There was a lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow. I could hear my mom on the phone in the room next to me, voice shaking as she explained to the person on the other end of the line that she hadn’t seen my brother in three days. I knew he hadn’t been around, but I figured my 19-year-old brother was just being young and free–staying out with friends and just enjoying life.
But three days later, when he didn’t call my mom went from concerned to terrified. She feared the worse, but hoped for the best. It took her almost a week to tell my sister and I. Finally, she called us into the living room, asked us to have a seat. My sister was 16, and I was 14–we thought it was another attempt at the birds and the bees convo with us (she barely made her way through it the first time three years prior), but that was not the conversation she wanted to have.
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We could tell the tone of this talk was serious. With her head hung low, she explained that Damien hadn’t been seen nor heard from in a week and a half and she’d taken the steps to declare him missing. I remember sitting, stunned, no tears, no sound, but the emptiness I felt from the words my mother spoke weighed heavily upon me.
I was in denial. He wasn’t missing. He was going to come home, we just needed to give him more time to show up. I didn’t understand how an adult could go missing. I remember the cops coming to the house several times that month to gather a few of his personal items like a hair brush, deodorant and toothbrush, and they sifted through his things for clues of his whereabouts. I felt confident that they were adamant about locating him, until the days turned into months, and then years without any progress or word from the detectives.
My mother’s frustration leaked through her eyes. She cried everyday, creating a cloud over our entire family. She made fliers and put them around the community, begging everyone for any information they may have had. Visits from the police became less frequent, but my mom continued to call and ask them if anything there was anything new with case. They never had any answers for her. I remember her screaming at the detectives: “Just because he’s out of sight, doesn’t mean he should be out of mind! Find him!”
She pleaded with them to help her get him on a news broadcast–they told her there was nothing they could do. The local news wouldn’t greenlight putting Damien on screen, it was out of the detectives’ control. She then went directly to the news channel and begged them to publicize him being a missing person to no avail. It felt like no one cared at all. It wasn’t like there weren’t missing persons showing up in the local news broadcast, they just didn’t look like my brother. They were cute little white girls–the news anchor pleaded for our assistance in finding them.
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Monica Casion of the Wilmington, N.C.-based CUE Center for Missing Persons told the Huffington Post, “[The] Media has always leaned toward the cute little kids and unfortunately, a lot of times they think cute little kids are white.” This is a fact that’s heartbreakingly true. Not only did I experience this in my brother’s case, but it’s also apparent in the case of Amir Jennings .
Amir is an 18-month old black boy that’s been missing for a year. His absence has barely made a blip on the mainstream radar and by any standards, he’s undeniably an extremely adorable little boy. And so, it seems the cute factor doesn’t help children of color who are missing get media attention either. I once thought that because my brother was an adult when he disappeared that he was not as urgent as a child, but now I realize that his age didn’t matter. It was the color of his skin that kept his case silent.
Production executive at TV One, Craig Henry says, “We are also accustomed to seeing stories and news reports of black people involved in criminal activity, and not very often the victims of crimes.” Our views are skewed. Not every person of color that appears on a news broadcast is a criminal.” When people of color are victims of crimes, it is ignored. Perhaps there is no outrage because people feel as though we’re the ones causing crimes, as opposed to being victims of them. Maybe that was the case with my brother–the local news saw his face, heard our sob story, but didn’t think he deserved the publicity because they didn’t classify him as a victim.
Thank God for sites like Black & Missing, which brings awareness about people of color going missing. Many of these cases may never see the lights, cameras and action of major television coverage, but at least the effort has been put forth to make a bit more noise when our people disappear. Natalie Wilson, the site’s co-founder says that there’s still challenges when she attempts to push stories to the media about black and missing children. The stories aren’t accepted while stories like Lindsey Lohan’s latest exploits receive the top spot in national news broadcasts.
It’s been 14 years since I have seen my brother. Over the years I have watched with bitterness as various adult missing persons cases get mainstream attention–like the stories of Chandra Levy and Natalee Holloway. Chandra was 24 when she went missing and Natalee was 21–they were both older than my brother. They too were ‘adults,’ and while the media focused almost obsessively about their stories–my brother continued to go unmentioned.
Out of sight, out of mind often repeats in my head when I see a missing persons case for a child of color. Their faces never get the chance to warn us of their danger on our television screens–and because their story isn’t being told, people just simply forget about them. We’ve got to pour more of our energies into a site like Black & Missing in order to give families of missing black children hope that their children can be found too.
We never found my brother. There’s been rumors about where his remains are, but nothing has been proven. To this day, we haven’t had any type of funeral or memorial for him. I think it’s because no one in my family wants to classify him as dead. I would love to believe that he’s still alive, but it’s been 14 years.
Damien deserved more attention that he received as a missing person–unfortunately, he will always be another one of the many Black and missing. I still dream of him and sometimes, I swear I can still hear his hearty and goofy laugh. He was not a criminal, he was not an adult–he is not just another a cold case. He was just a 19 year-old boy–he was my brother.