alert and reward, with extensive news coverage, are issued almost immediately. This short film is reminiscent of what has been happening for a long time to black families in America and displays larger issues of racism and discrimination. Muted also glaringly demonstrates the lack of value that is placed on black people.
“He said, she said”
I think why this issue is so upsetting for many African American families is for a few reasons: 1) the lack of media attention these missing cases have gotten, 2) the nonchalant attitude from the Washington DC police department, and 3) the assumption that missing black youth run away and are not in any “real danger.” The Metropolitan Police Department has recently started to post missing teens on their social media accounts, and while this does reach many people at a time, it does not offer the same impact that full media coverage would. There seems to be a widespread belief that the black youth who are missing in the DC area left on their own accord or voluntarily. According to NBC news in Washington, “All of the teens who have reported missing in 2017 left voluntarily, police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal said.”
However, parents of these missing teens and the community believe otherwise. In an article by Raquel Reichard in Latina magazine, Dr. Vanetta Rather, founder of the organization My Sister My Seed, said it clearly, “Sometimes when girls of color are missing they are deemed ‘runaways’ and sometimes that prevents an amber alert from being sent out, they only send out amber alerts for those who are considered snatched or kidnapped. It appears that when it’s girls of color, there’s not this urgency.” This was the cause of contention between the DC police department, parents, local pastors, activists and young people who took this issue into their own hands by holding a town hall meeting in March to discuss what can be done to cut down on the number of missing children in DC.
Whatever the TRUTH may be about this complex issue that is happening in DC, we all must remember that lives are at stake and that there are organizations that are doing something about it, providing support and help in any way they can. (More on some of these amazing organizations below.)
What are the facts?
Here are some facts about missing black youth in the Washington DC as well as across America:
- Missing child cases 2015: 2,433 in 2015
- Missing child cases 2016: 2,242 in 2016
- So far in 2017, the District has logged a total of 501 cases of missing youth (many of them black or Latino). Only a handful of these have been solved thus far.
- 22 youth cases remain open as of March 24th 2017, with police having only photos for 13 out of the 22 young people.
- People of color accounted for nearly 40 percent of national missing person entries in 2014.
- Missing Person Statistics (Metropolitan Police Department)
Organizations who are doing something about this…
As mentioned above, one of the major disadvantages in locating these missing black teenagers in the DC area, and across America for that matter, is the lack of media coverage and lackadaisical approach in searching for these young people. One of the main aims of organizations such as Black and Missing but Not Forgotten (BAMBNF), is that “every missing Black child and adult receives equal attention in the media and resources towards being safely found.” BAMBNF seeks to create relationships with various media outlets, government agencies and the public to make sure that missing African Americans receive swift attention and concern to garner the best possible outcomes in each and every case.
Black and Missing Incorporated “is a non-profit organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety.” Meanwhile for those young people who unfortunately become victims of human trafficking, the DeliverFund, “disrupts global Human Trafficking Markets by combining uniquely qualified personnel with the best technologies, and then leveraging them in new ways to reach and rescue the victims of human trafficking.”
The Joyful Child Foundation’s goal is to “[…]ensure that every child is exposed to personal safety education and opportunities to practice in order to cultivate each child’s instinctual response to recognize, avoid, and if necessary, physically resist and escape inappropriate behaviors or violence.”
These are just some of the many organizations who are raising awareness and doing all they can to prevent children, young people and adults alike from going missing and becoming the victims of human trafficking. I’m sure a Google search will help to locate a nearby organization or group who is doing something about missing persons in your community. Don’t hesitate; help them today!
For more information:
- Black and Missing Foundation
- What’s Really Missing In The D.C. Missing Girls Case
- Missing black and Latina children are a crisis for all of us
- What You Need to Know About Missing Black and Latina Teens in D.C.
- Black & Latina Girls Keep Disappearing in Washington, D.C. — And Authorities Aren’t Doing Much About It
- Race and Gender: Media Bias in Coverage of Missing Persons
- Metropolitan Police Department Current Missing Person Cases
- Once-missing DC teen tells her story
- MUTED: The Short Film On Missing Black Girls That Everyone Needs To See
- Homeless Youth at High Risk of Human Trafficking