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Report: Black kids go missing at higher rate

Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 11/4/2019, 10:03 a.m.
The chilling story of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who...

The chilling story of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who was kidnapped after her parents were killed last year, was national news. But people might be less familiar with the story of Ariana Fitts, a 2-year-old who went missing in 2016 before her mother was found brutally murdered in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Each of these cases is compelling, but the two didn't receive the same amount of media attention. Some experts believe it's because Closs is White and Fitts is Black, reports CNN. In fact, data shows that missing White children receive far more media coverage than missing Black and brown children, despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color. The FBI’s National Crime Information Center NCIC) database lists 424,066 missing children younger than18 in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available.

About 37 percent of those children are Black, even though Black children only make up about 14 percent of all children in the U.S. It's harder to say how many Hispanic kids are missing. The FBI's report groups White and Hispanic children together. Based on other reports, about 20 percent of missing children are Hispanic or Latino, according to Robert Lowery, vice president of the missing child division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

But the real number, he said, is likely higher. “I think there’s a false belief that White children make up the biggest number of missing children when in fact (proportionally) it’s just the opposite,” Lowery said, adding that the high number of Black girls reported missing is particularly concerning. Here are some reasons experts say we don’t hear more about missing children of color. Some families are hesitant to contact law enforcement, even if they think their child is missing.

“There’s a sense of distrust between law enforcement and the minority community,” said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. That distrust contributes to a “silent code of ‘no snitching’.” Wilson said, adding that it is important for people who suspect a child is missing to speak up. “It could be your child, your mother, your father that’s missing,” she said. “You would want someone to speak up to help find them.”

Other families might not report that their child is missing because they fear it could have unintended, negative consequences. For example, Lowery suspects missing Latino children are underreported because some families with undocumented members might not contact police for fear of being deported.