The Congressional Black Caucus penned a letter last week to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey asking for an investigation into the seemingly increasing number of children of color, particularly girls, who have gone missing this year in Washington D.C.
Almost daily posts of missing Black and Latinx girls by D.C. police on their Twitter account, along with viral Instagram posts, have prompted an outcry among social media users with the hashtag #missingdcgirls that the media and police department are dismissing the issue. Many question whether the disappearances are linked to human trafficking, which has consistently been a prevalent issue in the District and across the country, even with the complicity of D.C. police.
There have been 534 cases of missing children in D.C. so far this year, with 14 cases unsolved as of March 27 according to the Metropolitan Police Department. The public and lawmakers alike have expressed concern over the lack of media attention to the situation in comparison to the national coverage and sensationalism that cases of missing white girls such as Natalee Holloway and Elizabeth Smart often receive. None of the missing Black girls made headlines and no Amber Alerts were issued.
As D.C. Councilmember Trayon White told CNN, “We just feel like, you know, if this was a white person or from another neighborhood, there would be more alarm about it.”
According to the Associated Press, in this letter Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond has requested the Justice Department “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.”
The Metropolitan Police Department has responded refuting the accuracy of the Instagram post as well as the perceived increase in missing girls, claiming that it is only due to their decision to post missing persons alerts on social media more frequently. The department’s commander Chanel Dickerson holds that “there’s actually been a decrease” in the number of missing children in the District of Columbia. Statistics provided by the police support this claim, yet are not broken down demographically.
Dickerson also denies the existence of any evidence that the cases are connected to human trafficking.
Despite controversy over the accuracy of these claims, many news sources have pointed out that these cases bring into question the treatment of Black and Latinx female lives by the media.
While Black children comprise 37 percent of all missing persons in the U.S. under 18, many, especially girls, are categorized as runaways, and as a result are often kept out of the media in general. Recent studies have found that there in fact exists a “selection bias” in news reporting about missing children, with white children chosen much more often as the focus than children of color.
This phenomenon of erasure and white over-representation, dubbed “missing white woman syndrome” by reporter Gwen Ifill, not only disadvantages and endangers these missing Black and Latinx girls but plays into the larger historical pattern of the censorship of people of color by American media, particularly women. For example, eight transgender women of color have been murdered over the course of 2017 thus far, yet headlines, let alone basic reports, are missing from the majority of major news sources.
Media Resources: CNN 3/26/17; USA Today 3/24/17; Associated Press 3/23/17; National Public Radio 3/27/17; The Huffington Post 3/26/17, 3/28/17; Metropolitan Police Department 3/28/17; NBC Washington 3/25/17; abc13 3/25/17; TIME 3/28/17; New York Amsterdam News 3/30/2017; The Washington Post 3/28/17; Teen Vogue 3/13/17; GLAAD 2/22/17