If you’re on social media, you may have seen an article doing the rounds with the title: “WHERE IS THE MEDIA?: At Least 25 Black Teen Girls Are Missing In D.C Since Feb 1st!”
Is it true? Not exactly… but it’s not far off. Yes, there are missing girls in Washington D.C but behind the headlines there’s more than meets the eye.
First of all, let’s take a minute to remember that the media is an evil distraction factory and a poor substitute for the police. We should not be outraged about ‘where the media is’ because the media is not a government department and does not find missing children, it merely reports skewed facts about missing children and feeds off public hysteria.
What we need to look at is the Washington DC Police Department. Now, a big reason for the sudden interest in missing black children is that this year the Washington Metropolitan Police Department started publishing missing person notices on their Twitter feed. Because of this people have more awareness of these missing person cases, which is a good thing, but people don’t seem to realize these are normal levels of missing person cases. This is not the Twilight Zone, these are just average stats for any major U.S city. Also because of the demographics of Washington DC, which has a majority black population, it’s likely to have more missing black people than other races.
Worldwide, an average of 85,000 people are missing at any given time (NamUs 2016), around 50% are typically white adult males with black people making up 37% globally and minors 40% (USA Today 2014). Around 12,000 people are currently missing in the U.S (NamUS 2016).
Back over in Washington DC, so far this year the Metropolitan Police Dept have logged 774 missing people cases (501 juveniles and 273 adults), of which only 38 currently remain unresolved. On the other hand, the Washington PD solved 736 missing person cases in the last 3 months alone, and 479 missing minors were found. It’s so easy to focus on the negatives and forget all the hard work the Washington police department puts into protecting its community.
As you might imagine, the figures for missing people change frequently as citizens are found or others go missing. The good news is the stats represent a steady drop in missing person cases since 2015 and the Washington PD reports only 9 remaining unresolved cases between 2012-2016, so the vast majority of people who go missing each year in the state are found.
Most young people who are reported missing are runaways and turn up soon after being reported, with very few cases remaining unsolved. However, many social media users worry that missing black girls will be trafficked. Unfortunately, there are no official figures on human trafficking in the US because cases are rarely reported or known, but no doubt young girls and particularly girls of ethnic minorities are more at risk of being trafficked or prostituted and further at risk of violence because of socio-economic factors which affect girls and people of color in the US.
“Our frustration is, we deal with a very desensitized public,” says Robert Lowry of The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “The natural inclination is that the child’s behavioral problem is why they’ve left.” But sometimes these children are running away from “abuse or neglect or sexual abuse in the home”.
Of the 38 people missing in D.C, 22 are minors and 18 of them are listed as ‘critically missing’: “A critically missing child is one who is at an elevated risk of danger… A child’s age or mental/physical condition can be factors in determining whether a child is deemed to be critically missing” (NCMEC 2016).
“What the community is alarmed about,” says DC City Councilmember Trayon White, “[is] we had a 10-year-old girl missing the other day, but there was no amber alert.” White feels this was due to the child being black, although the strict guidelines of when a child can be considered to qualify for an amber alert may have affected the level of support received in this case. “AMBER plans require law enforcement to confirm an abduction prior to issuing an alert” (Office of Justice Programs 2017).
All in all, the conversation about missing children and the treatment of ethnic minorities is an important one and never unwarranted. “We applaud the conversation and we applaud the attention that this issue is being given” (Robert Lowry, NCMEC). It also appears that, with the current climate of anti-police sentiments and racial tension, police departments in the US have a long way to go in terms of building and maintaining public trust.