APPEALING FOR RACIAL BALANCE IN HIGH-PROFILE MEDIA STORIES ON MISSING PEOPLE

Balance in Reporting Stories on Missing People of Color

Richmond, VA 10-03-09

Four years ago, I read an interesting ‘Point-of-View’ article titled: 'Missing People: Two Cases and Two Sets of Standards', which focused on differences and similarities between the cases of two teenagers gone missing from the Richmond Tri-cities area. The article was written by a journalist (Mark Holmberg) writing for a mainstream newspaper—the Richmond (Virginia) Times Dispatch. One teenager was White and the other Black. But both were females and both stories had intriguing elements. The White teenager’s story made it to the national news arena, whereas the Black teenager’s story only made it to the local news front. And now, here we are five years later, and nothing has changed. This same scenario occurs regularly throughout mainstream media: most high-profile stories on missing or murdered victims remain largely focused on White females, with an occasional national story about an African American, Asian or Hispanic.

Of note: in addition to the POV in the Richmond Times Dispatch, I found several other articles on mainstream media’s preference for missing / murdered White female stories. These articles ran in the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN online, and the journalists who candidly tackled this issue are commended for doing the right thing. As far as White visual media doing the right thing: there’s John Walsh, founder and host of the popular television program, America’s Most Wanted, who consistently presents racially-balanced reporting on his show. And there’s the ever-present victims’ advocate, Nancy Grace, who often features stories of missing and murdered people of color. But even with these laudable efforts, when one considers what the FBI states about missing people in this country: “…African Americans and other minorities make up the larger portion of people reported missing in the U.S,” IT’S NOT ENOUGH!

Mainstream media should put more effort into reporting racially-balanced stories about missing / murdered victims…and especially young victims.

Missing children’s activist, Alonzo Washington, has posted on his website the following excerpt: “…for year 2000, the NationalCenter for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) reported 1,159 African American children missing…the highest number this organization has ever recorded.” In May 2006, National Public Radio host, Ed Gordon, interviewed Herb Jones, NCMEC’s Vice President of External Affairs, and Jones spoke candidly about media-related issues concerning missing Black children. However, in the decade since the NCMEC reported a rise in the number of missing Black children, my research turned up nothing in mainstream media outlets about this newsworthy report. If something was reported in mainstream media and I missed it, I’d love to read it and I’m open to publishing a retraction of the preceding conclusion.

Two Profiles: YOUNG, BLACK, MISSING and MURDERED

I am the host of a weekly radio talk show broadcasting out of Richmond, Virginia. A few years ago, after observing the 'Runaway Bride' runaway-coverage, I decided to do several radio shows on three children of color who went missing in the Richmond, Virginia area.

Basil and Jamal Abdul`Faruq: One Murdered and the Other Still Missing

In mid April 1990, eight-year old Basil Faruq and his seven-year old brother, Jamal, left their apartment to go outside to play and promptly went missing. Double kidnappings are sometimes accomplished by using one child to lure the other; however, no one came forward saying they’d witnessed the boys being taken. An officer involved in the search for the brothers told the local newspaper it was rare to have two children taken at the same time.

During a 1990 radio interview with the boys’ father, I will never forget the haunted, agonizing look in his eyes when he pleaded for anyone with information about his sons to please come forward.

Four days after the boys’ disappearance, Basil’s body was recovered south of Richmond in a ChesterfieldCounty landfill. It was reported that the eight-year old had been gagged and bound with duct tape, stabbed twice in the back and stuffed inside a trash bag. An exhaustive police-search of the landfill did not turn up Jamal’s body. A local television news reporter’s camera captured an image of the boys’ mother as she labored through what had to be a parent’s worse nightmare.

A month after the boys’ disappearance, America’s Most Wanted (AMW) ran a missing-child-alert on Jamal. Other than the AMW alert and a continuous notice on NCMEC’s website, there hasn’t been any national news coverage on the Faruq brothers’ unusual—a possible double-kidnapping—disappearance. To-date, no one has been charged with Basil’s murderer and Jamal is still missing.

Brittany Williams: the Brave Little Girl with AIDS

Brittany Williams was five years old when the Richmond(Virginia) Times Dispatch ran a piece on her life-story, along with a grainy, but eye-catching, photograph of her holding a puppy. Brittany’s father wasn’t in her life and her mother was dying from AIDS when she turned Brittany over to a caretaker. Brittany had also been diagnosed with AIDS. After reading her captivating story, no one could’ve imagined the bizarre circumstances under which this feisty little bi-racial girl would, again, capture local headlines.

In August 2000, Stacy Hawkins Adams, a journalist with the Richmond Times Dispatch, checked in for a follow-up story on Brittany’s health. The news was heart-wrenching: Brittany, now seven-years old, was missing and, due to her illness, in need of medical attention. Her caretaker—who is currently serving time in a Virginia prison for defrauding the government out of money she received for Brittany after Brittany disappeared from her home—claimed she’d given Brittany to two women who lived out-of-state. The caretaker’s story was investigated, and Brittany wasn’t with the two women she’d named. An exhaustive police search of the caretaker’s home turned up nothing. It seemed no one associated with Brittany knew where she was.

