During a Wednesday convening to address missing Black women and children — hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls (CCBWG) — attendees were challenged to rethink what it means to be a runaway, how to help victims of sex trafficking and ways to protect our girls from abduction.
When Linda Scott’s teenaged daughter called recently from her cell phone, screaming that strangers were trying to snatch her near the bus stop, fear kicked the Maryland mother into high drive.
“I jumped in my car and sped down the street because my beauty salon is just a few minutes from the corner where I knew she was headed,” says Scott, who frantically dialed 911.
She recalls seeing several men in more than one car, weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get to her 16-year-old.
“Thank God, the bus came and she jumped on. The police took a report. But the men got away.”
Scott shared her story on Wednesday during a Capitol Hill convening hosted by the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls (CCBWG), which tackled the crisis of missing youth and adults in the African American community. In a passionate plea, the mother called on law enforcement officials to ramp up their search of the men she says tried to kidnap her daughter, listing the ways she's attempted to assist their capture. But her concerns, she said, fell on deaf ears. Troubled by their response, Scott attended the forum to make sure her voice — one pained with fear that the girls in her community were vulnerable to abduction — was heard.
According to FBI data from February 2017, there were a total of 13,591 active missing person records for African American women stored in its National Crime Information Center (NCIC). Of that total, 8,042 were ages 18 and under; 1,419 were between 19 and 21.
In recent weeks, the matter has brought broader attention as the Washington, D.C. Metro Police department Tweeted a series of photo profiles of missing children that caused alarm. Officials later stressed there wasn’t an uptick in cases—just more publicity to help solicit public tips. A mayoral task force will reportedly examine the matter.
The forum, which drew advocates, law enforcement, government officials, academics and community leaders, was meant to accelerate solutions.
Caucus co-chairs — Rep. Yvette Clarke (NY-09), Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Rep. Robin Kelly (IL-02) — were joined by colleagues, including House Minority Leader, Sen. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), fellow lawmakers and staffers.
“Today’s town hall was a first step in a much larger conversation that policymakers, advocates and families must have. It’s no secret that there is a problem,” said Kelly. “To address it, we need to identify its root causes and work together on solutions. This town hall helps us, as policymakers, be more impactful in achieving that reality.”
The exchange — consisting of two panel discussions — was moderated by attorney and ESSENCE’s Woke 100 honoree Angela Rye (CEO of Impact Strategies), and Michelle S. Bachelor, Deputy Director of In Our Own Voice.
Organizers invited a cross section of panelists from around the country. Among the experts were Dr. Tricia Bent-Goodley, Howard University School of Social Work; Stephanie Cooney, Black Women's Health Imperative; Dr. Martinique Free, American University; and Derrica Wilson, Black and Missing Foundation.
Also participating were Mayor Toni Harp, New Haven, CT; D. Michael Lyles, National Bar Association; Kisha Roberts-Tabb, a juvenile probation officer and human trafficking expert; and Brenda Donald, Director of the Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) in Washington, D.C.
Topics ranged from institutional factors that may contribute to missing cases, including poverty in certain communities of color; disparate treatment of missing Black women and girls by some police; the need to remember boys also go missing; and insufficient public awareness or response.
Back in March, Congressional Black Caucus chairman, Cedric L. Richmond (D-LA) along with Eleanor Holmes Norton sent a letter to the Justice Department and the FBI about the crisis.
They noted: “when children of color go missing, authorities often assume they are runaways, rather than victims of abduction. Whether these recent disappearances are an anomaly or signals of underlying trend, it is essential that the Department of Justice and the FBI use all of the tools at their disposal to help local officials investigate these events, and return these children to their parents as quickly as possible.”
Rep. Clarke agreed.
“Today we sought to illuminate a very important issue through an open dialogue with experts in the field. However, it's not enough for us to just talk about the issue, we must engage elected officials, teachers, coaches, clergy, law enforcement and the criminal justice system,” she said.
“We must work together to find solutions that saves lives. I am committed to advocating for more funding, housing, and training to aid those who work tirelessly to bring our girls home.”
The caucus members vowed to remain engaged on the intricacies of the missing issue, with a goal of presenting a report by the end of the year with solution-oriented proposals.
“For far too long, the voices and issues facing Black women and girls have not been given the attention it deserves. 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,” said Rep. Watson Coleman.
“This was more than an opportunity to pull from the knowledge of advocates and experts that work in this space, but allowed for the elevation of issues that affect Black women and girls as a Congressional priority - no matter the news cycle. However, this is simply the beginning and we understand that this work has no deadline.”