Tuesday, April 11, 2017

7 Things: DC's Missing Girls

It is a strange and surreal thing to watch a local news story become the viral thing that everyone's talking about how no one is talking about it. 
1. The Metropolitan Police Department (MPD)* recently made some changes to the way they handled missing persons cases.  They had been posting such alerts to the police listservs.  They added posting them to the Twitter account and other social media, and a website.  They have also been posting when a person is found. 
2. I tend to - anytime I see a missing person or pet posting - go back to the source.  Partly because, as we all know things move fast on social media.  Lost pets, kids, and seniors get found.  Being found doesn't always get reported on the same sources that reported being missing.  Also, not to be crazy paranoid, but there have been cases of a stalker setting up a I-need-to-find-this-person post, trying to get the internet to help them.  Stalkers would (one hopes) not be able to make use of the police, so sourcing is a good idea. 
3. Until this year, it is my understanding that the MPD's missing person's site only listed Relisha Rudd. Relisha Rudd disappeared in 2014.  I could speculate why they weren't making use of the website (MPD has said internal policy change) for other cases, but basically, if you look at the site, it looks like DC had a missing person in 2014 and then nothing until this year.  That is inaccurate. (They have now added some additional cases back to 2009, along with stats about how many missing persons cases were closed.) http://mpdc.dc.gov/node/1227736
4. I could tell who had looked at the site, because several of the posts I saw floating past on Twitter had Relisha's face, which I do recognize, because it was a very big deal here when she disappeared.  She disappeared about the same time as a man who was later found dead.  There was video of them together, he was not officially a person who had custody, so an amber alert was activated.  So I have seen her picture, and recognize it.  It's likely that folks who weren't here in 2014 did not see it posted all over the place the way that those of here do, but it created an easy way to tell who had bad info since I saw quite a few people listing her as someone who had disappeared this year.  She is still missing.  So, if you think committing her picture to memory will help you, this post has a timeline along with links to pictures and videos
5. All of this context does not make the overarching point that missing kids of color get less media attention than missing white kids.  I can name several missing white kids, including ones like Elizabeth Smart who was found years later.  I don't live anywhere near where Elizabeth was kidnapped, or where she was found and I still heard about it.  I cannot think of a similar case that received national attention for a child of color.  
6. One of the things the MPD and members of the local DC government said about the missing kids, is that they appear to have left voluntarily.  As others have pointed out, the key word there is appears.  Now, appears means there was no sign of struggle, no sign that someone broke in and took the child by force. Once of the kids (who has since returned) posted to Instagram that her foster family was terrible. I understand that the police have a different type of invesitgation on their hands when signs seem to point to runaway. (We could also examine why we tend to assume teenagers have runaway absent evidence. Or that running away is rebellion and not a sign that things are so bad, that being on the streets seemed like the better alternative.) 
7. I saw one post from someone with a PR background who had helped out a family member when a child had gone missing.  And she talked about how hard it was, even with her contacts and knowledge, to get media interest.  So again, we really do need to think about why some stories get national coverage and others don't.  I also saw a small backlash as people got some context and assumed that therefore they had been lied to about the missing girls.  You weren't lied to if you read a flyer and didn't follow up.  There are still missing people, many of them girls, and girls of color.  You should still think about why you still remember Natalie Holloway's name and probably her face even if you've never in your life been to Aruba.  You should still think about why a post about 8 missing girls maybe made you feel it was less of a big deal if two had been found.  That's still six families.