This story definitely has intriguing elements: an orphan-girl with a fatal disease suddenly disappears while her caretaker continues collecting assistance checks for her. And throughout Virginia, news outlets reported on Brittany’s story. Still…other than a recurring space on NCMEC’s website, America’s Most Wanted was the only national venue to run a substantial piece on Brittany’s disappearance. Again, if something was reported in national mainstream media and I missed, then I’d love to read it (and share it), along with publishing a retraction.

I spoke with Brittany’s heart-broken aunt on radio. She shared her loss with the audience, even though she’s grown weary of talking to media and, through the years of hearing nothing about Brittany, her health has taken a downward toll. She’d also put me in touch with the HenricoCounty police officer assigned to Brittany’s case. His name is Detective Eddie Kopacki and he’s responsible for getting Brittany’s story to AMW. Detective Kopacki said he maintains hope for some type of closure on what’s happened to Brittany, and he keeps her file nearby.

Across this country, there are more compelling stories of missing and murdered-children-of-color. Children whose disappearances and tragic deaths end with a profound question mark. And that’s unfortunate because…

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children started as a result of a series of high profile missing child cases. Two of those cases are: the 1979 disappearance of six year old Etan Patz who was last seen on a New York street corner; and six-year old Adam Walsh who was abducted from a Florida shopping mall in 1981, only to be found later brutally murdered. Both boys’ tragic stories were carried in national (and sometimes international) news venues. Their families’ pain was shared with the masses, and anyone with a conscious heart felt their agony. In fact, some of us may’ve wondered how we’d hold up if forced to walk in the grieving families’ shoes. In short, the masses CARED…and not because the boys were White…we cared because we saw other human beings… blameless victims…innocent children who could’ve been members of our own family.

In conclusion: tragedy can happen to anyone and to any family. To this end, when searching for high-profile stories on the missing and the murdered, mainstream media should feature a diverse pool of victims. Besides, every victim with an intriguing story worthy of high-profiling isn’t always White, just like every criminal isn’t always Black, and serial killers aren’t always White. This is not a call for stereotypical high-profile victims who’re White, blond, blue-eyed or attractive, to disappear from national news line ups. Instead, those of us who write or talk about this concern are saying we want to see a diverse victim-lineup of high-profile stories. And why? Simply because it’s the right thing to do.

For information about missing children, please take a moment to visit the following web addresses:

The MISSING: BRITTANY WILLIAMS and JAMAL ABDUL`FARUQ

In August 2000, seven-year old BRITTANY WILLIAMS went missing in the Richmond, Virginia tri-cities area. BRITTANY has AIDS and may be in need of medical attention.
In August 2000, seven-year old BRITTANY WILLIAMS went missing in the Richmond, Virginia tri-cities area. BRITTANY has AIDS and may be in need of medical attention.
BRITTANY WILLIAMS, age progressed.
BRITTANY WILLIAMS, age progressed.
In April 1990, seven-year old JAMAL ABDUL`FARUQ and his eight year old brother, BASIL, went missing in the Richmond tri-cities area. BASIL was found murdered. JAMAL is still missing.
In April 1990, seven-year old JAMAL ABDUL`FARUQ and his eight year old brother, BASIL, went missing in the Richmond tri-cities area. BASIL was found murdered. JAMAL is still missing.
JAMAL FARUQ age progressed.
JAMAL FARUQ age progressed.

Agree or disagree, I'd love to hear your thoughts 9 comments

E Joyce 7 years ago

Excellent article. I have often twittered Rick Sanchez, Don Lemon and TJ Holmes about the disparity in coverage when it comes to our children lost, missing, killed. We don't seem to count according to mainstream media, unless it's Kanye West doing his part to boost Taylor Swift's CD purchases.

I applaud your efforts and am forwarding your article link to the people in twitterland.


Scribelady55 profile image

Scribelady55 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

Thanks Joyce. I've read several of your informational articles on various topics, so I appreciate your comments.


Shirley T 7 years ago

Bravo Scribelady55; BRAVO! My spirit says that we go forward from today with your article being the base. You have stated the truth about the past; now it is up to us to us every media available to do what we can do for our missing children. Is this any different in us having to march, do sit-ns, prayer-ins and etc. to bring national attention to our plight? I don't think so! I believe this is how it is destined to be: it is OUR task (as you have so eloquently done) to tell the story over and over, whereever we can.


411 Collector profile image

411 Collector 7 years ago from Sacramento, CA

ScribeLady, once again you have called out to the masses on a critical subject and it is my deepest hope that they will listen, and step up to the plate. The community needs to understand that in the long run, it is the community that controls the media. It is up to the community, with awareness and collective power, to determine for the media which stories are "high profile". Gloria, you are truly Maat, and I am proud to know you.


