After police in the District of Columbia logged 501 cases of missing juveniles in the first three months of 2017, black members of Congress are taking the Justice Department to task. In an Associated Press-obtained letter sent to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey, Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton have asked for the use of "necessary" resources in determining whether these cases are an anomaly or part of an emerging trend. Of the 501 cases, many of which involved young black or Latino citizens, the Metropolitan Police Department said this week that 22 remained unsolved. The problem? The news isn't covering any of this as urgently as they should.
#MissingDCGirls - Activists and Concerned Citizens Call for National Attention
The apparent lack of media coverage surrounding these missing person cases has inspired the growing hashtag #MissingDCGirls on Twitter, with activists and concerned citizens alike calling for publications to shine a light on young women such as 16-year-old Angel Burl:
Burl, last seen this Wednesday, was reported missing on Thursday:
Tweet Accurately—The Numbers Are Troubling Enough on Their Own
Though a widely shared Instagram post claiming 14 young women had disappeared in the D.C. area over a 24-hour period was ultimately found to be inaccurate, the correct numbers are still alarming. Burl is just the latest such case. Shaniah Boyd, 14, and Chareah Payne, 17, were also reported as missing this week. Payne was later found and reported as being in "good health." An update on Boyd, however, has not been provided.
The Instagram post's inaccuracy, confirmed by a local NBC affiliate, highlights the need for thorough vetting of information when using social media to give a platform to an issue that mainstream news organizations have only just now started giving coverage. Even police have turned to social media for assistance in locating missing persons, though they insist that's not due to an uptick in cases.
Are Missing Persons Cases on the Rise in D.C.?
According to Metropolitan police, there has been "no increase" in the number of missing person reports in the area. The department, however, has recently started focusing on sharing information on these cases in a more modern and tech-friendly way. "We've just been posting them on social media more often," department spokesperson Rachel Reid explained. Acting Chief Peter Newsham claimed to USA Today this week that missing person reports were down for 2017. The Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately respond to Complex's request for comment. A frequently updated list (with photos) of current missing persons cases in D.C. can be accessed here.
Exposure Is Crucial
Chanel Dickerson, D.C. Police Youth and Family Services Commander, explained to FOX 5 Thursday that a "large number of our missing teens voluntarily leave home and they're found or located within a short time." Still, Dickerson said, the issue is critical:
"I was astounded when I looked at the number of missing African-American females," Dickerson said. "I'm not trying to minimize that other people aren’t missing, but they looked like me and so I just wanted to make sure that every investigation focused on every child same way and we get the same exposure to everyone regardless of your race or where you live." Police have denied that human trafficking, a national issue, is to blame for the cases. Lead DC Stop Modern Slavery organizer Shannon Summers, however, argued that trafficking shouldn't be ruled out.
How to Help, From Printing Fliers to Keeping #MissingDCGirls Trending
D.C. police recommend locals share their missing persons fliers and tweets in an effort to assist them in their searches. When the department tweets a flier, simply save the photo to your laptop or phone and have them printed out. Many businesses will allow the printed fliers to be displayed in their establishments.
As media coverage surrounding #MissingDCGirls (hopefully) continues to grow, never underestimate the power of a hashtag. Keep tweeting. Keep tagging D.C. representatives. Even if you're not in D.C., you can put the pressure on your local police departments, lawmakers, and news organizations to keep this issue at the forefront.
If you suspect a loved one is missing, regardless of location, the Black & Missing Foundation offers a helpful Missing Persons Checklist. That checklist can be downloaded and printed by clicking here.