In text beside a series of photographs, each one depicting a girl of color staring back at the camera, the image that went viral on social media last week claims to lay bare an appalling truth: “14 Girls Have Gone Missing in DC in the Last 24 Hours.” Police say the claim is not true, reports NPR. Washington’s police department said that at no point in recent weeks have 14 girls disappeared from the city in a single day. Rather, D.C. “has logged a total of 501 cases of missing juveniles, many of them black or Latino,” NBC reports. As of this week, police say all but 22 of those cases have been solved.
Although the specific claim may be spurious, it has drawn national attention to an issue that has lately prompted actions in the political realm. Activists argue the inaccuracy of the post itself should not detract from the wider issues it has highlighted: the dangers confronting runaway youth, and the racial dimensions of how law enforcement treats missing kids. Congressional Black Caucus chairman Cedric Richmond (D-LA) and D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey to “devote the resources necessary to determine whether these developments are an anomaly or whether they are indicative of an underlying trend that must be addressed.” D.C. police say that so far in 2017, 175 juvenile missing person cases have been opened per month, slightly less than the monthly average over the past five years. Authorities contend that the public perception of an increase is actually a product of their more dedicated push to publicize these cases. The police department recently began “tweeting the name and photo of every missing person in the city whose case is deemed ‘critical.'”