I began hearing about the missing Black and Latinx girls at the beginning of March. My daughter, who was out of state at school, called me to express her concern about the missing girls from D.C. and Prince George’s County in Maryland.
She was especially touched because one of them went to her old high school, which is right down the street from where we live.
Since then, I noticed the buzz around the missing girls grew intensely. A hashtag (#missingdcgirls) was created for social media. Black women and men started sharing posts and celebrities started to take notice.
The bourgeois news outlets started to report on it, prompted only by the outcry from the black community which condemned the media for not reporting.
Everyone was speculating about whether the girls were taken for sex trafficking, if they had been murdered, or were just runaways.
So when I heard the announcement about the town hall, on the radio that morning, I began to organize other members of the African National Women’s Organization (ANWO) and Party to attend.
The community turns out for missing girls
It started at 6:00 pm but some of us were not able to get there until 7pm. It was held at Excel Public Charter School – a school for girls – which used to be Birney Elementary, a school the District underfunded and then closed.
It is located at the edge of the Barry Farm community, which has been fighting gentrification plans that will clear the way the single family residences for smaller and more expensive housing to accommodate the district’s new white residents.
The school’s parking lot was full and there wasn’t any open street parking spaces within a block’s radius around the school. After driving around for about 10 minutes I found a parking spot on the opposite end of the community.
As I approached the school, I notice people leaving and wondered if it was over. A group of young black men had just exited the building shaking their heads, as one mumbled loudly, “man, Tray should have organized this better,” referring to Trayon White Sr., the Councilmember for Ward 8 who coordinated the meeting.
I get closer to the front of the building after going through a tall prison-like fence that surrounded the school. Out front, stood a small crowd of people talking. I moved pass them and tried the front doors which was locked.
There was a small crowd on the other side of the doors and so I tapped the glass to be let in.
Locked out of town hall meeting
When I get in I notice that the people standing there couldn’t get inside the building because the police had locked the secondary doors, citing that the space was at capacity.
We could see through the doors that there was a full crowd that spilled outside of the room designated for the panel.
In the crowd stuck between the two set of front doors – the crowd I was in – people were shouting to be let in. This one sister says loudly, “they didn’t expect us to come out, this is a damn shame.”
A brother, noticeably upset, says, “They should have gotten a bigger place, they didn’t think we’d care.”
A few more people were begging the police at the door to leave it open so that we could hear what was being said.” He didn’t. We tried to get the livestream, but the service was interrupted.
After about 20 minutes of waiting to be let in, since people were leaving the panel discussion room, the capacity status had not changed, so I left the building hoping to get the livestream on my phone. It did. As soon as I walked about 20 feet away from the building I was able to see who was in the room.
No pink hats, or white allies, just black people
It was packed from wall to wall with black people. There weren’t any “white allies” or pink hats, as many who attended, pointed out on their social media.
I sat in my car and watched the rest of the broadcast. On the panel, most notably, were the mayor of DC, Muriel Bowser, Trayon White and the new police Chief Peter Newsham.
The line to ask questions was so long it spilled into the lobby. Community members shared their experiences, having themselves been missing or had a loved one who were missing.
Community-based non-profits involved in lost children, came to the mic to ask for more funding which prompted a 10 minute discussion about the budget.
Black women ignored when reporting missing children
Folks watching the livestream were upset that they were talking about budgets but hadn’t discuss the strategy to find the girls that were still missing.
Although I was only able to see the last 30 minutes, Uhuru Movement member, Latif Tarik, was in the room and reported that, “Many Black women, inside the meeting were yelling that the police would not help them when they report a child missing especially if they are teenagers and sometimes they arrest the teen and lock them away” and that “the mayor tried to pawn the missing children [boys are missing too] as runaways with mental health issues.”
“The new police chief sees there is a break down in the city, CPS, the police, and other youth services,” says Tarik, noting that “three police officers in the last 3 years were arrested and convicted for running child prostitution rings. One officer killed himself.”
It is no big surprise that an agency that routinely kills black people as sport would be involved in the sexual exploitation of black and brown children. This speaks to an underlying contribution to black and missing women and girls, where in many cases the state deepens the contradiction.
One of the previously missing D.C. girls, said she ran away from her foster home because the foster mother treated her badly. The police returned her to that home.
According to Black and Missing Foundation there was an estimated 230,000 black people missing at the close of 2016, most under the age of 17. That is nearly half the population of the state of Wyoming.
Police who are tasked with finding the children often collaborate with state-sponsored child trafficking agencies such as Child Protective Services (CPS) to facilitate the theft, kidnapping, incarceration and deaths of our children.
The Community Responds
Even though some of the girls originally reported as missing have been located, it still leaves big questions open in our communities. How do we organize to stop children from going missing? How do we find them if they go missing? What type of community strategy should we have?
Ultimately the answer has to be to build a black community control of child welfare. The African National Women’s Organization has begun this process through our Uhuru Kijiji (village) initiative which brings the community together around the raising of our children and their education. This could be a first step to realizing our responsibility to the safety of our children.
Contact ANWO if you’d like to learn more about this initiative and to join ANWO.