I’m a little ashamed to say that only recently, I’ve learned Washington, D.C. is currently dealing with a kidnapping crisis. At least in the past two weeks alone, over 10 Black and Latinx teenagers have gone missing. Twenty-two cases are currently open. We can attribute the groundswell of online attention to a lone tweeter, @BlackMarvelGirl, who triggered articles in outlets like The Root, Essence, and Teen Vogue. On March 22, community anger surged at a Southeast D.C. townhall about the abductions. The gathering revealed little information except a few things we already knew:
No one bothers about missing Black girls until Black women sound the alarm.
Remember #BringBackOurGirls? That campaign was also jumpstarted by a Black woman after a lack of media coverage on Boko Harem’s kidnapping girls in Nigeria. When a family friend’s sister went missing, my Black women followers on Twitter signal boosted my tweet like lightning. Two Black women founded the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., (BAMFI) in 2008 to help locate missing Black people in the US. They’ve since found 125.
I found out about the recent D.C. community meeting through another Black woman tweeting, @javeauriel. Local and national activists against the Black abductions of D.C. girls have been organizing under the hashtag #HelpUsFindUs. From what I can tell, BAMFI originated the HT.
What else do we know about the fact that 14 girls went missing in less than a 24-hour span?
Black girls can’t ever be a victim in America.
Or anywhere else in the world, for that matter. I saw so many tweets essentially saying, “ALL those girls can’t be missing and taken by someone else.” Given the map of where most of these abductions allegedly took place (close to Southeast D.C.), these vulnerable girls are being poached. But their victimization is impossible? Right.
Missing Black girls will get analyzed from head to toe before they’ll get searched for. One man present at the townhall tried to point out that the kidnappers could be attracted by the weaves and makeup on the girls. Another guy on Twitter twisted into a pretzel trying to explain how girls wearing makeup and weave can lure predators. Because having predatory urges are somehow not enough? We have to manufacture pathologies, like kidnappers preferring shiny things on people who already do not belong to them? #FastTailGirls who dress or appear “too grown” never deserve sympathy, period.
Somewhere in America, someone is still trying to find Jon Benet Ramsey using her pageant photo and saying not a WORD about makeup. Because little White girls get to be just missing and thoroughly searched for. Missing and beloved. Missing and then found. Missing and mourned.
Black girls can’t be victims in America because we’ve never been seen as worth saving.
We cannot rely on law enforcement officials.
Most of the coverage about the missing Black and Brown girls rightfully points out missing White woman syndrome. It’s true that there has been low national and media attention to the kidnappings. But more than that, the type of attention paid to the missing teens by law enforcement troubles me. If police classify children as runaways, they can’t use the Amber Alerts system. The police in the District don’t consider most of the girls to be in “imminent danger.” I don’t understand how the very fact of their underage absence does not connote danger or impute risk.
The D.C. Police Youth and Family Services Division Commander suggested that girls afraid of kidnapping stay at home. No, really. Even though she doubled back and denied the statement, the recorded audio doesn’t lie. Telling girls to stay home sets them up for the question, “Why weren’t you in the house?” if anything happens to them. Instead of protecting them, the police present an irrational non-solution to a dangerous problem.
The D.C. community widely believes these missing girls have fallen prey to human trafficking. But even in that case, officers are largely undertrained to recognize trafficking, or they consider it a federal jurisdictional issue. Trafficking itself involves complex scenarios I don’t yet fully comprehend. Should law enforcement suspect any kind of prostitution, the girls could immediately enter the criminal justice system.
More Black girls will go–and stay–missing if we don’t do something.
D.C. police never found Relisha Rudd, a local 8-year-old girl who went missing three years ago. Officials closed, reopened, and closed the case again last year. That I even recognize her name is a credit to Black women amplifying it. I fear the recent disappearances of teens in the D.C. metro area will follow Relisha’s unknown demise. Another girl just went missing yesterday.
I don’t know the first thing about finding people. But I do know that if we–Black folks–do nothing, nothing will happen. District police only recently updated their site to show the spate of abductions. The (liberal, White) women who descended on D.C. for January’s Women’s March will not “unite” with their new BFF Tomi Lahren to find those girls. Black parents won’t get 20/20 specials for one lone missing teen; handfuls of Black girls have to go missing to merit coverage at all.
So please share the missing persons posters on your social media platforms. If you’re in the DMV, stay alert for suspicious behavior. And amplify, amplify, amplify. Talk about the abductions and say their names. Even if this wasn’t in my backyard, I think what scares me most of all is that these girls could literally be our daughters. A whopping 64,000 Black girls and women are missing in the U.S. right now. Too Black and Brown to be the innocent, painted face of America’s kidnapped sweethearts. America doesn’t notice when Black girls vanish because, to them, we are already invisible.
We have to #HelpUsFindUs.