ourblackgirls.com/Screenshot by NPR
Tens of thousands of black girls and women go missing every year. Last year that number was nearly 100,000. Yet their cases hardly ever make national headlines.
A Californian journalist is doing what she can to try to change that, telling as many stories as she can – and, hopefully, helping them get the justice they deserve.
Our black girls centers on the often unrecognized stories of black girls and women missing or, in some cases, found dead under mysterious circumstances. Launched by journalist and activist Erika Marie Rivers in 2018, the website is a one-woman show: Rivers spends her nights browsing databases of missing persons, archived news footage, old articles and all the other information she can find to piece together these stories. And she does everything after her day job.
Rivers, 39, has worked in entertainment journalism for over a decade. For her regular job at a music news site, she works evenings from 4 p.m. to midnight, but her nights don’t end there. After finishing her first job, she dives in her second, often working on stories for Our Black Girls late into the night.
Since the website was created three years ago, Rivers has posted an article roughly every two days. It’s a grueling schedule, but she keeps it up because, as she explains, she could easily have been one of those missing girls and women. Anyone could.
In so many stories Rivers writes about, the victims âwalk down the street, or they go to the store, orâ they’ll come back right away, âand they just disappear,â she says. “It can happen to me at any time.”
“And I know there are a lot of stories like that about girls and women who look like me, so why don’t I see them as much as I see everything else? And then it became, why is what am I waiting for someone else to pick up this banner when it is I who am passionate about it? “
There are other blogs and organizations that focus on missing black people, but as Rivers says, “I can do it, that’s the point.”
Each post on Rivers’ site tells the story of a black girl or woman’s disappearance – and provides a more complete picture of who she is and how much she is loved, based on information from ‘friends and family.
Sometimes relatives of victims contact Rivers to express their gratitude after seeing the message; often they are frustrated with their local police department’s lack of action and are just thankful that someone somewhere has noticed and cares.
Other people contact because they’re surprised they’ve never heard of a case, even though it’s something that happened in their city.
On one occasion, Rivers wrote about a man who murdered an entire family, and the daughter of a woman killed by the same man in a separate incident reached out to him, hoping to also share the story of his mother.
Rivers is hoping the publication of these stories will rekindle interest and authorities will be forced to take another look.
âI don’t want to be just the last person to write about these girls and women,â she says. “I want there to be an end to their story or this chapter, if we find out what happened, if anybody got justice, whatever.”
Media ignores missing black and Indigenous women
Black girls and women are disappearing at a high rate, but this is not reflected in the media coverage of missing person cases. In 2020, of the 268,884 girls and women missing, 90,333, or nearly 34% of them, were black, according to the National crime information Center. Meanwhile, black girls and women make up only about 15% of America’s female population, according to census data. In contrast, white girls and women – which includes those who identify as Hispanic – made up only 59% of the missing, while making up 75% of the overall female population.
In light of these numbers, the disproportionate media attention to missing white girls and women is blatant. Often described as “missing white woman syndrome,” the term recently made headlines when MSNBC host Joy Reid discussed the Gabby Petito case. Petito was reported missing after her boyfriend returned from a trip across the country without her; her case garnered national coverage, but also highlighted the harsh reality that people from other demographic groups don’t get the same attention when they go missing.
Authorities converged in Wyoming to search for Petito and found his remains in a national park. In the same state, more than 400 Indigenous girls and women went missing between 2011 and fall 2020, according to a status report. Indigenous people made up 21% of homicide victims in Wyoming between 2000 and 2020, while they made up less than 3% of the state’s population, and Indigenous women who were killed received the least media coverage. , at only 18% against 51%. white homicide victims making headlines, according to the report.
To be clear, Rivers explains, it’s not about asking for more attention or being in “competition” with whites – it’s about other groups receiving the same attention as white victims and seeing their life honored in the same way.
“I’m talking about bringing the investigations up to what is already happening,” she explains. âAnd I think when we bring that awareness, especially around native women and black women, and we’re like, hey, we exist too. That doesn’t mean stop looking for that white woman. It’s like, looking for our women as much as anyone else and making sure that all the energy you put in one case is the same energy you put in the others. “
You can help support efforts to find the missing
Rivers isn’t the only one trying to highlight these cases. Two black women founded the Black and missing foundation in 2008 to draw attention to the thousands of blacks who disappear every day in the United States and podcasts like Black Crime, Missing black girl and Missing black girl work tirelessly to honor these stories as well.
There is power in forming a community. âWe are truly our sister’s keeper,â said Rivers.
For those who want to be a part of the solution, Rivers suggests staying on top of what’s going on, especially in your own community, and sharing the information you see. This could mean retweeting a missing person’s alert or sharing it on Facebook. Contact your local news agencies and investigative agencies and ask for updates.
You can also support those doing the job through blogs and podcasts, as well as dedicated Instagram accounts and Facebook groups to keep people informed of cases of missing black girls and women.
However, Rivers cautions against the sensationalism of someone’s actual tragedy – a pervasive risk in the real crime community.
Remember, âthey were real human beings with families and with hopes and dreams and a purpose,â she says. âThese are real humans who laughed, cried, smiled and didn’t expect not to see tomorrow, didn’t expect to disappear from the face of the Earth. And I want to make sure they’re respected. and honored. “
Every article on Our Black Girls ends similarly: “She’s our sister and her life matters.” And this is something to remember.