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How We Lost 200 Black Girls in 12 Days

Historically, far too little has been done about missing black children.
 
 
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Dean Moyo, missing since April 23.
Photo Credit: Screen shot

 
 
 
 

Look at her little face. Call the Prince William County Police Department if you see it.

In Manassas, an apple-cheeked girl with a Minnie Mouse bow in her hair has been missing since April 23. She is 14, bespectacled, and was last seen in an outfit fashioned of head-to-toe heather gray. Her name is  Dean and she is black, and because she is black, the national public was only informed of her disappearance via Twitter — a full five days after it occurred.

We are  feverishly retweeting for her. But by now, we have to wonder what our retweets are worth.

The first hours after a child goes missing are the most critical. Every passing minute takes with it small sips of our optimism — and we are the only ones who even bother with optimism, we who can look into the faces of black and brown girls we don’t know and see something of ourselves.

We are all we have. Daily, we make each other’s empathy enough. We spread it thin and wear it raw. We tear it and pass the scraps down the aisle. But we always seem to learn of what lurks too late. We protest and our wails ring tinny ’round the choir stand. By the time our dissent projects, evil has already gained colossal ground.

I do not believe many disappearances are sudden. They are fastidiously planned, painstakingly executed — and even when the grown, hulking captors are not quite as clever as the welterweight girls they take, they wield the advantage of forethought. Often, they have watched and waited, perhaps walked with or ridden with, texted, even fed, the children they intend to steal. The children — the innocents — even those with the sharpest of wits and the bravest of faces — are simply no match.

Of course we do not expect them to be, though one would never know it by how slowly the public acts when the children who’ve been taken are black and brown.

By the time they take our girls, the captors have also studied the rest of us, long enough to know how we — their parents, their communities, their government, and their media — will respond to losing them. They know whether that response will pose a threat; in turn, they act only as brazenly or covertly as necessary.

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In the northern Nigerian state of Borno, close to 200 schoolgirls are missing. They were taken at night, but their captors, all members of the extremist group Boko Haram, could just as easily have attacked by day. It would seem they have been building to this. Boko Haram  slaughtered 59 schoolboys in February. They have razed entire villages. And now, they are stealing and selling and ravaging teen girls by the hundreds.

Because the girls are black and halfway around the world, I (and likely much of America) first learned of them via social media, after they had been in the capture of rapists and murderers for a 12 full days. And it is only the constant, viral pressure of people who can compel themselves to care that their increasingly harrowing journey is now being covered by international media.

But few are sure what is accurate to report — and that is by design. Alexis Okeowo writes at  The New Yorker that Nigerian military nakedly lied about having recovered “most of the girls” in the hours following their disappearance:

A day later, the military retracted its claim; it had not actually rescued any of the girls. And the number that the government said was missing, just over a hundred, was less than half the number that parents and school officials counted: according to their tally, two hundred and thirty-four girls were taken.