The chilling story of Jayme Closs, the 13-year-old Wisconsin girl who was kidnapped after her parents were killed last year, was national news.
But people might be less familiar with the story of Arianna Fitts, a 2-year-old who went missing in 2016 before her mother was found brutally murdered in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Each of these cases is compelling, but the two didn’t receive the same amount of media attention. Some experts believe it’s because Closs is white and Fitts is black.
In fact, data shows that missing white children receive far more media coverage than missing black and brown children, despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color.
The FBI’s National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database lists 424,066 children under 18 that went missing in 2018, the most recent year for which data is available. About 37 percent of those children are black, even though black children only make up about 14 percent of all children in the United States.
It’s harder to say how many Hispanic kids went missing last year. The FBI’s report groups white and Hispanic children together. Based on other reports, about 20 percent of missing children are Hispanic or Latino, according to Robert Lowery, vice president of the missing child division at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC). But the real number, he said, is likely higher.
“I think there’s a false belief that white children make up the biggest number of missing children when in fact (proportionally) it’s just the opposite,” Lowery said, adding that the high number of black girls reported missing is particularly concerning.
Here are some reasons experts say we don’t hear more about missing children of color:
Their families are hesitant to call police
Some families are hesitant to contact law enforcement, even if they think their child is missing.
“There’s a sense of distrust between law enforcement and the minority community,” said Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation.
That distrust contributes to a “silent code of ‘no snitching,'” Wilson said, adding that it is important for people who suspect a child is missing to speak up.
“It could be your child, your mother, your father that’s missing,” she said. “You would want someone to speak up to help find them.”
Other families might not report that their child is missing because they fear it could have unintended, negative consequences.
For example, Lowery suspects missing Latino children are underreported because some families with undocumented members might not contact police for fear of being deported.
They don’t get as much media coverage
News media organizations have often been criticized for not giving missing black children the amount of attention they give missing white kids.
A 2010 study found that black children were significantly underrepresented in TV news. Even though about a third of all missing children in the FBI’s database were black, they only made up about 20 percent of the missing children cases covered in the news.
A 2015 study was bleaker: though black children accounted for about 35% of missing children cases in the FBI’s database, they amounted to only 7% of media references.
Experts say media coverage is vital to helping solve those cases.
“It puts law enforcement on alert, and they add additional resources to the case,” Wilson said. “If no one knows about it, then no one’s doing anything to find them or to help them get the assistance they need.”
Click here to read more.