Have you ever heard of Relisha Rudd?
Yesterday, through all of the noise about Donald Trump and his lies, I heard her name for the very first time. The sweet little eight year old girl, which is the same age of my precious daughter, Savannah, has been missing for three long years. She lived in a DC area homeless shelter with her mother before she was last seen on camera with a janitor at the facility. That janitor later killed himself and his wife. While many people presume Relisha is dead, every single clue of whereabouts has gone cold. She has vanished.
I study and obsess over injustice and inequity for a living and yesterday was the first time I ever heard her name. It’s floating out there. I think I’ve seen her pictures, but it just never broke through to me.
This is not an accident. Thousands and thousands of young black girls and women are missing all over the country, but I can’t name a single one of them. You probably can’t either. I asked a few people this morning, just as a test, if they could. They couldn’t. They didn’t even know that anybody was missing.
How would they? The stories of young black girls and women who are missing don’t get the Elizabeth Smart or Natalie Holloway treatment. We don’t see primetime television specials on them. Their images don’t become permanent fixtures on Twitter. Their names don’t get hashtags or trending topics. Nationwide man hunts or search parties don’t ensue. Crying black parents, pleading for their children to be found, don’t interrupt our sitcoms as breaking news.
It appears that having blonde hair and blue eyes, and having white parents in suburban America, makes it far more likely that a story of a missing young girl will be told.
Washington, DC appears to have a particular problem. Two young black girls, Shaniah Boyd and Chareah Payne, have gone missing just this past week and many other open cases remain open from 2017 alone.
None of this is OK. It’s not OK that so many people go missing, but the fact that being young and black makes it so unlikely that we will ever hear the story or know the name or see the face is particularly disturbing. Officials in DC are quick to say that 95% of the cases of disappearing girls and women have been resolved, but the fact remains that of the 5% that haven’t, all 37 of the girls and women are black and Latina. This trend is not unique to DC. Black girls and women represent an outrageously disproportionate percentage of the number of people missing in this country. Black girls and women represent about 7% of Americans but over 35% of all missing person’s cases.
Have you heard of Phoenix Coldron? She’s been missing since 2011.
How about Makayla Randall? She’s been missing since 2012.
Here in New York, over a dozen black and Latina girls in the Bronx went missing – prompting many to believe they were being abducted or forced into prostitution.
So, the crisis is two-fold. The sheer volume of missing people in this country, particularly young black girls, must be addressed. The complex systems and structures and mechanisms needed to address this problem must be better. Of course that’s no easy feat. Each story behind each missing person is unique, but it’s often felt by families that their missing children just aren’t seen as the priority that they should be. Secondarily, how the media covers these cases, and how we all become aware of them, must change. While we can cross our fingers that mainstream outlets will do better, history tells me that’s a bad bet. Those of us who care and are passionate about this crisis would be better off building and funding our own solutions or supporting those that have already started.
I’ve heard many times that if your child is missing, that as soon as you hang up with the police, you should call a PR firm. Some families, particularly families who can afford it, have done just that. Perhaps a network of PR firms would be willing to donate their services around this issue to ensure that these stories are widely known? Whatever the case, what we have right now is simply not enough.