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Although African Americans make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 37 percent of the missing in the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s database under the age of 18 and 26 percent above the age of 18. Cases involving African Americans also tend to receive less media coverage than missing Whites, with missing men of color getting even less attention.

NewsOne has partnered with the Black and Missing Foundation to focus on the crisis of missing African Americans.

To be a part of the solution, NewsOne will profile missing persons  and provide tips about how to keep your loved ones safe and what to do if someone goes missing.

When Washington D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department began using social media to send alerts about critical missing persons cases. Many of the people featured on the agency’s Twitter feed were young Black women. The Internet noticed and the news went viral.

An Instagram post announcing that 14 black girls went missing in D.C. within a 24-hour period sent people into a tizzy. Celebrities such as Taraji P. Henson, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, LL Cool J and Gabrielle Union began posting about the missing Black girls in D.C. Soon, the Congressional Black Caucus was involved and called for the FBI to investigate. That’s not all. Press conferences were held and demands made for authorities to pay more attention to the plight of missing black women in D.C.


There was only one problem––the news wasn’t exactly true.

According to Metro Police statistics, the number of missing juveniles was about the same in 2016 as it was in 2015. In 2015 there were 2,433 cases of missing juveniles compared to 2,242 in 2016. So far this year there have been 549 missing juvenile cases and only 15 of those remain open.

“We cannot speculate on how this idea came along but this is not accurate information. Please note that there has not been a spike and for the last five years, MPD’s closed over 99 percent of these cases,” Margarita Mikhaylova, a police spokeswoman told NewsOne.

We cannot speculate on how this idea came along but this is not accurate information. Please note that there has not been a spike and for the last five years, MPD’s closed over 99 percent of these cases,” Margarita Mikhaylova, a police spokeswoman told NewsOne.

The agency blamed the blowup on its new social media focus on critical missing persons cases.

A critical case is defined “as any person under the age of 15 or over the age of 65, or anyone that, based on the specific circumstances (e.g., mentally incapacitated, patient who presents an imminent danger to him/herself or others, in a life threatening situation, real or suspected danger of foul play, etc.), is designated as such by the Patrol District’s Watch Commander,” according to D.C. police guidelines.

Part of our strategy has been to increase the amount of exposure these cases receive – through social media posts and press releases. This initiative has generated additional tips and helped many of our city’s missing people return home,” said Mikhaylova.


The incident also highlighted how little attention is paid to Black people who go missing, said Natalie Wilson, co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of the Black and Missing Foundation.

I’m surprised these young women have gotten as much attention as they have,” she said. “This got us to have the conversation. Normally, it’s hard to get coverage.”

Now that the incident has awakened  people up to the problems around getting attention for missing Blacks, it’s a chance to examine and dispel four common misconceptions about Blacks who go missing.

1. Missing Blacks get as much media attention as missing Whites

Wilson started the nonprofit with Derrica Wilson several years ago precisely because missing Blacks were not getting the same media attention as missing Whites.

Missing persons cases such as Elizabeth Smart and Natalee Holloway received massive media attention versus the attention given to equally disturbing cases of people of color. The disparity helped  spawn the term “missing White woman syndrome.”

There’s the case of Phoenix Coldon who was last seen in December of 2011 leaving her St. Louis home in her vehicle which was found later in the day in East St. Louis with the keys in it and the engine running. There’s also the case of Phylicia Barnes whose body was ultimately found in Maryland’s Susquehanna River.


Neither case initially received the attention of the Holloway case.

Why aren’t we getting the coverage we deserved,” Wilson said she remembers thinking about the Barnes case. Eventually the case received more coverage.

But the delay in receiving media attention can hurt the chances of the missing person being found. The first hours and days when a person goes missing are crucial. getting information out there can be vital.

Metro Police have found that social media efforts work.

For example, officers have encountered missing juveniles through regular patrol and quickly recognized them as a missing person.  We have followed up with and receive numerous calls from Hospital Staff, Security Officers, and other DC Government agency employees who recognize a missing person while at work,” said Mikhaylova.

Wilson believes the problem highlights the importance of diversity.

We need more diversity in the newsroom. The gatekeepers that are telling this story may not see these missing young people of color as valued and newsworthy,” said Wilson.

2. Many Black people who go missing are runaways or involved in criminal activities

Wilson said that many families of missing people of color describe having a difficult time getting police to focus on their case because the person is stereotypically perceived as a runaway or being involved in criminal activity.

The stereotype is that type of behavior is in that community and this is normal,” said Wilson.

Runaways don’t get Amber alerts and they definitely don’t get media coverage.

They won’t write about you or show your face on the news,” said Wilson.

But even if the person is a runaway they could be in danger.

The question is what are they running away from and what are they running to? Many kids who run away can be lured into sex trafficking,” said Wilson.

3.Black families don’t care as much that their loved ones are missing

Don’t equate a lack of coverage of missing blacks with a lack of caring. Behind the scenes, parents are desperately working to recover their loved ones. It’s just that they run into problems.

The family of flight attendant Sierra Shields says they spent two days going to different New York City police precincts in order to get her reported as a missing person. The family described the situation as frustrating because time was wasted that could have been spent looking for Shields, whose remains were recovered a few months later. The family launched their own grassroots efforts to locate Shields.

“I wish the police would have taken action sooner. If we didn’t have to beg and plead and begin our own grassroots effort, maybe the circumstances would be different. But the circumstances aren’t different and my sister is still gone. When someone goes missing time is of the essence and every moment that goes by feels endless,” said Shields’ sister Joy Shields.

The Shields famiy also lent their support to make LaMont Dottin’s Law a federal mandate. Dottin’s mother Anita Fowler is leading an effort to force law enforcement authorities nationwide to immediately report missing adults, ages 18 to 64, to the National Crime Information Center database.

Black people do care. There are family members that spend every dollar they have looking for their loved ones,” Wilson said. “As people of color we are not sometimes valued so we have to care about this issue.

4. Missing Blacks are being stolen for their organs

As far out as this may sound, it’s an idea that comes up often whenever the number of missing blacks is discussed. Organ trafficking is real but there is no evidence blacks are being taken for their organs.

I have heard that many times over the years. On our Facebook page people really comment about that,” said Wilson.

But in all of her years of working to help find black people who go missing, Wilson says she’s only heard of one case involving a missing person and stolen organs.

In 2013, Ryan Singleton, a model from Atlanta, was found dead in the Las Vegas dessert and his organs were missing.


“I don’t know anything other than that my son was found with no organs in his body,” Singleton’s mother Iris Flowers told Fox News.

The answer to such conspiracy theories is to treat the cases of missing blacks with seriousness and transparency, said Wilson.

D.C. police officials said their effort to bring more attention to critical missing persons cases through social media is an indication of how seriously they take the cases.

MPD takes all of its missing persons cases seriously and is committed to ensuring that each case receives the same level of police service and exposure,” said Mikhaylova. “We all recognize that when someone is missing, there is a risk that they are in danger and need our help.”

Jeff Mays is a contributing writer for NewsOne, specializing in politics and news about missing persons in conjunction with the Black and Missing Foundation. Jeff is the former New York City politics reporter for DNAinfo New York and also a former reporter for the Star-Ledger in New Jersey. His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Root, and Wired magazine. Jeff is the recipient of reporting awards from the New York Press Club, the Center for Community and Ethnic Media and the National Association of Black Journalists. Follow him on Twitter at @JeffCMays.

SEE ALSO:

Several Missing D.C. Girls Found, According To Police

D.C Cops Dismiss Social Post About Missing Teens As Outrage Grows

Baltimore Cops Find Autistic Teen Lured Away By Online Predator

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