Sunday 20 August 2017

Everything you should know about the missing children in Washington DC

By Prudence Wade

The situation has received a lot of attention on social media, so here are all your key questions answered.

Social media has been abuzz with cases of missing children in the Washington DC area.

Some people are arguing that it hasn’t been given much mainstream media coverage because the children are largely of colour. However, police officials say there has not been an increase in cases, merely an increase in social media activity.

Here’s everything you need to know about the situation.

What’s happened?

The District of Columbia has logged 501 cases of missing children, many of them black or Latinx, in the first three months of this year, according to the Metropolitan Police Department, the city’s police force.

Twenty-two were unsolved as of March 22, police said.

Has there been an increase in missing children?

DC police officials say that there’s been no increase in the numbers of missing persons in their jurisdiction. “We’ve just been posting them on social media more often,” said Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Rachel Reid.

According to local police data, the number of missing child cases in the District dropped from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016. The highest total recently, 2,610, was back in 2001.

Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, said that despite the assurances from police, it was alarming for so many children to go missing around the same time.

“We can’t focus on the numbers. If we have one missing child, that’s one too many,” Wilson said.

How has the situation played out on social media?

A series of tweets highlighting the plight of missing young people of colour went viral earlier this month.

One tweet from user @BlackMarvelGirl gathered 40,000 likes and 174,000 retweets. This brought the situation to the attention of a much wider audience, many of whom were understandably shocked by the numbers of missing children – particularly as so many are of colour.

Why has the situation received little attention before these tweets?

For some reason, before @BlackMarvelGirl’s tweets went viral, coverage of the missing children was pretty muted.

The Root wrote an article asking “Does anyone care about DC’s missing black and Latinx teens?” noting that you would only know that 10 teenagers had gone missing in DC in the week preceding March 12 alone if you followed the Metro Police Department on Twitter, you were a relative of someone who had gone missing or you’d been watching local news – and even the latter was pretty light on coverage.

Many think it boils down to issues of race. It is part of a phenomenon that PBS journalist Gwen Ifill calls “missing white woman syndrome” – essentially the idea that mainstream media gives preference to cases of white missing children over those of colour who are in a similar situation.

Another thing to note is the disproportionate number of African Americans who have been reported as missing. According to the National Crime Information Centre, about a third of the missing population last year are African American, which is startling considering they make up 13.3% of the country as a whole.

What are black politicians doing about it?

Last week black members of Congress sent a letter to the Justice Department calling 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”.

The letter sent from Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond and the district’s representative in Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton says: “Whether these recent disappearances are an anomaly or signals of underlying trends, it is essential that the Department of Justice and the FBI use all of the tools at their disposal to help local officials investigate these events, and return these children to their parents as soon as possible.”

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