Political leaders, activists and law enforcement officials participated in a forum at the Library of Congress to find solutions for locating missing Black women and girls across the country.
At Wednesday’s forum hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls, panelists shared statistics and also sought to dismiss stereotypes about missing Black girls, such as that they are runaways involved in illegal activities.
A total of 218,818 Black people were reported missing in 2016, according to FBI National Crime Information statistics. The Black and Missing Foundation statistics state that, in 2016, a total of 242,295 people of color were reported missing in the U.S. (out of 647,435 for all races). In 2014, the foundation reported that 64,000 Black women and girls were missing nationwide.
“I feel like knocking on every attic, every garage to see where those girls are,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said, according to CNN. “Let’s be an example to the world that we can’t rest until these girls are found.”
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, said Black teens missing in the Washington, D.C. area should be of both a local and national concern.
“In the D.C. area, we all know of Relisha Rudd and we know that situation, but that name didn’t become a national household name,” Wilson said, according to NBC News. “It needs to be national because a missing person whether it’s men, women or girls is not just right here, it’s a national issue.”
The Metropolitan Police Department said there is no increase in missing cases, just a change in how cases are publicized.
Last month, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) in D.C. began using social media to bring public awareness to open missing persons cases. A continual series of tweets on Twitter showing the faces of missing teens, predominantly teens of color, began to alarm community members as well as social media users nationwide.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser; Chanel Dickerson, commander of the police and leader of the Youth and Family Services Division; and acting D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said in a press conference in March that there is not an increase in missing person cases, only a change in the way cases are being publicized. And the number of unresolved missing persons cases is actually on the decline. MPD data shows that the number of missing juvenile cases in the D.C. area dropped from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus called on the FBI to assist D.C. police in their investigation of missing children. On March 24, Bowser announced six new initiatives to address missing young people in the city.
At Wednesday’s forum, panelists stressed that in order to find missing young women, Congress needs to provide resources for better collaboration between government agencies including the police departments, health care institutions, courts and social services.
At the end of the year, the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls plans to release a report with a list of solutions.
“For far too long the voices of and issues facing Black women and girls have not been given the attention it deserves,” Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said.
“We look forward to working within the caucus and with our allies to push forward meaningful federal policy solutions that can translate into tangible action items on this issue and the wide range of challenges that meet at the intersection of being Black and being a woman or girl.”
The caucus will prioritize the needs of Black women and girls in policy making.
Coleman, along with Reps. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.) and Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), formed The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls in 2016. The Caucus is now composed of more than 20 lawmakers. It is the first-ever caucus dedicated to removing barriers and disparities experienced by Black women.
Coleman stated last year that the caucus will “speak up” for Black women, who deserve a voice in policy making that addresses systemic challenges.
“From barriers in education, to a gender-based pay gap that widens with race, to disparities in both diagnoses and outcomes for many diseases, our society forces Black women to clear many hurdles faced by no other group, and asks them to do it with little assistance,” she said.