Missing D.C. girls: How race, systemic racism, and “alternative facts” impact media coverage of this topic

This week, after reading reports that Washington D.C. is experiencing a high number of missing young black and Latino girls this year, I was instantly reminded of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag from 2014? Remember that period, when celebrities and non-celebrities alike posted pictures holding signs with said hashtag to bring attention to the 276 girls kidnapped from the Government Secondary School in Nigeria by the terrorist organization Boko Haram? Remember how that story eventually fizzled out once the next major news event piqued our collective interests?

Michele Obama

Well, it seems as if #BringBackOurGirls Part II is now upon us, with celebrities and non-celebrities alike posting information about the missing D.C. girls albeit with a twist—most of what has been reported so far is false or misleading.

A cursory glance at Tweets and memes could lead a reader to assume that the missing girls were snatched up by some serial rapist, killer or kidnapper(s)—none of which is true according to D.C. political and law enforcement officials. Indeed, according to an NBC story by reporter Erica Jones:

*That now viral Instagram post that claims that 14 girls disappeared over a 24-hour period in D.C. is false.

*Missing child cases in D.C. dropped from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016.

*501 cases of missing juveniles have been lodged so far this year, while 23 remained open as of March 24th.

*With 23 girls still left unaccounted for, police spokesperson Karimah Bilal stated this week that each of the missing children in D.C. ran away from home and were not forcibly abducted.

By now you may be asking yourself that if the girls were not abducted or suspected to have been killed or in imminent danger, why the media attention or more crucially, the charges from Sanaa Lathan and other celebrities and non-celebrities that the mainstream media are ignoring these girls because they are black or Latino? The simple fact is that recently, D.C. police have begun posting information to social media to help solve missing children cases. I believe this is a good thing, actually, as I have lived long enough to know full well that missing children of color, whether in danger or not, typically are not given the same kind of 24/7 media coverage that a Jon Benet Ramsey or Natalie Holloway missing person report receives. We cannot forget, however, that children running away is common, while children being forcibly abducted, raped or killed is less common but of critical importance from a public policy and community safety standpoint. Still, in either scenario, the anecdotal evidence tends to show that black and Latino runaways and abductees simply do not garner the same public outpourings of grief or media coverage as white children under similar circumstances.

Further, in addition to considering racial demographics in the reporting of missing children, we would be remiss if we failed to remember that sexual trafficking cuts across racial lines and is real; contrary to pop culture myth, pimping never died. Today, pimping has morphed into a more intricate and surreptitious criminal enterprise where the financial rewards for the pimp/sex trafficker is great (estimates that one girl can garner six figures per year in income), whilst the young girls and women who find themselves being bartered are consigned to broken bodies, broken spirits, and broken minds that may never be healed.

As such, social media sharing of accurate information is great not only for providing details about specific missing girls, but it also allows us to create a greater dialogue about how we can ameliorate conditions for kids whose living conditions are so miserable that they consider running away from home as the only viable  option. Whether it is an abusive parent, a rapacious rapist in the family who has preyed on said child for years, or the basic struggle for food, clothing and shelter due to tight finances in the home, these issues must no longer be hushed or receives the “Jesus will fix it” brush off that far too often is the default staple in many black and Latino homes.


  1. Has the FBI been involved in DC? 500 some odd black and Latino children running in the last three months seems off.

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