Nationally, black girls make up a staggeringly disproportionate number of missing children cases. According to the Black and Missing Foundation, 36.7 percent of missing people under 17 are black. Considering that African Americans make up about 13 percent of the population in the United States, this number is shameful and eerie.
Over the weekend outrage erupted on social media over a perceived increase in missing black and brown girls in the nation’s capitol. On Twitter, #FindOurGirls and #missingdcgirls were trending as folks remarked incredulously on the lack of media attention on the case. Many pointed out the disparity in news coverage when white women go missing versus when black and brown women do.
D.C. officials say that there aren’t more girls suddenly going missing but that there is simply more awareness as police increasingly use social media to find missing persons. Still, according to a report by ABC News, 12 black girls went missing in the course of three days. Until the public outcry was sparked on Twitter, there was no media attention dedicated to or Amber Alerts issued for these missing girls of color.
Under current guidelines, an Amber Alert can only be issued if it’s believed that a child has been abducted or is in imminent danger. When law enforcement classifies these girls as “runaways” rather than “missing,” then there is no Amber Alert, media attention or sense of urgency to find them. This mislabeling makes girls more susceptible to sex trafficking. Rather than labeling and writing off these vulnerable girls, we need to consider what was happening to them at home that made them believe running away was their best option.
Recent events prompted Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., to call on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.”
Surely if the FBI can dedicate its time and resources to recover Tom Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey, they can make a vigorous effort to get these girls home safe.
In 1962, Malcolm X said “The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.” In 2017, as we try to #FindOurGirls, his words still ring true.