The recent disappearance of a 23-year-old white college man in Boston has once again revived rumors that a serial killer, or a group of serial killers, is targeting young white men across the U.S. The disappearances have gotten coverage in every major local news outlet, and Facebook groups like THE SMILEY FACE KILLERS have started updates and discussions about the topic. This publication even devoted a piece to more deeply probe the supposed mystery. It’s worth noting that the police have roundly side-eyed the serial killer(s) theory.
But while the Internet is trying to unravel the supposed mystery behind these disappearances, no one is talking about the Black children who, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s report for 2016, make up 37.9 percent of the nation’s missing, despite only representing 12.85 percent of its population. The most attention the issue gained was this March, when the news that D.C.’s young people of color are going missing finally made it onto major media outlets. The only outlet to stay with the story has been Essence, which was one of the first outlets to talk about the issue until late March, at which point outlets like the New York Times and the AP finally decided to report the story.
It’s true that, as of late March, the number of missing persons reports is actually lower than average, according to statistics from D.C.’s Metropolitan Police Department. But it’s also worth noting that there are more than 20 open critical cases for missing juveniles in 2017. The missing are all children of color.
The list is fairly balanced between young women and young men, though there are 11 missing girls, and 16 missing boys. But the immediate issue is not the number of children who are missing.
The issue is that when a white person goes missing, particularly a white woman, it’s an ongoing crisis. When a person of color goes missing, it’s a statistic.
I want to step out for a moment, and say that my aim here is not to diminish the horror of having one’s beloved family member go missing. These families are suffering, and my heart goes out to them. Losing a child is a terrible thing I would wish on no one.
But these white lives are valued more highly than the lives of young people of color. National news does not pick up individual cases of missing kids of color the way it does with white children. I’m certainly not saying we should start forming online conspiracy theory groups, like the one mentioned at the beginning of the article. I am saying, though, that we need to get as vehemently worked up about missing children of color as we do white children.
Why is this the status quo? Why, when I talk to a police officer friend, does he simply accept the reality of gang violence and continuing gang join-up in communities of color as a problem that can never be fixed or solved? Why do we dedicate so many resources to affluent white communities over communities of color of all financial levels?
Kids of color are dying, but they only go as far as police bulletin boards, becoming statistics in crime databases. Allowing this to continue is akin to assisting the murderers and kidnappers of these children.
Devoting more resources and media airtime to searches for white kids than to searches for children of color sends the clear message that white lives matter more than the lives of people of color. It furthers divides between two imaginary parties: “us” and “them,” with the unspoken idea that, if we started channeling any more resources to communities of color, white communities would no longer be well-served – worse, we may become as forgotten as communities of color.
The excuse that “this happens all the time” in communities of color does not make the situation any better, relatively speaking. In fact, it makes it worse. We need to be looking at the whys behind the high rate of disappearances in communities of color, and start the process of fixing the problems in a deeply-flawed system that helps keep disappearances and murders a common problem within them. As an enfranchised public, we are all culpable.
Let’s compare this situation to the most recent terror attack in London, which ISIS claimed. For the Western European country, Facebook switched on its Safety Check-In feature. But it didn’t for the two suicide car bombs in Syria that hit Homs and Damascus. The same thing happened in 2015, with the Paris attacks: the check-in feature was switched on for Paris, but had never been done so for Aleppo, which had been under constant siege for two years, and did not do so for the two coordinated December 2015 terror attacks on businesses in the Syrian neighbourhood.
Why? Because it happens there all the time.We’ve become so conditioned to these attacks in Syria that we don’t think it worth our time to keep ourselves informed as to the state of the people there. One life lost, 20 lives lost – it’s all the same to us, because we expect it.
I get it: when something is out of the ordinary, we talk about it. It’s news. But that doesn’t make it right.
Why should it only be considered news when white people are involved, or when it’s different? So what, if kids of color go missing “all the time”? By actively talking about it, and devoting airtime to it, we can start to help combat it. We need to treat these missing children in the same way we would treat any other situation about which we are gravely concerned: lobbying representatives, voting out those who don’t care, and staying informed and loud.
To put it bluntly: these young lives are literally in our hands. We have the responsibility to do something about it.