Jaquilla Scales, wearing a floral nightshirt and tan barrettes clasped to her braids, went to bed on September 4, 2001 just like any other night. But that evening the unthinkable happened: Jaquilla, then four, was snatched from her Wichita, Kansas home. She hasn’t been seen since. The last time anyone saw Kendrick Jackson was on the morning of April 7, 2006 just before the 3-year-old vanished from his father’s apartment in Houston, Texas. One-year-old Jarkeius Adside was abducted from his babysitter’s home in Miami on October 18, 2001 by armed robbers. He is still missing.
Despite the harrowing details of these children’s disappearances, their stories-like those of many other missing Black children-have been widely ignored by the media. But White children such as Amber Hagerman, whose abduction and murder in 1996 led to the creation of the national Amber Alert system, and Elizabeth Smart stand to become household names when they disappear.
“When White children go missing, we see extensive media coverage on them, even on the cable channels,” says Ronald Hampton, executive director of the National Black Police Association. “We don’t see that kind of response when it comes to African-American children.” Each year, there are 58,000 non-family child abductions and of those 42 percent are African-American, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Tom Morris, a senior correspondent at America’s Most Wanted, attributes the disparity in part to the lack of diversity in the newsroom, but he believes there are other factors at play besides race. “The differentiating factor is how aggressive the family is and how savvy they are about getting media attention,” Morris says. “Sometimes people don’t know how to go about drumming up media attention when a loved one goes missing. And in a lot of these cases, that’s what makes a difference.”
TIPS IF YOUR CHILD GOES MISSING:
1. If you discover your child is missing, immediately contact local law enforcement because the first three hours after the child disappears are the most crucial.
2. Use the Internet to spread awareness: start a Web site or distribute e-mail flyers to local businesses.
3. Mobilize your community. When more people are involved, the likelihood of finding your child increases. This strategy also keeps the case in the eyes of the media and could result in more coverage.
4. Ask your law enforcement or local FBI office to register your child’s information into the National Crime Information Center Missing Person file.
5. Call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (1-800-THE-LOST) for help creating flyers, analyzing leads and other services.