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Many missing persons never make the headlines. How can we improve?

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GBH News
Alexi Cohan
January 11, 2022

Thousands of people go missing every year in the United States, yet only some cases make national headlines and dominate the news cycle. Most of the missing people who do get widespread coverage are white women, while missing people of color are overlooked by both law enforcement and media.

The disappearance of Tamika Huston, a Black woman from South Carolina, prompted Natalie and Derrica Wilson created the Black and Missing Foundation in 2008.

“We read how her family reached out to national media for coverage, and there was no interest in her story at all,” Natalie Wilson said on Greater Boston. “Weeks later, Lori Hacking disappeared, and she dominated the news cycle.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 13% of females in the country are Black, but FBI data shows that Black girls and women account for 35% of all missing females. And those cases do not receive a proportionate amount of media coverage or public alerts. Wilson said when a girl or young woman of color goes missing, she is often classified as a runaway, which does not prompt an Amber alert. In addition, Wilson said missing people are color are often labeled as criminals.

“Media coverage is so vital because one, it alerts the community that someone is missing and it can greater the chance of coverage, but it also puts pressure on law enforcement to add resources to the case,” she said.

Going forward, Wilson said newsrooms should develop a policy on how to handle coverage of missing persons and strengthen relationships with law enforcement so they can be alerted to missing persons quickly.

Photo credit: Amber Baesler/AP

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