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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Missing Black children: Good news and bad news

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Last week was quite a busy one in the news. We know that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and Donald Trump’s failed replacement bill made the most headlines from D.C. However, another topic from D.C. has been burning up social media. No, I’m not referring to Sean Spicer’s consistent disrespect of our nation’s top journalists (shoutout to April D. Ryan). I’m speaking of missing African-American children.

Like health care, this is another topic that can impact us here at home.

Many people have been alarmed by posts circulating on social media saying that in the first three months of 2017, the District of Columbia has already had 501 cases of missing children and teenagers, many of them Black and Latino.

One recent post claimed that 14 juveniles had gone missing just over the past week! This has led some people to worry that many young people had been caught up in a massive human trafficking ring. 

Such a high number of missing juveniles is definitely a number that would alarm anyone. Celebrities from actresses Viola Davis and Taraji P. Henson, to hip-hop icon LL Cool J and singer Richard Marx have called on authorities to make finding missing children — especially children of color — more of a priority. 

To that end, Trayon White, a D.C. councilman, hosted a meeting for residents to share their concerns and vent their frustrations. Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the FBI to investigate the number of missing juveniles in the D.C. area.  Washington D.C. Mayor Murial Bowser has promised that the city will devote more resources and officers to solving cases of missing children and assisting them and their families when they are found. 

Here is the good news: Despite what we have seen on social media, D.C. police say the number of missing kids has actually decreased, dropping from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016. They say the reason people are noticing more cases of missing Black children is not because there are actually a lot of new cases, but because police have decided to raise more awareness by posting existing cases on social media. Most of the 501 cases have been solved.

More good news is that in Indiana, we have a coordinated system that quickly reports missing children. We can take comfort in knowing that the number of missing children is going down, not up. However, here is the bad news: African-American children, especially Black girls, represent a disproportionate number of those who go missing. According to the National Crime Information Center, there were 170,899 missing Black children under 18 in the United States in 2016, more than any other category except for the white/Hispanic combined number of 264,443.

The bottom line is that some children are still missing, and just one is too many. Even those who are found ended up missing in the first place because they decided to run away from home. One news report showed a missing District of Columbia teen who was found, and was told by her distraught mother that she could have at least called to say she was OK. The teen basically replied that she didn’t think her mother would have cared one way or another.

“We see significant numbers of runaway children who are running away from a situation, whether it’s abuse or neglect or sexual abuse in the home,” said Robert Lowery, a vice president of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. “These children face unique risks when they’re gone, so we applaud the conversation and we applaud the attention that this issue is being given.” 

Indeed, the national discussion about missing children is a warning to parents and families across America, including those of us in Indianapolis.

As a new mother, I am able to know where my son is at all times and make sure he is OK throughout the day. However, I know that he will soon be older and will be exposed to the various influences of the world. That is why I understand the importance of surrounding him with love, learning, protection and peace while he is still being shaped at home. 

In order to keep our children from becoming one of the statistics, we must show them love at home. We must show them that we care about their day-to-day concerns, as well as their dreams. As a community, we need to make sure they understand that they are valued members of society and their opinions matter.

Now, of course, this doesn’t mean we tolerate misbehavior or look the other way when we see young people involved in things that we know could derail their lives. Tough love and instructive discipline are still the prescriptions for curing bad attitudes and disruptive behavior. However, there is a difference between tough love and neglect.

Working a job, personal recreation and addictions or poor habits should never keep parents from loving their children and expressing an active interest in their well-being, including what they deal with at home, school and in social settings.

In ideal situations, fathers should demonstrate love to their daughters and shower praise on them so that as they get older, they understand the good qualities to look for in a man and not settle for less than they deserve. 

Although being single is a grind for many single mothers, they should never allow being with a man to become more important than what is best for their children, especially if that man is ever emotionally, verbally or physically abusive to her children.

These are just a few steps that can prevent our youth from feeling like they need to run out in the streets just to issue a call for help that is loud enough for us to hear.

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