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‘Missing' Black Males Missing From Media Coverage

NNPA, News Report, Diasia Ellerbee Posted: May 11, 2009

“Why don't you talk about me? Don't you care where I might be? Am I the wrong color to have my story on TV?”

“Why don't I get air time? Is it the fact that I don't have naturally straight hair? Is it that America isn't interested? Is it that America just doesn't care?”

“So ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, FOX News Why don't you talk about me?! Don't you care where I might be?! Am I the wrong color to have my story on TV?!”

Each line above is from the poem “Black Woman Missing” by George L. Cook III. The poem represents the lack of national media focus on missing Black women—but some say Black males get even less attention.

According to Connie Marstiller of the National Crime Information Center, there were 614,925 people missing in 2008 under the age of 18. About 16 percent of those missing were Black men.

During that same year there were 163,239 people missing over the age of 18, according to Ms. Marstiller. Approximately 14 percent of those missing were Black males over the age 18.

Black men and boys such as William Van Croft IV, 17, Wallace Richards, 23, Dennis Palmer, 44, and Adji Desir, 6, are missing and have not received national media attention as other missing persons such as Laci Peterson, Elizabeth Smart, or Haleigh Cummings. White women usually get more attention than men of all races when they are missing.

Blackandmissing.blogspot.com is an online site dedicated to informing the public about missing Black children who may or may not have been reported on in the media.

According to blackandmissing.blogspot.com, Adji Desir is a boy who has been missing since Jan. 10 from Immokalee, Fla. The youth has the mental capacity of a two-year-old and is developmentally disabled.

If you put both their names in Yahoo's search engine, Adji Desir's name will produce 478,000 results. A search for Haleigh Cummings, a five-year-old White girl, will produce 4.4 million results, nearly 10 times the number of hits logged for the Black boy.

Both children went missing around the same time and in the same state.

Derrica Wilson is president and CEO of the Black & Missing Foundation, Inc., which has an online website that provides exposure and educational training for the loved ones of missing persons.

Ms. Wilson believes Black male disappearances are more likely to be labeled runaways. Black men on her website never receive national attention and are never seen on television, she said.

“Therefore there is no Amber Alert and without an Amber Alert there is no media coverage locally or nationally,” said Ms. Wilson. “Now when it comes to Black men, there are more missing Black men in the United States than missing Black women, according to the FBI missing person's report. The reason I believe that Black men do not receive media exposure is because society, media, and law enforcement like to relate their disappearance to drugs, crime, or violence.”

Missing children activist and founder of the website Omega7.com Alonzo Washington agrees Black men and boys get the least amount of media attention for missing persons.

The only Black males that receive coverage are those of high stature, according to Mr. Washington.

“If you're grown, a man, and Black, then you can forget about it,” Mr. Washington said. “Young Black boys may get a little teaser, but never an ongoing investigation like Caylee Anthony, Elizabeth Smart or Samantha Runnion.”

“The mindset of the media is that if it bleeds it leads,” said Det. Richard Adams of the Youth Investigation Division Missing Person Unit in the District of Columbia. “Media wants something sensational. They have to have something fantastic and that's going to catch the viewer's eye. It's all about numbers and ratings to them.”

William Van Croft IV has been missing from the District of Columbia since January 31, 2009. He has Asperger's Syndrome and went missing a year after the death of his father.

According to Jason Cherkis, who writes an online blog for the Washington City Paper, the D.C. police department waited until Feb. 11 to issue a press release about his disappearance.

In his blog, he cited a comment by Cherita Whiting that speculated about indifference in the Van Croft case. Ms. Whiting is a activist for education in the D.C. metropolitan area.

“Billy's mother filed a missing person report with D.C. Youth Investigations on Jan. 31,” Ms. Whiting said. “It sat on a desk somewhere and they just started investigating this case on 2/10. I have sent multiple messages to the at-large council members and every police officer that I can find who is associated with Ward 1 Precinct 107.

“It would make sense that a missing person, especially a special needs teenager could get the attention of the police and public officials to at least have the police issue a press release that the child is missing. This has not been done. When the press release occurs, the media responds and starts spreading the word that Billy is missing.”

“When it comes to the area you live in, your color, and gender, the more unlikely the police will be in finding you and the less the media will cover you,” Mr. Washington said. “Even when Jennifer Hudson's nephew was missing, her story took the backseat to the Caylee Anthony story. They covered it for a minute, and now it's like it didn't happen.”

According to Det. Adams, every police department has its own way of handling a missing person's case.

Tim Ryan is an assistant news director for KUSA, a local NBC station in Denver, Colo. Ryan said that in almost every case, it's about law enforcement decisions about the importance of the case. He believes the media needs some sort of standard for stories that outlets report on.

“There are certain reasons why stories get played or not. I can't tell you if race does play a role. There are cases that we covered of all races that hasn't received national media coverage. Things that make national news are whimsical. I think it is important to state that local media does not make those choices.”

Martin G. Reynolds is the editor of the Oakland Tribune in California. Mr. Reynolds said the Tribune doesn't necessarily have a reporter dedicated to missing children and disappearances have to come across the radar to be reported on.

When told about the number of missing Black males, Mr. Reynolds said: “They get less positive attention. … There is plenty negative attention. We were not aware that there was such a large number particularly in African American children. It was something I wasn't aware of, but something I will look into.”

Reporter Kathy Chaney of the Chicago Defender believes Black males do get far less national media coverage, which leads to families looking for other media outlets such as TV shows, like Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, or the Steve Wilkos Show, for publicity.

Ms. Chaney said when the Defender was daily, children reported missing would often be found the same day that their missing person story was printed.

“I think they (Black males) get far less coverage,” said Ms. Chaney. “I think it's because they are boys. It's just not reported of teenage boys running away. I don't think that anyone suspects them of running away or missing. You think of foul play immediately.”

Adji Desir and William Van Croft IV, however, are still missing and their stories need to be heard.

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