There were 211 missing people reported in the District in January; 190 of them eventually were found unharmed. That still left 21 missing — 10 of them teenage girls.
Just in the past few days, more of them have been found unharmed. Police have not said how they were found or why they went missing, but the description of the girls given when they disappeared reflects a disturbing pattern:
●One was a 15-year-old who had been last seen Jan. 10 in the 700 block of M Street SE. She was black, 5 foot 5, 150 to 170 pounds and had black hair and brown eyes.
●Another was 16 and had been last seen Feb. 1 in the 4000 block of Livingston Road SE. She was black, 5 foot 7, 125 pounds and had black hair and brown eyes.
●There was a 14-year-old, last seen Feb. 2 in the 1300 block of Saratoga Avenue NE. She was black, 5 foot 5, 130 pounds and had black hair and brown eyes.
●Two other missing black girls were 16 and 15.
Black teenage girls, remarkably close in age and physical description, reported missing, then found. They may be among the lucky ones; so many disappear and are never heard from again.
Chanel Dickerson, who recently became commander of the D.C. police’s Youth and Family Services Division, said she was shocked by the number of missing children in the District. She said many of the cases involved runaways and she has pledged to publicize each case and provide equal service to all.
The 211 people who went missing in January did not reflect an increase in cases, Dickerson said, just better reporting by the families. While that may be true, it is far from reassuring. Few believe that the children are being snatched off the street in mass, but they do think that the children are endangered.
Sharece Crawford, a member of an Advisory Neighborhood Commission in Southeast Washington, said she believed that more black girls were getting involved with gangs and also being forced into prostitution.
“What we need is a citywide alert about the dangers out here and how parents can protect their children,” Crawford said. “Residents are very worried. They are wondering if the city is taking this seriously. They say things like, ‘If white girls were disappearing uptown, there would be a state of emergency.’ ”
They have a point. If cars of a similar make and model were disappearing from the more affluent neighborhoods of our city, there would probably be more outrage. Owners of vehicles popular with thieves would be warned through various media outlets and automobile associations.
Not so when it comes to black girls from more disadvantaged communities. Their family and friends often suffer in silence.
When hundreds of girls — and boys, too — are reported missing, we should all be concerned. Is their home life so horrible that they must flee? Has poverty and desperation made them vulnerable to enticements that lure them into the city’s burgeoning sex trade?
Either way, something has gone awfully wrong.
Dickerson told WJLA (Channel 7) reporter Sam Ford that one of her priorities is finding out why the girls’ sense of self-worth is so low that they would feel a need to become runaways.
“I am definitely soliciting assistance, especially for professional women to just show these young girls that there are positive female role models,” Dickerson said.
Dickerson said police have not seen a link between the missing girls and sex trafficking. Others do.
According to Courtney’s House, a District-based organization that rescues teenage girls from forced prostitution, about four or five teenage girls come to them each week for help. Tina Frundt, founder of Courtney’s House, says sex trafficking is a complex business and identifying victims can be difficult.
But “it’s a problem in D.C.,” she said.
Eddie Kayne, a D.C. native who hosts an online talk-radio show on WLVS on listenvisionlive.com, said he’s been urging parents to take more precautions.
“On social media, in my network, I’m seeing more and more pictures of nieces and nephews, ‘If you see my niece or nephew, call and bring them home,’ ” Kayne said. “It’s very sad. So I tell the listeners to stop posting those ‘first day of school’ photographs of their children that include the address of the school. That’s what predators are looking for.”
Derrica Wilson, co-founder and chief executive of the Black and Missing Foundation, said that people of color account for 40 percent of all missing people in the country. She also believes that many black girls are being forced into the sex trade.
“Everyone should be angry that this is happening in our community, but our community needs to step up and take action,” she said.
Wilson was echoing an analysis made by the late activist and writer James Baldwin in his coverage of the Atlanta child murders tragedy back in 1980s. Chronicled in his book, “The Evidence of Things Not Seen,” Baldwin noted that it was the rage of parents whose children had been killed that resulted in an apathetic government taking steps to solve the crime.
Fair or not, that may be the only way residents can get the answers they seek. As Baldwin understood, black life would have to matter to the black people who were being victimized before it would matter to anybody else.
To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.