The number was nothing less than a shock to the system: “14 Girls Have Gone Missing in DC in the Last 24 Hours.”
The tweet, which highlighted a massive public outcry in response to a large number of missing black girls, went viral within a number of hours. The hashtag #MissingDCGirls soon followed, with many voicing frustration over the lack of media coverage.
Trouble is, the post was inaccurate. At no point in recent weeks have 14 girls disappeared from Washington DC in a single day, police said.
Here’s what’s actually going on.
Can someone explain to me how 14 black girls go missing in 24 hours in DC and it's not a goddamn news story?!? pic.twitter.com/o1WnG3uKUW
— DanielleMoodie-Mills (@DeeTwoCents) March 24, 2017
Since March 19, police have tweeted 22 missing person flyers – 15 of which are minors. This has led many to believe the number of missing persons has dramatically increased, but DC police told NBC Washington this is not true.
“We’ve just been posting them on social media more often,” Rachel Reid, a spokesperson for the DC Metro Police Department, said.
At a press conference on March 16, the DC police department assured the public that having this amount of open cases involving juveniles – 22 at the time – is not abnormal. The department claimed that the number is in line with typical statistics involving young persons who go missing, most of whom end up being found.
New York Daily News writer Shaun King pointed out that not all of the girls in the viral tweet were from DC, and some had been missing for years. The photos used in many of the tweets were taken from an article he wrote on Wednesday.
Dear People Advocating for Missing Black Girls,
Please be sure you are spreading the truth and actual facts. It matters. It really matters
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) March 24, 2017
But the information still spread through social media like wildfire:
14 black girls go missing in 24 hrs & I have to rely on Black Twitter to get info cuz mainstream media's too busy to care. #missingdcgirls
— Shalisa Hayes (@ShalisaHayes) March 24, 2017
— yosan hates kimberly (@apunkgrl) March 25, 2017
? Can someone explain to me how 14 black girls go missing in 24 hours in DC and it’s not a goddamn news… https://t.co/1oL5ISwKxg
— Ms Social Butterfly (@SoftHearted77) March 28, 2017
Many believed that the missing persons were kidnapped, but Metro Police spokesperson Karimah Bilal told NBC Washington all of the teens reported missing in 2017 left voluntarily.
She also added that there is no evidence to suggest the disappearances had any connection to a human trafficking problem in DC.
Because of the number of releases, there have been concerns that young girls in the District of Columbia are victims of human trafficking or have been kidnapped.
We look at every case closely to make sure that doesn’t happen, but to my knowledge, that hasn’t been a factor in any of our missing person cases.
In 2017, the Metropolitan Police Department has logged 527 missing juvenile cases. As of March 27, all but 14 of those cases have been closed.
Each year, they locate 99 per cent of the missing people reported in DC. Between 2012 and 2016, just 16 of 19,000 total cases are still open.
And the number of missing person reports in DC has actually decreased in 2017 compared with recent years, according to police.
The head of Metropolitan Police Department’s Youth and Family Services told USA Today that an average of 200 people have been reported missing each month for the past five years. The average number of cases per month for 2017 has been 190.
There is not an uptick in missing persons-we are simply using social media more to help locate them
— DC Police Department (@DCPoliceDept) March 12, 2017
But even with decreasing numbers, the number of black people missing across the U.S is astonishingly high.
The Black And Missing Foundation reports that 36.7 per cent of missing people under 17 are black. Very few of these cases receive widespread media coverage compared with those of other races, namely white missing persons.
Natalie Wilson, co-founder of the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation, told USA Today that many of these cases are initially classified as runaways. She said: “They do not get an Amber Alert or media coverage.”
In 2012, reports claimed 64,000 black women were missing in America. The statistics were first explored by the Black and Missing Foundation and The Daily Mail.
And now lawmakers are taking action. Black members of Congress have called on the Justice Department to help police investigate the large number of missing youths in DC.
In a letter obtained by the Associated Press Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond and DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton called on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to ‘devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.’
On Friday, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser also announced that the city will create a series of new initiatives to assist in finding and preventing missing children in the District.
So while much of the uproar on social media may have been initially rooted in an inaccurate claim, it’s clear that the increase in concern and awareness has, at least in some ways, had a positive outcome.