By: Tatiana Rodriguez
During the year of 2017 over a dozen black and Latina girls have gone missing in Washington D.C, but media outlets are not covering this issue. According to Times online, these girls went missing between March 19 and March 24. Social media outlets, like Twitter, quickly picked up the story and spread like wildfire. Social media users critiqued police for their lack of outcry for these missing girls.
I have seen these photographs of the young girls all over my twitter feed and have seen celebrities like Gabriel Union and Chrissy Teigen retweet stories and question why there hasn’t been much done to find these girls.
On March 22nd a meeting was held by city officials in Washington D.C for community members to address their issues and concerns. One thing for sure was that meeting also sparked another much-needed conversation about race and police. According to the Black and Missing Foundation, black children who go missing receive less media attention than white kids. A 2016 analysis looked at the coverage of missing persons, published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, found some evidence that cases involved white women did not only draw more attention but were covered more intensely.
In this day and age, social media helps provide another alternative to missing person search parties. It allows users to post a picture of a missing loved one and provide details about their last whereabouts and description of them. However, for D.C it proved to distort the story more and push farther from the truth. The Metropolitan Police Department recorded 501 cases of missing girls in 2017 and said 22 cases were open as of Wednesday, March 28. The outcry on social media has helped track most the young girls, but according to DC City Council member Trayon White said in an interview Friday.
“…. we had a 10-year-old girl go missing the other day, but there was no amber alter…… if this was a white person or from another neighborhood, there would be more alarm about it.”- Trayon White D.C City Council member
Spokesman Kevin Harris said that most of the girls are repeat runaways and in order to lower the numbers they needed to break the cycle of young girls who repeatedly run away from home. That’s not saying that all the missing girls are runaways, but activists claim there is an is that expands outside of D.C’s city limits.
According to the FBI’s crime statistics, during 2014 nearly 37 percent of all missing persons under 18 in the U.S were black— an excessive number that may reflect how law enforcement handles cases like these. Most of these cases involving missing African-American children are initially classified as runways and do not get an Amber Alert of media coverage. D.C police rebottled by stating that none of the open cases met the extensive criteria the Justice Department has set for issuing an Amber Alert.
D.C police are using social media to more transparent about reports of missing persons but in doing so their Twitter feed may have caused confusion in suggesting an epidemic throughout the district. This further proves how social media can spread inaccurate information without full context. Natalie Wilson from the Black and Missing Foundation said that it’s critical for people to share accurate information from the media, the larger outcome was that people are paying attention to cases of missing girls from past years too.
The social media outcry is why Mayor Muriel Bowser announced a new social media policy, and other programs, that aimed at improving the district’s response to missing youth. One of them being a task force to help locate missing youth and address issues that cause children to run away from home. Bowser has also assigned more officers to find any missing kids.