A frequent conversation among African Americans over the years has been that black people who go missing are rarely covered by local or national media outlets. Local police departments often acknowledge this, as well.
Those concerns have given rise to a more vocal, organized movement to push media outlets and local police departments to make cases of missing African Americans a priority.
According to the Black and Missing Foundation, located in the District, 30 percent of missing persons in the United States in 2008 were persons of color. “ A lot of time in our community, our people just don’t know what to do, so we’re providing them with that knowledge and tools about what to do, from A to Z, if your loved one is missing,” says group co-founder Derrica Wilson, a former police officer.
Today, The RootDC continues its occasional series, titled “Vanished,” that looks at the cases of local African Americans who have gone missing but were not featured by media outlets. The aim is to give the families who grieve a voice and to offer information to the community that may help solve these cases. Our second profile is of Leon Davenport, who went missing from his Northeast Washington neighborhood more than three years ago.
If you’re a fan of homegrown, up-and-coming rap artists in the District, you may have checked out the local group C-Ban, performing freestyle in clubs like Rose’s Dream in Northeast Washington, where these musicians with a message masterfully showcase their raw talent for an instant shot of fame.
But the dream of riches and fame may have ended for one of the group’s founding members, Leon Davenport, who goes by the nickname “Turbo.” Since 2009, Davenport’s voice has remained absent.
“Words can’t begin to describe how hard it is waiting and not knowing what happened to him or where he is,” said Sharonda Johnson-Wilkes, a family spokeswoman. “I will say this, he was not given the name Turbo for nothing. And if worse comes to worse, I know he didn’t go out without a good fight.”
Davenport is known as a lively performer — effortlessly stringing together poetic rhymes onstage. A studio engineer who had been focusing full-time on his music career, Davenport hasn’t been heard from since a winter night in February 2009, following a heated dispute in the 4600 block of Jay Street NE with the mother of his unborn child. Police were called to the scene, and when they arrived, Davenport sped off.
He had performed until the day he went missing. Now, there’s not been a word, a rhyme or a sound. Just dead silence.
Police say Davenport had a few run-ins with the law. Yet that’s no reason he should have just up and gone missing.
“What I understand from the officers responding, they gave chase trying to get him to stop and get his tag number,” said D.C. police Lt. Bobby Ladson. “They ended up coming back once he fled into Maryland.”
Davenport’s relatives never heard from him again: not a word, a rhyme or a sound. Just silence.
His case is largely cold, with little for authorities to go on except the fact that a month after his disappearance, his leased 2008 silver Mazda 5 pickup truck turned up in Virginia. The vehicle showed no sign of foul play.
Davenport was 37-years-old at the time of his disappearance. He is 5-feet, 9-inches tall and weighs about 170 pounds. He has a light complexion, brown eyes, black hair and a mustache. He usually wears glasses and has tattoos of C-Ban and CEO on his hands. Davenport was last seen wearing a black T-shirt with an orange and green design, blue jeans and blue Nike boots.
Davenport’s relatives are frustrated about the pace of the investigation and lack of information. They say when it comes to probing the disappearances of people of color, those cases are not treated equally.
“People of color are not always represented in the news media. Media coverage is important. It gives law enforcement the resources it needs to find these individuals.” said Natalie Wilson, a co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation. “We all have a part to play. This is just not an African American issue. It’s an American issue. It affects all of us.”
Davenport’s profile is one of hundreds on the group’s Web site. Of 800 cases profiled, about 92 cases have been closed.
Detectives said they recently obtained DNA from Davenport’s mother and his dental records. They also are questioning new witnesses.
Davenport’s loved ones are also stepping up their efforts to find him. They’re using social media and say they held a candlelight vigil for him in July in his old neighborhood to bring awareness to his case, pass out flyers and raise money for a reward and private investigator.
Davenport’s mother, who lost another son several years ago in a car accident, is having a hard time dealing with her son’s disappearance.
“His mother is like any mom. She misses her son. She loves her son. To have a son that just disappeared, just vanished, literally without a trace,” said Johnson-Wilkes. “ A large amount of Leon’s family and friends are praying for the best, but knowing that Leon was not one to roam from his home or hood. I just thank God for dreams, because it gives me the ability to interact with him, nevertheless.”
During his absence, Davenport has missed some key moments, such as the birth of his daughter the day after he disappeared.
“His girlfriend had suffered two miscarriages, so he was excited about the birth of his daughter,” Johnson-Wilkes recalled. “He was a dad, he had a son who he picked up from school, who he cared for after school, who has autism that he was very close with.”
And though Davenport’s music often documented a hard life, his loved ones hope those violent lyrics are not prophetic — resulting in his life really imitating his art.
Crosby is a former video reporter for The Washington Post.