Last week the chilling news went viral that 14 black and Latinx teenage girls, in Washington D.C., had gone missing in the span of 24 hours. People expressed outrage across media platforms at the lack of news coverage.
It sparked fear from communities of color that the girls were being targeted with correlation to the increase in hate crimes since the 2016 election.
A statement by the Metropolitan Police Department said that the information spread on social media did not tell the whole story.
What We Know
The DC Metropolitan Police department held press conferences and Tweeted the information regarding missing people, deemed “critical”. This was a public effort to do a better job reporting missing persons.
The 14 reports that were released were the last unsolved missing juvenile cases of the 534 that were reported so far in 2017.
The 14 girls are still missing, however, they did not all disappear within 24 hours like the viral incident led people to believe. The web response was based on the number of teens of color released very close together, which inspired fear that teens of color were being targeted in the D.C. Area.
Racial Bias in Reporting of Missing Persons
There is a complicated history regarding police classifications of missing white children compared to black children. People of color go missing more than white people, but these cases are reported less and receive almost no media coverage.
Teens of color are more likely to be reported as “runaways,” which implies a lack of imminent danger. Because of this, Amber Alerts are less likely to be called and these disappearances are not published with the same level of severity if they are published at all.
It is argued that even “runaways” should be considered as in imminent danger because of the connection to sex trafficking.
The Center Against Rape and Domestic Violence website stated: “it is estimated that a runaway girl will be approached by a pimp within the first 48 hours of being out on the streets.”
Where to Go from Here
The history of reporting and classifying missing person cases differently based on race is a good example of institutional racism, which has caused distrust towards police and media outlets in communities of color.
The cases of the 14 black and Latinx girls are still shocking and deserve adequate media attention. However, this shows that roots of racism are deeply entwined in systems and institutions, and to achieve racial equality a couple things still need to happen.
Law enforcement institutions must continue to dismantle oppressive actions that alienate non-white citizens and put people of color in danger.
Mass media outlets need to give adequate news coverage to missing persons of color. Missing person cases should be reported objectively and use language that does not demonize people based on race.
When news is spread on social media, accuracy is important in ensuring credibility and safety of those that the news pertains to.