Karen Juanita Carrillo
November 1, 2023
There will be a candlelight vigil to call attention to the plight of missing and murdered women and girls of color this Friday, Nov. 3, 5:45 p.m. at City Hall Park in lower Manhattan.
The Bronx-based not-for-profit Girl Vow, Inc. is sponsoring the sunset vigil. Dawn Rowe, Girl Vow’s president & CEO, said her organization believes City Hall is one of the best places to stage a city and statewide call to have people listen to the concerns of Black girls.
The vigil also serves as another opportunity to call on Gov. Kathy Hochul to sign the legislation establishing the NYS Task Force on Missing and Murdered BIPOC Women and Girls of Color.
The task force is scheduled to be funded with $750,000. It would be a nine-person task force commissioned to investigate the high number of missing Black and Indigenous women and to look at the level of care and concern officials use when responding to their cases.
“New York is behind the eight ball on this,” Rowe told the AmNews. “There are several states that are already doing the work: that have task forces, that have passed legislation. And we’re sort of late when it comes to that. This is also a call to get the governor to pass the legislation that we were able to get passed unanimously in the Senate and in the Assembly.”
In 2021, the state of Minnesota created the Missing and Murdered African American Women (MMAAW) task force and asked it to investigate violence perpetrated against Black women and girls and to look at why so many tend to go missing.
California just pushed forward an effort to aid law enforcement in finding its missing Black youth. On October 8, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill establishing the Ebony Alert notification system. Starting in January, the system will notify the public with electronic highway signs and TV, radio, and social media messages when Black youth and women between the ages of 12 and 25 go missing. “The Ebony Alert will ensure that vital resources and attention are given so we can bring home missing Black children and women in the same way we search for any missing child and missing person,” said California State Senator Steven Bradford, who sponsored the bill.
The major media tends to give scant coverage to cases involving missing Black and Indigenous women, even though they go missing at high rates. Statistics from the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc (BAMFI) found that “nearly 40% of missing persons are persons of color, yet African Americans make up only 13% of the population.”
According to BAMFI, the disparity in media coverage occurs because of assumptions made about missing people of color: “…a lot of minority children are initially classified as runaways, and as a result do not receive the Amber Alert”; “…missing minority adults are labeled as associated with criminal involvement, gangs and drugs”; or there is simply a general “desensitization” to these cases because “it is believed that missing minorities live in impoverished conditions and crime is a regular part of their lives.”
When a loved one goes missing
When a young person goes missing, family members are often at a loss about how to proceed with finding them. Rowe said it’s not only what people do in this situation, but also the things they don’t do before it happens that have to be considered. “We don’t prepare our children a lot of times for the possibilities,” she said, “We don’t oftentimes review what they’re doing on social media, and that’s very important. We don’t address the fact that sometimes our children feel neglected and feel overwhelmed. And I understand that parents are working; they’re overwhelmed as well. But we have to take the time to really sit with our kids and have conversations with them about what’s happening in their lives and also in their friendships.” Parents and relatives should know the names of their children’s friends and have their addresses, phone numbers, and social media handles, if possible. “Parents have to become more aggressive, more aware of social media and how it works and how it operates,” said Rowe. “And I know that the world is moving fast, but we have to find ways to make sure that we can parent beyond social media. It’s very important, because that is a key element to why a lot of our young girls go missing—it’s because of some of the dangers of social media.”
Girl Vow has established a National Taskforce for Missing and Murdered BIPOC Women that is now aiding the family of 22-year-old Shamari Brantley of Wheaton, Illinois. Brantley, who suffers from schizophrenia, has been missing since mid-August. Her cellphone was found in the Bronx at the Zerega Avenue No. 6 line subway station.
Brantley’s mother, Artimece Cotton, and other family members are distraught about her disappearance and have only been able to travel back and forth between Illinois and New York City every week, while trying to search for Shamari, with the aid of Girl Vow.
Brantley’s family and others from across the country will be at the Friday evening vigil, alongside local elected officials and community members who want to see the NYS Task Force put into place.
Once a New York state task force is set up, Rowe said Girl Vow wants to further strengthen the focus on missing Black girls. “One of the next things that we want to do is…to put a slew of town halls together, and really begin to gather the urgency and the concern of people in the community in terms of what’s happening with missing and murdered girls of color. We want them to continue to post and continue to help make sure that when young people, or just people in general, are missing, that we continue to support one another. We want to make sure that we change the system. We want to change how New York looks at the issue and polices the issue of missing people here in New York.”
To support the push for the NYS Task Force on Missing and Murdered BIPOC Women and Girls of Color, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to Change.org to sign the petition in support of the task force.
Photo credit: Girl Vow