Larry 7 years ago

Keep up the good work! What you have highlighted is correct and disturbing. Our "color blind" society is not reality, yet. This weekend, I walked in a walk-a-thon for the Catena Parker Foundation. Catena was abducted and murdered over 19 years ago. Her body was found behind the Science Museum of Virginia. No one has ever been brought to justice for her murder. In the African-American, community we need more outlets to get our story out. We cannot continue to depend on the existing news outlets because they tend to be inherently biased.


Scribelady55 profile image

Scribelady55 7 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

Comments from Facebook readers:

Cheryl Scott

October 4 at 7:45pm Reply

The article was very insightful and so true. It just goes to show that society still consider people of color insignificant. If your not white, wealthy, or in the entertainment industry your not really considered as being media worthy. It's time for the media to make all missing persons "High Profile Stories".

Frances J. Jones

October 5 at 5:56pm Reply

Gloria, once again you have called out to the masses on a critical subject and it is my deepest hope that they will listen, and step up to the plate. The community needs to understand that in the long run, it is the community that controls the media. It is up to the community, with awareness and collective power, to determine for the media "High Profile Stories". Gloria, you are truly Maat, and I am proud to know you.

Jeannette Drake

October 5 at 8:

A very valuable article, Gloria. Thanks for keeping us informed.


Antonia Monacelli profile image

Antonia Monacelli 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Great article about a very large and awful problem. Did you know there is actually a name for this? It's called "Missing White Woman Syndrome", it's widely recognized enough to have actually been named, yet somehow that recognition has not resulted in the problem getting better! Not only does the syndrome cover the bias of race, which is by far the most prevalent bias in these cases, but also of gender, appearance, age, and economic status. Missing people who are older, poorer, or "unattractive" to the media are all less likely to get coverage, as well as missing men. It is a disgusting behaviour by the media that needs to be addressed and stopped!


34th Bomb Group 5 years ago

I'll attempt to respond to this story without putting myself in someone's sights.

I remember when the two Faruq boys went missing. Thereafter, I remember when the one boy was found in the landfill while the other was not.

I'm in Buffalo, New York. WE received updates on these boys for a long time. We, the citizens of Buffalo, are not responsible for the media's alleged failure to follow up on any of these young peoples' disappearances. I don't like the implied accusation that all white people don't care about missing Black children.

Having been a Prosecutor and Social Services Attorney I do not remember ANY case in which a white woman was put at the top of any list when it came to missing persons.

What ALWAYS appeared, and continue to appear, at the top of any such list are children.

Perhaps we're a bit better at race relations here in the Rust Belt, but I don't think so. I do NOT find fault with your research - I'm sure you've done your homework - but please don't lump all white people into the "we don't care about missing children - missing Black children" group.

Are there nasty, hateful people out there? Yes. They come in every shade of skin tone and are not limited to whites. Blacks, here anyway, have become much more hateful toward whites in the last few years than whites toward blacks. We DO have a "Hate Crime" statute, but are rarely allowed to use it when the crime is black on white or any race other than white on white. Trust me on this one - it's extraordinarily frustrating when a white kid is jumped by 5-6 black MEN and seriously injured simply because he was walking his black girlfriend home. Like a gentleman should.

Don't lump us all together as uncaring, unfeeling people. Further, not all black people are perfect, either. Thank you.


Scribelady55 profile image

Scribelady55 5 years ago from Richmond, Virginia Author

Greetings, 34th Bomb Group. Thank you for taking the time to express your thoughts on this article. Before responding to your comments, I read through my article to make sure I hadn't written that 'all' white people don't care about children of color, because that isn't at all how I feel. However, I realize now that, even though I didn't write that 'all' white people don't care about missing Black children, people -- like you -- who are sensitive to this issue could certainly perceive that to be the case. The truth is, ALL of the news stories I found on this subject were written by white journalists who boldly tackled the issue of mainstream media and missing people / children of color. Case in point, please consider this excerpt from my article: "...in addition to the POV in the Richmond Times Dispatch, I found several other articles on mainstream media’s preference for missing / murdered White female stories. These articles ran in the Washington Post, the New York Times and CNN online, and the journalists who candidly tackled this issue are commended for doing the right thing. As far as White visual media doing the right thing: there’s John Walsh, founder and host of the popular television program, America’s Most Wanted, who consistently presents racially-balanced reporting on his show. And there’s the ever-present victims’ advocate, Nancy Grace, who often features stories of missing and murdered people of color. But even with these laudable efforts, when one considers what the FBI states about missing people in this country: “…African Americans and other minorities make up the larger portion of people reported missing in the U.S,” IT’S NOT ENOUGH!"

I stand firm on my position that mainstream media needs more diversity when profiling cases of missing and murdered people.

However, please know that if my article comes across as a sweeping-indictment against 'all' white people not caring about missing black chiden, I understand that isn't true and please accept my apologies. Thanks again for raising my awareness about this, as it gives me an opportunity to clarify my position and say that I appreciate those (like you) who work to promote fairness in the criminal justice system AND in our communities.

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