ALBUQUERQUE, NM — Members of a congressional panel focused on civil rights and liberties shared sobering statistics Thursday about the disproportionate number of missing Indigenous, Black and other minority women and girls in the United States. United, saying more needs to be done to tackle the problem.
About 40% of the 250,000 women and girls missing in 2020 were people of color, though they make up just 16% of the total population, according to the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
The panel’s chairman, U.S. Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, called it “a crisis that lurks in plain sight.” highlighted the importance of media attention.
The cases span the country, from South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana to Louisiana, South Carolina and New York. Of more than 700 Natives missing in Wyoming for nearly a decade, for example, less than one in five has received media coverage, Raskin noted, citing a recent state report.
The scale of the problem is impossible to gauge due to the lack of comprehensive and consistent data, committee members said during a hearing in Washington that included in-person and remote testimony.
Raskin also said tribal communities are often paralyzed in their responses given jurisdictional issues, limited law enforcement resources and the inability to prosecute non-natives who commit crimes on the land. tribal.
“The primary function of government is to protect the safety and security of the people,” Raskin said. “That’s the essence of the social contract. We need to secure and strengthen the social contract for women of color across America.
The hearing comes as the grassroots movement among Native Americans to bring attention to the cases of their missing and killed loved ones puts more pressure on state and federal authorities. In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed legislation to devote more resources to investigating such cases and improve coordination among law enforcement.
Other states, including California, Oregon and Washington, have approved studies of the issue or allocated more funds to tribes.
The panel heard Thursday from Pamela Foster, the mother of 11-year-old Ashlynne Mike, who was abducted with her brother on May 2, 2016, and left to die in a remote location in the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico. . Foster’s 9-year-old son was found alive by an elderly couple along a road after fleeing from the kidnapper.
Foster said she had to take to social media to publicize the kidnapping. Authorities did not issue an Amber Alert for several hours.
“I endured the longest hours of my life – waiting, hoping and praying for my children, for their safe return,” she said.
It wasn’t enough to save her daughter, but Foster has since been working to ensure Ashlynne’s death isn’t in vain by pushing for legislation to extend the Amber Alert system to tribal communities.
Some of the panelists also spoke about the disparities related to how law enforcement and the media view victims when they are people of color.
Natalie Wilson, founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, told lawmakers that advocates understand that not all missing persons cases will get national attention, but noted that cases involving people of color only get a very low percentage of national media coverage.
“We can all name Gabby Petito, Natalee Holloway, Chandra Levy and many other white women who have gone missing. But can any of you name a person of color who has garnered national media coverage?” she asked. “We want our fallen to be household names too.”
For Shawn Wilkinson, it took Baltimore law enforcement a month to start looking seriously into the 2017 disappearance of his pregnant daughter, Akia Eggleston. Family members knew something was wrong when the 22-year-old black woman failed to show up for her own baby shower.
Authorities announced an arrest in the case just weeks ago. Although Eggleston’s body has not been found, prosecutors pointed to internet searches by the suspect that suggested his remains may be at a local landfill.
A Navy veteran who has served three tours in Iraq, Wilkinson said he gave his all to his country but was broken and frustrated that he couldn’t get immediate help for his daughter when he needed it.
“The epidemic of missing people of color is not a new topic but one that has been brushed aside because society doesn’t care about us,” he said. “This is a ripple effect that has happened throughout the history of this country. Only time has brought us to this point of actually acknowledging the disparities that exist.