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Children of color count like Caylee

In a report by Kathy Chaney, writer for the Chicago Defender, the circumstances of four black girls in Chicago received little, if any media coverage – local or national.
 
 Gary L. Flowers

Recently, a criminal jury acquitted Casey Anthony of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, while convicting her of the lesser charge of lying to police investigators. Anthony has been released from jail amidst an avalanche of animosity by observers of the case. Whether Casey Anthony was guilty of murdering her little girl has been the subject of a national discussion. Over the past year, the case of Casey and little Caylee has dominated news coverage on many television networks, most notably CNN.

Caylee’s case begs broader questions: Why do little white girls garner so much more media coverage after going missing than little black girls? Why does the nation know the names of Jon Benet Ramsey and not, let’s say, Diamond Bradley or Yasmine Acree?

In a report by Kathy Chaney, writer for the Chicago Defender, the circumstances of four black girls in Chicago received little, if any media coverage – local or national.

More disturbing was a Scripps Howard report that examined missing child statistics from 2000 to 2004 reported by Thomas Hargrove and Ansley Haman in The Capitol Hill Blue. According to the authors, “For a missing child to attract widespread publicity and improve the child’s odds of being found, it helps if a child is white, wealthy, and under 12 years old.”  Statistics within the study found:

• White children are only 50 percent of United States missing children, but two-thirds of Associated Press dispatches.

• Missing children under 12 years old are only one-sixth of all cases in America but two-thirds of national news stories.

• White children account for 67 percent of Associated Press reports, and 76 percent of CNN reports, but only 53 percent of the 37,000 cases reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Defenders of the disproportionate reporting statistics cite state laws that differ around how evidence in children’s welfare issues can be released to the public. Such arguments are refuted by the fact that once children are known to be missing white children are disproportionately featured by national media campaigns. If there were more equity in national media reporting missing children of any color perhaps the “Amber Law” may have had a name such as Aisha or Asha.

In the case of Caylee Anthony, CNN’s “Nancy Grace” has nearly focused solely on the case of Casey Anthony since the 2008 murder of the 2 year old. At one point, a one-hour feature was solely devoted to the case.

As a result of the Casey Anthony case in Florida, “Caylee’s Law” has been proposed to: 1) make it a felony for parents/caregivers to not report the death of a child to authorities within an hour, whether or not the death was accidental; and 2) make it a felony for guardians to not notify police of the disappearance of a child within 24 hours.

While “Caylee’s Law” will help law enforcement in Florida – and potentially around the nation – the disproportionate level of care to the disappearances and deaths of children of color as opposed to white children cannot be legislated.

We as a nation must value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ALL people, regardless of pigment.

(Gary L. Flowers is the executive director & CEO of the Black Leadership Forum, Inc.)

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