We live in the age of the internet, and have access to tremendous amounts of information that can reach a massive audience instantly. The problem is sometimes this information is completely fabricated, opinion based or simply incorrect. Anyone with internet access and the knowledge could create “news” that is entirely false. This makes it difficult to navigate through what is factual and what is “fake news,” which is how the news of the missing girls in DC became inaccurately viral very quickly.
The Metropolitan Police made the decision to begin utilizing social media to locate the missing girls which, as had hoped, caught the attention of the twittersphere. The story became convoluted and the public’s perception was that 14 girls had gone missing within 24 hours. The public also came to believe that there was an influx in young black and latina girls being abducted as a whole. Neither of these things are true.
The DC girls who had gone missing did not disappear in one day (which initially made it sound as though there was a serial killer in the midst targeting young girls of color). According to the DC police, for the last five years an average of 200 people are reported missing each month. This year that number has gone down to 190. That said, black people only make up 13 percent of the population but account for 40 percent of those missing. The fact that less people are going missing and it isn’t happening “all of a sudden” is all good and well, but there is still the fact that women and children of color are missing in alarming numbers and police and the media are searching for them disproportionately lower rates than their white counterparts.
The press is four times more likely to report when a white child has gone missing than when a black or latinx child has gone missing. It is a continuation of the inherent preference and privilege of white Americans. With numbers like this the logical assumption would be that the amber alerts for our black and latinx girls would outnumber those of missing white children. The media coverage (or lack thereof) directly correlates with the policing (or lack thereof) of missing children.
Brenda Peyton in an Oakland Tribune editorial made an eye opening comparison. She compared reporters and editors who defend their choice of not cover these cases by saying they are “responding to the market and giving viewers what they want” with store owners who claimed they “don’t care if ‘Negros’ came into their stores and businesses, it is the customers who don’t want them there.” The remnants of racism and bias are deafening, and still systematically privileging some people over others.
There is one area where the press remains consistent. The use of minority photos in the media in relation to crime is constant and has created a space where the assumption is that it is normal for something bad to happen to a minority or for it to somehow be the child’s own fault.
Officials say that they have closed 90 percent of missing persons’ cases, but closed does not necessarily mean found. If they have been found, were they dead or alive? Safe or harmed? There has been no real clarification. For communities that have seen people shot down because of the color of their skin and our current administration at work—this is not a victory. With America’s history of slavery (which ended in some families only a generation or two ago) and recent events, race relations are rough. It appears that it will only worsen if the departments put in place to protect the people of the United States don’t begin to do just that at an unbiased, equitable rate.