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EDITORIAL: In Search of the Missing

5/28/2014, 3 p.m.
Courtesy of the Black and Missing Foundation

It's almost impossible to capture in words the emptiness, fear and sense of loss that tears at the parents, caregivers or family member of someone who just disappears.

The numbing questions, the worry, wondering if that person is safe or alive never goes away. Every day brings a new day where loved ones of the missing wait in the hope that they’ll hear word of their whereabouts. In most cases, that closure never comes.

All too often though, black families are left to suffer without the type of exposure afforded to other families. Very rarely are non-white children or adults given the type of full-scale media coverage that might be critical to their safe return.

That’s where the Black and Missing Foundation comes in. On May 24, the organization held its 2nd annual “Hope Without Boundaries” 5K Run/Walk to highlight the issue of black and brown men, women and children who have disappeared. Last Saturday, about 700 people took part in the event at National Harbor in Prince George’s County.

In 2012, more than 265,000 minorities were reported missing in the US. Co-founder Natalie Wilson said the foundation is committed to keeping the issue on the forefront of people’s minds.

“If someone who disappeared isn’t blonde or blue-eyed, their case doesn’t get the media coverage it deserves. And often, law enforcement classifies black children who’re missing as runaways so there’s no Amber Alert,” she said last year. “Also, the makeup of the media affects coverage. There needs to be more people of color in the newsroom. At the Black and Missing Foundation, we believe that every missing person, regardless of age, race, mental ability or circumstance, deserves awareness.”

The reasons for the disappearances vary: the person may have been kidnapped, murdered, suffering from mental or emotional issues or become a victim of a domestic dispute or snatched and thrust into the sex or labor traffic trades.

This issue is no respecter of persons. The missing are all skin colors, genders, ages and economic backgrounds and about 2,300 people in this country are reported missing daily, with just a small amount listed as kidnapped or abducted by a stranger. Over the past 25 years the number of cases has exploded from 150,000 to in excess of 900,000. Most are adults. A little more than half of the missing is, men, 40 percent are white, 30 percent are black and two of 10 are Latino.

Statistics indicate that the number of people with psychiatric problems, drug addictions, and seniors suffering from dementia are a significant part of the missing. And about half of missing young people are runaways with 25 percent of them taken by family members in custody and domestic disagreements. According to the Justice Department, two-thirds of young victims are age 12 to 17 and 80 percent of them are white females.

In addition, nearly 90 percent of abductors are men and they sexually assault their victims in 50 percent of the cases.

Of the 700,000 to two million people trafficked globally every year, thousands are shipped to and within the US.  

The FBI says that an estimated 293,000 young people in America are at risk of being trafficked in the underground sex trade. A recent study conducted by The Urban Institute estimates that the underground sex market in seven of America’s cities produces between $40 million and $300 million every year.

Yet despite these numbers, the sex trafficking trade generally operates in the shadows. The issue of missing black and brown individuals falls in a similar category. People like Wilson, and those who support the effort, want to continue to shed a bright light on missing persons so that they might be found and their families find closure.