By Tyge Joyce
The hunt continues this week in search of numerous young African-American and Latina girls in the nation’s capital, as the number of missing children has continuously increased. There have been a reported 501 cases of missing children in 2017 in the metropolitan area thus far, and 22 cases have been newly opened according to an article written by Laura Jarrett, Samantha Reyes, and David Shortell of CNN. A majority of the disappearances that are suspected as abductions in relation to human trafficking, have taken place in the crime-riddled Southeast section of the city. Statistics provided by the Metropolitan Police Department show a steady number of cases of missing children over the past couple of years. There were 2,222 in 2014, 2,433 in 2015, and 2,242 in 2016. The statistic reached its peak in 2001 when the number toppled 2,600, but it has clearly been creeping back up into that range as of late. The current year is on pace to keep up with these statistics with over 500 coming within the first three months. DC City Councilmember Trayon White spoke publicly of the matter, stating that “what the community is alarmed about – we had a 10-year-old girl missing the other day, but there was no amber alert. We just feel like, you know, if this was a white person or from another neighborhood, there would be more alarm about it.”
The issue of the lack of urgency taken by authorities has even warranted lawmakers to reach out to the likes of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI director James Comey to assess the situation more seriously. There has been public speculation that law enforcement historically has pinned missing children of color as runaways rather than victims of mistreatment, sex enslavement, or kidnapping. Celebrities, such as rapper turned actor LL Cool J, talk show host Andy Cohen, actress Taraji P. Henson, and music mogul Russell Simmons, have sent out tweets and made statements displaying their displeasure with the lack of effort shown to save these missing girls. The reason this story hasn’t been getting as much national media attention as it deserves is because of a local report that fourteen girls had gone missing in one day in the greater DC area, which turned out to be false. But that one report alone should not take away from the fact that over 500 children have still gone missing in the past three months in Washington DC, along with a justifiable concern stemming from the people associated with the victims. Mayor Muriel Bowser ever so slightly begged to differ on the matter when telling News4, “We don’t have an epidemic of people being kidnapped or snatched on our streets, but we do have a lot of vulnerable children and families where children leave home.”
Regardless of the dispute on whether a child may have run away or actually was abducted, which seems to be a pretty large “if” in some cases, why is their environment so toxic that adolescents are abruptly leaving home? There simply needs to be more done on all ends of the spectrum. From the police, the mayor’s office, community involvement groups, the school department, sports coaches, and most importantly the parents of these kids, the statistics need to be significantly lowered.
Living in DC for two months this summer while interning in the Hart Senate Building for Senator Sheldon Whitehouse made me grow a personal love for the Southeast end of the city. The capitol building itself is located in the “SE”, which is where I went to work, ate lunch, and walked the streets everyday. Senator Whitehouse’s office congressional softball team that I had the privilege to play on, also played our games at a park in the Southeast. Where a lot of this is happening, is a diverse community that is rich with great restaurants, nightlife, beautiful people, and an overall vibe that people from all walks of life can enjoy. Living in Columbia Heights, which is on the Northwest side of the city bordering the Petworth neighborhood boasting Spruill’s barber shop and adjacent to the acclaimed Howard University, gave me the opportunity in my spare time from interning to meet people from not only all over the city, but all over the world. Some of which actually lived and grew up in the Southeast section of DC.
To think that some of the good people I met, as well as any genuine person that you may have met in your life, could be affected by something like this, is gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. I have a little sister myself, and if I were to lose her for any reason, I don’t think my life would ever be the same. To correct myself, I know I wouldn’t be the same person. This issue definitely needs to be looked at more intently in the DC area but carries implications as a general issue that stretch far outside the boundary lines of the capital of the United States.