CommunityStacy M. Brown

Missing & Forgotten: D.C. Black Girls Lost

A year ago, District residents were in an uproar, as the story of missing Black and Latina girls was met with near-silence from the media and apparent ignorance from the Metropolitan Police Department as officials attempted to rationalize the dozens of disappearances.

Today, the missing in D.C., like those around the nation, receive little attention — even as young African-American women and girls disappear at an alarming rate.

Among the many from the District listed as missing by the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation are Pamela J. Butler, missing since Feb. 14, 2009, Unique Harris, missing since Oct. 10, 2010, and Relisha Tenau Rudd, missing since March 1, 2014.

While police have few — if any — leads or answers, these girls join an ever-growing list of Black girls who are gone and sadly forgotten by mainstream media where coverage is manipulated by the latest thong or see-through attire worn by a Kardashian or the most recent tantrum thrown by President Donald Trump.

And as Trump cries that a border wall is needed to eliminate an imaginary crisis, organizations such as the Black and Missing But Not Forgotten, the Black and Missing Foundation (BAM) in Landover Hills, Maryland, and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in Alexandria, Virginia, struggle to shed light on the real emergency that is of the nation’s missing.

More than 424,066 girls of all races have gone missing since the beginning of 2018, according to NCMEC. More than half of that total are women and girls of color, according to BAM, which, like NCMEC, rely on statistics from the FBI.

“The majority of these children most likely come from marginalized communities, and are primarily low-income people of color,” said Dr. Ronnie A. Dunn, an interim chief diversity and inclusion officer and associate professor of urban studies at Cleveland State University.

“Given this nation’s racially stratified socioeconomic class hierarchy, as evidenced throughout institutions in America where poor children of color have worst outcomes on all quality of life indicators, their lives are devalued in relation to upper class white youth,” said Dunn, who has authored two books, “Race Profiling: Causes & Consequences,” and “Boycotts, Busing, & Beyond: The History & Implications of School Desegregation in the Urban North.”

“And even within that, while this nation espouses the valuing of children in general, this does not appear to be the reality as evidenced by the failure to act in the face of the onslaught of mass school shootings from Sandy Hook to Stoneman Douglas where the majority of those killed were middle class white youth,” Dunn said. “Therefore, we see less media attention paid to missing children, particularly those of color.”

The ignorance toward the Black and missing isn’t a new trend. Black and Missing But Not Forgotten, BAM and NCMEC each have kept a database that dates back decades.

For instance, Margaret R. Dash disappeared from her home in Clearwater, Florida, on June 14, 1974. Today, she would be 83.

Ethel Louise Atwell disappeared from Staten Island, N.Y., on Oct. 24, 1978. If still alive, Atwell would be 86.

Jeffrey Lynn Smith, who today would be 49, disappeared on Dec. 4, 1985, from her Hot Springs, Arkansas, home and hasn’t been heard from since.

Other Black women and girls who have disappeared over the past five decades, according to BAM: Cynthia Renae Rodgers of Forestville, Maryland; Beverly Gail Johnson-Sabo of Ventura, California; Trina Ann Winston of South Bend, Indiana; Erica Heather Smith of Ashburn, Virginia; Debra Dianne Sellars of Burlington, North Carolina.; Bianca Lilly Jones of Detroit; Crystal Keyona Anderson of New Carrollton, Maryland; Sandra Jean Cunningham of New York City; Yamisha Thomas of Columbus, Georgia; Mitrice Richardson of Los Angeles; Priscilla Ann Rogers of Wilmington, North Carolina; Rochelle Denise Battle of Baltimore; Leslie Marva Adams of Atlanta; Chantel Bryant of Virginia Beach, Virginia; Nancie Carolyn Walker of Chicago; Verlisha Littlejohn of Gaffney, South Carolina; Theresa Bunn of Chicago; and Barbara Dreher of Washington, D.C.

“I’m a forensic psychiatrist and legal analyst on television, so I pay attention to media reports of crimes and missing children,” said Dr. Carole Lieberman. “The media doesn’t do enough reporting of all the missing children, especially Black children … this tells the viewer that it’s more important to find white children.

“There aren’t even any — or many — pictures on milk cartons of missing children anymore because they decided it was too upsetting to children eating breakfast,” Lieberman said. “We need to do more to find missing children and do more to stop the family problems such as abuse that causes them to be vulnerable to predators or leave home to begin with.”

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Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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