An alarming number of young black girls are missing in the nation’s capital. The whole country should be paying attention.
You’ve likely read many stories recently pouring out of Washington about health care, Russia, and Supreme Court justices.
You probably haven’t, however, read as many about the staggering number of black girls reported missing in D.C. in the past few months.
It’d make sense if you haven’t — there’s been virtually no news covering it.
Just this year, D.C. has 22 unsolved cases of missing youths — most of them involving black and Latinx teens — as of March 22, the Associated Press reported.
Fortunately, alarm bells are beginning to ring far beyond the capital, as people ask the same question many neighborhoods in D.C. have been voicing for a while now: Why doesn’t anyone care about this?
The news, which is finding viral traction online through the hashtag #MissingDCGirls, was further pushed into the spotlight this week when members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to devote resources to the matter.
“Ten children of color went missing in our nation’s capital in a period of two weeks and at first garnered very little media attention,” CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond wrote. “That’s deeply disturbing.”
Emotions boiled over at a March 22 town hall meeting, as one girl asked officials through her tears, “Why?”
“We got to get worried about somebody trying to take us and we can’t even live our life without somebody trying to put their hands on us,” she pled into the microphone, an adult comforting her at her side.
The number of young people of color in D.C. vanishing without adequate media coverage is disturbing. But it doesn’t quite tell the whole story, according to social justice activist DeRay Mckesson.
“What’s most startling about [the high number of missing black girls] is that this is not a spike,” Mckesson explains. “It’s a continued trend.”
D.C. police confirmed Mckesson’s assertion. There hasn’t been an unusual increase in missing children in Washington in 2017 — what has changed is the police department’s new push to publicize information on missing children via social media. Naturally, the move has brought more attention to the issue than in years past.
What’s happening in D.C. highlights another disturbing trend happening all over America.
Missing black girls — and missing people of color, in general — are often overlooked by the media.
Research shows that a disproportionately high number of black youths go missing, but news coverage devoted to their disappearances is lacking compared to their white peers, Ebony reported. It’s even worse when you look solely at black girls and women.
Why the discrepancy? Throughout our society, whiteness has been deemed normal — the standard — while anything non-white becomes the “other” and is therefore seen as less important. Mckesson explains, “That bias exists in the media as well.”
In other words, as activist Shaun King wrote for The Daily News, missing people of color “don’t get the Elizabeth Smart or Natalee Holloway treatment.”
It’s just another way institutionalized racism and implicit bias affects our way of life.
The fact so many people are suddenly alarmed by what’s happening in D.C. reflects, among other things, the persistent lack of awareness around missing black and brown people, Mckesson says. It also points to how many of us are quick to dismiss the realities of human and sex trafficking here in the U.S. (Although D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser reported no evidence linking the missing girls to trafficking, some advocates, including the Black and Missing Foundation, aren’t so sure.)
Reversing institutionalized racism in our media is admittedly a daunting task, but you do have the power to make a difference.
Learn more about why missing people of color are marginalized in our media. Speak out if you see this injustice happening in your own community. And make sure to share the names and faces of those who need our help by using platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
Shining a light on this problem and helping those in need is the best way to ensure progress, Mckesson says. “There’s no better answer than visibility.”