03 Feb Today is National Missing Persons Day
By Marsha Mitchell | Communications Director
February 3rd is National Missing Persons Day. Each day in the United States, approximately 2,300 people are reported missing. According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, a national database for missing people, over 90,000 people are missing in the U.S. at any given time. National Missing Persons Day encourages families who have loved one’s missing to share their names and pictures in the hopes of bringing them home. To do that, the families of missing persons need support from the public, law enforcement, and, most importantly, the media.
According to a Syracuse University communications professor, a sample of 247 missing teens in California and New York found that 34% of white teens’ cases, 14% of Latino kids cases, and just 7% of Black teens cases were covered by the media.
“So much of who we care about and what we care about is curated in ways that ignore African Americans, Indigenous, and people of color,” said Leah Salgado, deputy director of IllumiNative, a Native women-led social justice organization.
“The causes are layered, but implicit bias in favor of both whiteness and conventional beauty standards play in, along with a lack of newsroom diversity and police choices in which cases to pursue, said Carol Liebler, a communications professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School.
“What’s communicated is that white lives matter more than people of color.”
Four out of five Indigenous women experience violence during their lifetime, according to the Urban Indian Health Institute. And Indigenous women are murdered at a rate that is ten times higher than all other ethnicities, according to the National Institute of Justice.
The disappearance of Gabby Petito, a white 22-year-old woman who went missing in Wyoming during a cross-country trip with her boyfriend, drew national coverage on traditional and went viral on social media, highlighting the phenomenon known as “missing white woman syndrome.” However, in Wyoming, where Petito was found, just 18% of cases of missing Indigenous women over the past decade had any media coverage, according to a state report released in January of 2021.
“It’s an epidemic,” Rep. Angela Romero, D-Salt Lake City, said. Romero leads a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls task force and secures state funding to collect updated data, expand preventative education, and explore jurisdiction handlings on these cases.
Black and Missing Foundation founders Derrica and Natalie Wilson have also experienced an uphill fight in their struggle to raise awareness regarding Black missing person cases. The Black and Missing Foundation, Inc (BAMFI) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends, and educate the minority community on personal safety.
“It’s important for us to exist because we are the only nonprofit organization that is a voice for an often ignored group. They’re ignored by law enforcement. They’re ignored by the media, and they’re ignored by the community,” says the group.
When asked why is there such an overwhelming marginalization of cases involving people of color, BAMFI asserts these three reasons:
- Minority children are initially classified as runaways and, as a result, do not receive the Amber Alert.
- Missing minority adults are associated with criminal involvement, gangs, and drugs
- Desensitization and stigma that missing minorities live in conditions where crime is a daily part of our lives.
Bringing the issue closer to home, desensitization and stigmas allowed a serial killer to operate in South Los Angeles for more than two decades. Lonnie David Franklin Jr., known as the Grim Sleeper, was responsible for at least ten murders and one attempted murder from 1984 to 2007 in South Los Angeles. During the 1980s, South Central earned an extremely negative reputation due to escalating gang activity and the crack cocaine epidemic. With homicides topping the thousands and little interest from the police or media, Franklin was able to hide in plain sight. Had it not been for the LA Weekly shedding light on the story of the victims who had been missing persons, Franklin might still be out on the streets. Instead, he was convicted of rape and murder. He died in his cell at San Quentin State Prison in March of 2020.
HOW TO OBSERVE #NationalMissingPersonsDay
- Support the search for missing persons by sharing a missing person’s story.
- Visit the sites listed below to bring more awareness to the plight of missing persons.
- Take precautions to keep you and your family safe.
- Use #NationalMissingPersonsDay to share on social media.