WASHINGTON ― Linda Scott wanted answers. Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department reported last month that 10 teenage girls were “critically missing.” But during a Capitol Hill panel discussion on the problem Wednesday, the talk was mostly of runaways.
Scott, a hair salon owner who traveled from Baltimore to attend the session, pointed out another part of the story.
“These kids are not just running away,” she told the discussion hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls.
“My daughter was almost abducted … and I don’t want us to think that all of these kids coming up missing are running away, and nobody on this panel addressed that.”
Scott said three men tried to snatch her 16-year-old daughter during a bus ride from the salon to their home a few weeks ago. A day earlier, the men had tried to gain entry to her hair salon under the pretense of selling merchandise to patrons. Scott filed a police report and said she stopped by the police station seven times to follow up, but hasn’t heard back from the department.
“When you say connect with our local resources, I sit at the community meetings … What do I do now?” Scott asked panelists.
April Thomas talks about what it was like for her when her teenage daughter went missing. She has been reunited with her daughter. Thomas joined dozens of people holding a candle light vigil for missing children outside the African American Civil War Memorial in March.
The missing Washington teenagers, announced by police in a series of tweets, have stirred fear and outrage, though there is no surge in disappearances of children. Still, Twitter user @BlackMarvelGirl shared information about some of the teens, raising the issue of missing black and Latina girls into a social media phenomenon.
Before long, black lawmakers were calling on the FBI and the Justice Department to help locate missing girls. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced six initiatives to find missing teens. Police increased officers assigned to missing persons and formed a new task force to help improve home life for teens who run away. The city also boosted funding to nonprofits that work with at-risk teens.
“MPD is at the forefront with its focus on missing children and the work we are doing with the community to bring them home,” Bowser said in a statement that called the city’s methods “effective.”
Derrica Wilson, co-founder and chief executive of the Black and Missing Foundation, said at Wednesday’s panel that 40 percent of people reported missing in the U.S. are of color. That doesn’t include Hispanics, since law enforcement often classifies them as white, she said.
Stephanie Croney, who works with the Black Women’s Health Imperative, said girls’ home, school and social media life “impact who she speaks to and how she approaches her day.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stopped by to thank panelists for their work.
“This is such an injustice,” Pelosi said. “I feel like knocking on every door in this city, searching every basement, every attic, every garage to see where these girls are if they are still here. How it could it be? We’re the capital of the greatest country that ever existed!”
But America isn’t great when it comes to publicizing information that could lead to missing black children being returned home safely. While D.C. police are making a conscious effort to publicize missing persons cases, the dominant narrative remains that most of these kids are runaways ― a view that minimizes sympathy and media coverage.
Scott’s story also shows the rift between the community and organizations fighting the problem of missing teenagers.
Most missing juveniles in D.C. aren’t abducted by strangers. They usually run away, and eventually are returned home safely. But, as one D.C. resident pointed out during a town hall last month, that doesn’t mean abductions and human trafficking don’t happen.
At least 744 out of 1,135 people reported missing this year in D.C. were juveniles, according to police data. An MPD spokesman told HuffPost in March that most reports of missing teens involve black and Latinx people.
Ten of the 22 total people currently missing in D.C. are juveniles, police said. All are black or Latinx.