Kael Johnson. Marquise Williams. Diamond Eley. LaToya Figueroa. I'll assume that the mention of these names draws blank stares. You likely don't know who these people are. So, let's try this again with a different group, shall we? Laci Peterson. Natalee Holloway. Chandra Levy. I needn't be a former award-winning journalist at CNN to know that these same vacant looks of bewilderment have softened into sad familiarity.
The latter name, Levy, harkens the tale of a young intern who was having an affair with a California lawmaker before she disappeared in a D.C. park, never to be seen alive again. And lest we forget Peterson, whose husband killed her weeks before she was to give birth to their son, who also perished. And then there's Holloway, who all but hijacked local and national news, receiving unfair amounts of attention, given that she wasn't the only missing woman in America at the time. Holloway and Peterson were also both bequeathed Lifetime Television docudramas. The very whereabouts of these three damsels in distress absorbed news cycles far and near. Elsewhere, LaToya Figueroa, a woman who was five months pregnant, went missing and received little media coverage even after officials discovered that the father of her unborn child murdered her and the baby. Figueroa received little media attention because media outlets were obsessed with covering Natalee Holloway's disappearance. The difference between Holloway and Figueroa: Figueroa was black and Hispanic and Holloway was white.
Since most minorities don't own media outlets, balanced consideration is grossly absent. If you want proof of the discrimination in the coverage of missing persons, one only needs to look at the Rilya Alert, which is a missing child alert system similar to the more widely known Amber Alert. The system -- created in part by Peas in Their Pods, an organization that helps minority parents locate their missing children -- honors Rilya Wilson, a four-year-old Florida girl who was missing for over eight months before anyone knew she was gone. At the time of her disappearance she was in the foster care system. Such an alert system is needed because minority children routinely receive little to no publicity, lessening their chances of being found safe. Majority rules and thus it's their interests that prevail and lead the nightly newscasts. Specifically, it's institutional racisms, sexism, and the "missing white woman syndrome" an idiom reportedly created by revered Public Broadcasting System anchor, Gwen Ifill. This "syndrome" describes the all-embracing, broad coverage of missing young, white, upper-middle class victims.
The cases of the Johnsons, Williamses, Eleys and Figueroas of the world are pushed aside so that America might fawn over those stories with the requisite blond, beautiful, Ivy League, heir whose only crime was having well-connected parents who afforded them private educations and Aruban vacations. Sadly, interest in missing minorities seems to burn out like a comet: any remaining sympathy for this subset of society is gone almost as soon as it's acknowledged. Unfortunate, because our very existence requires us to interact in a diverse society that is hostile, racist, sexist, demeaning, and riddled with the most loathsome among us. To wit: thousands of children are reported missing everyday in the United States. To not cover the stories of missing persons who are minorities further endangers blacks and Hispanics because perpetrators believe they'll escape capture and conviction. These same criminals, left unchecked, exist in white communities and may reoffend. Whatever the reason, this practice of selectively reporting on supposed attractive and affluent victims puts entire societies at risk because crime is often colorblind, and when one segment of a population is weakened due to crimes, the whole will eventually pay the price. Crimes don't cease to exist at the border between urban neighborhoods and suburban gated communities, and to think so is to foolishly linger in harm's way.
Aside from the prosaic arguments, there are the moral ones. What is said of a community that puts such obvious importance on one life over another? Four out of ten persons reported are of color. This means that when a minority goes missing, any given society is potentially losing almost half of its collaborators, half of its artists, half of its potential lawmakers and visionaries, half of its soul and bedrock. The loss of one devalues the whole. If "a happy family is but an earlier heaven" as Jon Bowring famously asserted, then when one family member is lost, those who remain behind are hell bound.
According to the Black and Missing Foundation, in 2012:
According to the National Center For Missing & Exploited Children as well as the Department of Justice:
• 2,000 children are reported as missing to local law-enforcement daily.
• Of those children who are abducted, females, aged 11-17, are most likely to be victimized.
• Minorities equaled 65 percent of the total Non-Family Abductions.
