Photo caption: A BOY AND a girl stand in front of a makeshift memorial near where Tanaja Stokes, 8, was fatally shot and her 7-year-old cousin shot in the head while they jumped rope on Aug. 10, 2010, in
their Far South Side neighborhood.
Part Two of Two
I suspect that it is not racial lines that divide us internally but class lines. That the combination of race, class and gender allow many of us to see this as a “them” versus “us” issue, evoking Zora Neale Hurston’s description of Black women as the “mule of the world.”
They are not mules. They are our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, wives, lovers, daughters. Rich or poor. Greek or non-Greek. Suburban or city. And they are at the center of a mostly silent crisis in America. Still, we remain silent—at least until the issue suddenly seems to hit home, encroach upon our territory, come creeping up our own front doorsteps. A friend couched it this way recently, quoting her dearly departed grandmother: “Nobody cares about the leaves falling until one falls in their backyard.”
I suspect that is why we cared so much about Carlee Russell, allegedly kidnapped after going to the assistance of a young child she spotted on an Alabama highway, when her story broke this summer. Her case pressed all the right buttons: middle-class; a sorority girl versus an “around the way girl”; a nursing student from suburban Hoover, Alabama, where the listed average household income is $122,886, plus the “sensational” circumstances surrounding her disappearance (Thursday July 13). Carlee’s story rang in Black communities across the nation and at the same time drew national attention to the lack of coverage that cases of missing and murdered Black women receive in the news media.
Carlee’s story turned out to be a lie as she returned home 49 hours after her disappearance, later apparently confessing to police that she faked her kidnapping and that her entire story had been fabricated. The temporary media spotlight turned on the cases of missing and murdered Black women quickly faded. And yet, the truth about countless Black women and girls remains.
Truth is: From 2019 through 2021 alone, 5,240 Black women and girls were killed. Their 2,078 homicides recorded in 2021 represented a nearly 54 percent increase since 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Homicides of Black females outpaced the number of homicides overall nationwide, which rose comparatively by 36 percent. Black women experience nearly three times the homicide rate of white women. Firearms were used in 53.9 percent of female homicides, although at a higher rate in the homicides of Black women, at 57.7 percent.
The truth is that even as homicides among all persons in the U.S. rose 30 percent in 2020, the rate for Black females exceeded that number, spiking 33 percent, despite accounting for roughly only 7.3 percent of the U.S. population.
The truth? “That missing Black females and males in 2022, according to the National Crime Information Center, accounted for 35 percent of a total 546,568 missing persons cases despite Blacks comprising only 13.6 percent of the U.S. population. Of that 35 percent, 97,924, or more than 50 percent, were Black females; 95,194 were Black males; and there were 33 missing Black persons for whom gender was unknown,” journalist Samantha Latson recently reported.
All of these numbers and more are detailed in a powerful investigative three-part series by Latson, herself an African-American woman. Titled, “Sounding the Alarm: The Case of Missing and Murdered Black and Brown Women,” it ran recently. Not in the New York Times or the Washington Post, or even in either of her hometown big-city daily newspapers—though in my estimation it is good enough—but in the Chicago Crusader, a historic more than 80-year-old Black newspaper. And yet, I must ask why this story isn’t on the front pages or home page1 of websites of every Black press organization in America.
That glaring absence does not diminish the value of Latson’s work nor the Crusader’s commitment. Does not reduce her top-notch reporting, powerful writing, or her sensitive and dedicated approach to the subject at hand. Her story is one that is rarely recognized or pursued by the mainstream press. One that historically has been ignored. It is a story—I have become convinced as a journalist with nearly 40 years of experience—that the American mainstream news media have no appetite for, or interest in, despite it being one of the most significant and consequential human issues of our time.
Indeed Latson’s series is an expansion of her work as an undergraduate student at Roosevelt University, where as one of my students then she was a reporter and editor for the Unforgotten 51 project on the 51 murdered Chicago women. “Sounding The Alarm,” which she produced independently as her graduate capstone project at Indiana University where she recently earned her master’s degree, elevates her previous work by examining this issue nationally empirically and also anecdotally. Her effort seeks to humanize the loss inherent in the numbers in a way that summons readers to empathy while also educating them and showing us all why we should care.
I can’t think of a better vehicle to publish an urgent and critical series like this one, written by a Black female journalist, than the Black press. One that in the spirit, audacity, and journalistic craft and passion of Ida B. Wells sounds the alarm.
I only wonder why we aren’t all sounding the alarm. Why it seems that Black lives don’t matter to Black people. And yet, it is not too late.
‘Until Black lives matter to us all’
Sound the alarm. Let it begin with the church. Let the church call for the mourning women. And until Black lives matter—to us and to others, regardless of color or class—let us pray. Pray that this city and our nation will regain its lost soul. Pray that Black and brown neighborhoods will be made whole.
Pray that we will cease to be so cold-blooded. Our bloodstained cities now flooded with steel rain. With mothers’ pain. With rivers of murder and endless names, lives and souls claimed.
Pray. For divine intervention amid impotent good intentions by the powers that be. Amid the church’s laxity. Amid the abandonment of morality by too many in our community.
Pray against the disintegration of family. Against the infestation of depravity that has eaten at the fabric of our cities like cancer. Pray. For vengeance, retaliation or federal troops are not the answer.
Pray for the solution, for resolve, for unwavering will. Pray that peace will be still and confiscate this chaos. Pray that light will swallow up this darkness that fills the hearts and minds of too many young Black men with the insatiable lust to kill and kill again. Pray that those responsible for slaying and snatching our women and girls from this world would be unveiled and brought to justice. Pray.
For righteousness exalts a nation, not sin, hate or murder.
Pray that God will transform the hearts of men. However grand the plan to mend our ailing soulless cities, let it begin with prayer.
With the faithful fervent prayers uttered by our ancestors whose spirits still yearn for peace, freedom and the posterity of Black people. Prayers that lifted us up from chattel slavery to build grand institutions, even churches with grand steeples.
Prayers that preserved us from cruel slave masters’ hands. Prayers that led us as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death across America’s lynching land. Across the desert sands of Jim Crow’s hate-filled plan. The prayers that helped Martin, Malcolm, Medgar and John Lewis stand.
Pray. like we used to—before complacency set in. Before we began to mimic the oppressor’s plan. Before the glint of materialism stole our spiritual affections like a grand ploy that left us wandering across this Promised Land.
May we pray. And may we sound the alarm. Until Black lives matter to us all.
Email: [email protected]
Truth is, I don’t expect white America necessarily to care. But what about Black America?
Email: [email protected]
John W. Fountain
John W. Fountain is a professor of journalism at Roosevelt University and a 2021-22 U.S. Fulbright Scholar to Ghana, where he is a visiting lecturer at the University of Ghana-Legon and researching his project titled, “Hear Africa Calling: Portraits of Black Americans Drawn to The Motherland.”