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When black girls go missing in Washington, D.C., too many questions, too few answers

It doesn’t matter why. When more than a dozen black and Latina girls go missing in a short period of time, there is an obvious problem. This is the reality that officials in Washington, D.C., have been dealing with over the past month or so, as coverage has shined light on a problem that’s shocked many people. As of Friday, the city has 22 open missing juvenile cases.

When this number first went viral, there were many questions. How could that be? How is it possible that this was not common knowledge not only locally, but nationally? If these kids were white, would they not be celebrities by now based on public concern for their safety? All valid questions that the Metropolitan Police Department tried to answer by saying that the number of cases had not increased, only their visibility in letting the public know. Gee, thanks.

On Twitter, #bringbackourgirlsdc is trending. Meanwhile, the FBI was spending resources on finding Tom Brady’s stolen New England Patriots Super Bowl LI jersey. But the discussion around this epidemic is one that’s exposed exactly how difficult missing person cases can be when it comes to children.

When you think of missing kids, we have images in our head of stranger danger and creepy guys in vans luring children with candy. Nightmares of someone sneaking into a home at night and snatching a kid out of bed, or what have you. But many cases have nothing to do with that at all. When it comes to human trafficking, many girls are lured with the promise of some life improvement. In other cases, there is physical coercion. Until cases are solved or people are found, there’s no real way to know why someone left their home.

Perhaps as important is the connectivity between the public’s view of what leaving home means and what the reality of the circumstance might be. A kid could be leaving an abusive home situation. Or, their captor could be telling them how to describe why they left on their own free will. Not to mention that when it comes to black girls, they are so often characterized as either “fast” or not acting age appropriate, an effect that only hurts when it comes to public sympathy in these cases.

The entire situation leaves us with a very frustrating circuit of excuses. People blame the media for not reporting the cases. Police say they need help from the public. Meanwhile, the basic pillars of toxic masculinity, misogyny and racism that create these issues go unaddressed.

Her questions here are important. There is better police work to be done. There is certainly better reporting to be done. But the parts within us that allow us to devalue, denigrate and ultimately ignore women of color are as important to address openly. Let’s not forget that this is still America, where abuse of the black body was not only permitted, but celebrated as a way of life for years.

The solution is about more than safety on the streets. The Congressional Black Caucus is now calling on the FBI to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.” But Relisha Rudd isn’t some singular case.

The underlying trend here is that if you continue to marginalize, mock and mistreat black women as a matter of course in polite society, what happens to them as girls in the criminal world will only continue to get worse.

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