• 42 percent were African American (24,444)
• 23 percent were Hispanic (13,386)
Over the course of 13-year career in TV news, I internalized many of the subjects I covered even though journalists are told, ad nauseam, to remain detached, dispassionate, and neutral. I never could. Each tragedy struck a chord a planet wide and a soul deep. Once news broke, culminating and twining the pieces to each puzzle resulted in 14-hour workdays, migraines, failed relationships, and lost inaugural holidays: my father's 50th birthday, the first Christmas in our new home, and my first Easter in Atlanta. This even as executives ignored the stories affecting those just like me. Now that I'm a writer choosing my own subjects, I can use available platforms to champion those who need it most. And while it's important to examine the reasons for our exclusion, it's equally important to pick up where non-pulsed officials and media outlets leave off.
One such instance came as a complete surprise to me. There are some law enforcement officials who, due to lack of proper training, bigotry, or simply cold indifference, actually treat missing minorities as criminals once they are located. Missing person's advocate and founder of Courtney's House, Tina Frundt, a survivor of kidnap and sex trafficking, recently revealed that when she broke free from her captors at 15 years old and went to authorities they, in turn, charged her with prostitution and put her in juvenile detention! As preposterous as this is, it's a common practice. If Elizabeth Smart -- the young, white rich girl who was kidnapped in Utah and raped repeatedly before she was rescued -- was hailed as a hero and given a book deal after her harrowing ordeal, why was Frundt, a sex victim as well, charged with a non-existent crime and imprisoned? How many minorities will be abducted and then further victimized before someone decides they're due swift justice?
Perhaps the only thing as harrowing as being kidnapped from all that is familiar and safe and taken someplace "other," is being the person who is left behind, helpless and suffocating under a myriad of unknowns. As such reiterating the names of those aforementioned missing persons might help those families who continue to suffer. Kael Johnson, of Las Vegas, went missing on February 15, 2013. According to the website Black and Missing, Johnson "was last seen at approximately 2 a.m., inside a 7-11 convenience store. He was driving a silver 2004 Dodge Ram truck bearing NC tags (AAX2312.) His truck was later recovered "at Wetlands Park, 7050 Wetlands Park Nature Preserve." If you have any information of this young man's whereabouts, please contact Las Vegas police or you can submit your tips via www.blackandmissinginc.com. In Shreveport, Louisiana, 18-year-old Marquise Williams went missing on the morning of December 2, 2013. She was last seen walking along the 3000 block of Legend Lane. If you know of his whereabouts or witnessed anything concerning contact the local police department or Black and Missing.
To ensure the stories of our missing get equal coverage, non-profits have sprung up like Black and Missing, a non-profit organization "whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person's families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety," Peas in Their Pods, as well as The Charley Project, "which profiles over 9,000 'cold case' missing people mainly from the United States. It does not actively investigate cases; it is merely a publicity vehicle for missing people who are often neglected by the press and forgotten all too soon." Each recommend proactive measures families can take before tragedy strikes.
• Make sure to keep current pictures and, if possible, video handy. Police will need pictures and media outlets are much more likely to run a story of a missing person if there is compelling video. Remember, TV is a visual medium and if you don't have current pictures or videos you're at an immediate disadvantage.
• Write down the license plate numbers for every car in your household and those of routine visitors, and neighbors. Make note of the car, make, model, and most importantly, dents, bumper stickers, or any feature that makes the car stand out.
• Have your family members, especially younger children, finger printed. Keep addresses and phone numbers of friend's houses, schools, and places your loved one's visit routinely. Make sure you're aware of their routines and can relate detailed information to the police. Time is always of the essence so having this information at the ready saves time and hopefully lives.
• Always vary your routine and move around in large groups at safe times during the day.
• Alert people of your planned whereabouts (and how long you should be gone) even if it's only a brief errand.
• If a loved one has mental health issues or medical complications, keep detailed information about their medicines and doctors handy. Also consider having them wear a medical bracelet with basic personal information, like their doctor's name and number.
• Make note of loved one's habits and make sure you can quickly give police locations, telephone numbers, hours of operations, and at least one employee's general information, such as the manager's extension.
The bones of the abducted and murdered -- regardless of their race -- are the same color. And Americans with even a modicum of decency should find such selective reporting appalling. Everyone should be spurred into action to ensure that all cases of kidnappings are treated equally, with dignity, care, and due haste.