Missing Black Children: A Crisis of Media Neglect           

by August 12, 2011

Ke’Shaun Vanderhorst, Jeanine Barnwell, Jaycee Dugard and Caylee Anthony. All four individuals have something in common: their lives were ended or altered tragically.
Nearly 800,000 children under the age of 18 are reported missing each year in the United States, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). Of those reported missing, 33 percent are African-American.

 Missing-Black-Children Nicole Lockley The Philadelphia Tribune


Philadelphia natives Ke’Shaun and Jeanine, however, differ from Jaycee and Caylee in three ways— they’re both Black, still missing and didn’t receive any national coverage compared to Jaycee and Caylee.“  As with anything, the media is based on sales.  Black children aren’t just as valued,” said Gaetane Borders, president of Peas in Their Pods, a non-profit organization that educates the public about missing minority children.  “Most people don’t realize how many children of color are missing, and make assumptions because they don’t see them on television.”

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, more than 2,000 children are reported missing in the United States each day.  Nearly 20 percent of those reported missing are African-American — that’s 146,000 Black children reported missing each year.

Not often, though, do missing Black children and teens get national news coverage like North Carolina teen Phylicia Barnes. She was found dead in Maryland in April. While her death received some buzz in the news, it was too late.

“It’s definitely related to bias against African-American children,” said Borders.  “They don’t think they will sell or are newsworthy enough.”

Borders said her organization created the Rilya Alert, similar to the Ambler Alert but for minority children, to counter the institutional biases in this country.  Email alerts are sent to people who sign up for the Rilya Alert.  Peas in Their Pods also hosts a weekly online radio show allowing affected families to tell their stories.

Michael Coard, Philadelphia criminal defense attorney and founder of Avenging the Ancestors Coalition, sees the biases in the media as well.

Regarding to the Casey Anthony trial, he wrote the following in a July essay on the Avenging our Ancestors website: “I am compelled to condemn the media for its racism.  Why did they make this such a big deal… The answer is racism or at least racial indifference.”

Coard then notes the 2007 strangling and stabbings of four sisters by their mother in Washington, D.C.

“You didn’t hear anything about this, did you? I wonder why?” he wrote.

Natalie Wilson, co-founder of Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., puts some of the blame on the lack of diversity in the newsroom.

“African Americans need to speak out and say we need to hear of people of color who are missing too, because we matter too,” she said.

Wilson notes the lack of national news coverage on the recent indictment of Antoinette Nicole Davis, who sold her 5-year-old daughter, Shaniya Nicole Davis, in 2009 into sexual servitude.

“Unfortunately the media has focused so much on Casey that they haven’t given any focus to other stories that really need attention.  Shaniya matters too.”

Soroya Bacchus, a triple board certified psychiatrist based in Los Angeles, puts much of the blame on leaders of news organizations.

“National media is white male media, so they pay attention to issues in their tribe — white young girls and white women,” said Bacchus.  “It’s not biased or racist, but it’s their comfort zone; it’s their cultural background.”

Bacchus said if there were more diversity in the newsroom, more minority stories would be heard.

“It goes back to the white male establishment — who are interested in what is happening to their women.”

Tracy Everbach, a journalism professor at the University of North Texas who teaches a class called “Race, Gender and Media,” agrees with Bacchus.

“The make-up of the media and most people in media are white and they may not be aware of what they’re doing,” said Everbach.

More open discussions about this issue and teaching young journalists to be aware of the content in the news are the answer, according to Everbach.

Additionally, a Kansas man has made it his mission for minority missing children stories to be told.  After the 2001 beheading of a Kansas City girl, Alonzo Washington began to advocate for missing minority children across the country.

“If this was in a suburb it would be a national story,” he said.  “It’s clear that there’s a disparity. And even in this day and age when we have an African-American president, these are issues that are not addressed.”

Washington and Borders said the old stereotypes of African Americans are factors in why Blacks don’t make national news.

“It’s the national image and the local image that the mass media promotes of crime.  Crime is acceptable in the inner-city, and in most major cities, and it’s something that nobody deems as important,” said Washington.

“Many of our kids that go missing, the first thing that happens is they are listed as a runaway,” said Borders.  “News stations don’t want to cover a runaway.”

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