WASHINGTON — A congressional caucus founded by three African-American women plans to present a report by the end of the year on how to solve the problem of missing black children nationwide.
“We don’t want to just talk about the problems, we want to think about the solutions,” Rep. Robin Kelly said Wednesday at a town hall on the issue.
The Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls hosted a town hall at the Library of Congress Wednesday to address what they characterize as a national epidemic of missing black children. The group, founded by Kelly, Rep. Yvette Clarke and Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman in 2016, consists of more than 20 lawmakers working toward solutions to challenges impacting black women and girls.
The town hall came amid calls for federal assistance to help locate missing African-American girls whose profiles are posted almost daily on the Washington Metropolitan Police Department’s Twitter feed. In 2014, the Black and Missing Foundation reported that 64,000 black women and girls were missing nationwide.
But activists, law enforcement officials and political leaders at the town hall said media coverage and legislation does not reflect that reality. After hearing the data, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it is “such an injustice” that women and girls of color are more likely to go missing.
“I feel like knocking on every attic, every garage to see where those girls are,” she said. “Let’s be an example to the world that we can’t rest until these girls are found.”
Panelists wanted to dispel the idea that all missing black girls are runaways from challenging backgrounds involved in illicit activities and said any young person who is active on social media can find themselves at risk of being abducted.
“There are parks. There are malls. There are recreation centers,” said Stephanie Cooney, a legal fellow with the Black Women’s Health Imperative, a DC-based health organization. “Traffickers know where minors frequent. They know where to meet them. They know where to talk to them. They can very well be your community members.”
The event’s speakers said Congress needs to provide resources so that multiple agencies — police departments, health care institutions, courts and social services — can better collaborate to find missing girls.
“We have not trained a lot of agencies to recognize the signs of trafficking,” said Kisha Roberts-Tabb, a juvenile probation officer for Cook County. “They criminalize certain behaviors.”
“We miss so many young ladies that are being exploited because we don’t see African-American girls as victims, we see them as misbehaving,” she added.
Caucus members responded pledging to advocate for more funding, housing and training to aid those on the ground responding to the issue.
“Somebody’s got to work in this space,” Coleman told panelists. “I tell you, we are ready wiling and able. We will be whatever kind of motivation or impetus that is needed.”