Black members of Congress are demanding the FBI get involved in the search for a series of missing black girls in Washington DC, in a case that inspired a high-profile celebrity campaign.
Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who represents the District in Congress, wrote a letter Tuesday asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey get involved.
Their letter’s existence emerged after #missingdcgirls was tweeted by LL Cool J, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Selma director Ava DuVernay, among others.
The letter, which was obtained by Associated Press on Thursday, called on Sessions and Comey to put money behind the search for the missing kids.
‘Whether these recent disappearances are an anomaly or signals of underlying trends, it is essential that the Department of Justice and the FBI use all of the tools at their disposal to help local officials investigate these events, and return these children to their parents as soon as possible,’ it said.
Richmond said he hopes to meet with Sessions and bring up the issue, although no meeting is currently scheduled.
But President Donald Trump assured caucus members on Wednesday that he would make his Cabinet secretaries available to them.
The District of Columbia has logged more than 500 cases of missing juveniles, many of them black or Latino, since the start of the year, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
As of Sunday morning ten juveniles were still missing – half of whom were female, and all of whom were black.
But it was a viral tweet on Thursday by @DeeTwoCents that asked ‘how 14 black girls go missing in 24 hours in DC and it’s not a g*****n news story?!’ that raised the profile of the vanished.
That claim was not accurate, but the truth – that ten juveniles vanished between March 19 and 23, two of whom have still not been found – is not much better.
The tweet sparked a wide-ranging discussion that drew in complaints by a series of celebrities.
Rapper LL Cool J made a series of tweets on the subject, and tried to rope in fellow hip-hop artists.
‘Yo @Eminem let’s find these #missingdcgirls !!!’ he tweeted. ‘Yo @UncleRUSH yo @diddy we gotta get America focused on finding these #missingdcgirls !!!! Let’s go!!!!’
‘My prayers go out to the families effected by this tragedy,’ said Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs. ‘God bless #PrayForDC #FindOurGirls.’
Ava DuVernay, director of Selma and 13th, tweeted: ‘For all who are not aware and for all who care…’ along with a video clip about the missing girls.
Singer Chaka Khan said: ‘Let’s commit 2 finding the #missingdcgirls & #missinggirls around the planet! Human trafficking must end!’
‘This is a VERY disturbing story that deserves attention,’ tweeted comedian Patton Oswalt. ‘Same thing’s happening in Portsmouth, VA. The hell is going on?’
Metropolitan Police spokeswoman Rachel Reid said there has been no increase in the numbers of missing persons in their jurisdiction, just that ‘We’ve just been posting them on social media more often.’
According to local police data, the number of missing child cases in the District dropped from 2,433 in 2015 to 2,242 in 2016. The highest total recently, 2,610, was back in 2001.
The MPD also told Fox Baltimore that there had been no uptick in human trafficking, that 95 per cent of cases in 2017 had been solved, and that they were now using social media for all ‘critical’ missing persons.
But the increased social media attention has caused concern in the US capital area, which has long had a large minority population and is currently about 48 percent black.
Richmond’s letter to Comey and Sessions said: ‘Ten children of color went missing in our nation’s capital in a period of two weeks and at first garnered very little media attention. That’s deeply disturbing.’
And hundreds of people packed a town-hall style meeting at a neighborhood school on Wednesday to express concern about the missing children cases.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, said that despite the assurances from police, it was alarming for so many children to go missing around the same time.
On Tuesday night, she noted, her group had four reports of missing children and only one had been found.
‘We can’t focus on the numbers. If we have one missing child, that’s one too many,’ Wilson said.
Wilson said she is concerned about whether human trafficking is a factor, citing the case of eight-year-old Relisha Rudd, who has been missing since she vanished from a city homeless shelter in 2014.
A janitor who worked at the shelter was found dead of apparent suicide during the search for the girl.
‘They prey on the homeless, they prey on low income children, they prey on the runaways, they prey online,’ Wilson said.
Information from the National Crime Information Center showed there were 170,899 missing black children under 18 in the United States, more than any other category except for the white/Hispanic combined number of 264,443.
Both numbers increased from the year before, which saw 169,655 missing black children and 262,177 missing white/Hispanic children.
An email sent to the Justice Department seeking comment on Richmond’s letter was not immediately answered Thursday.
Some good news came on Saturday, as one of the missing youths, 18-year-old Vaneisha Weaver, was announced as having been found.
She had last been seen in the 1400 Block of Columbia Road on February 16, and reported missing on February 21.
An MPD spokesman said she was in good health, but could not release any other details.