Saturday, January 3, 2009

A Black Child Goes Missing in New Orleans, Taken by Gunmen: Where's CNN?

In New Orleans, La., today, residents heard some disturbing news: a black child, Ja Shawn Powell, 2, is missing, abducted by three black men around 29 years old in black clothing, driving a dark vehicle, and toting AK 47s. The two-year-old was kidnapped as he walked the streets of New Orleans with his father around 11 late last night. At least, that's the story the boy's father told the police.
The two-year-old African-American male child, Ja Shawn Powell, has black hair, brown eyes, and was last seen wearing a gray T-shirt, blue jeans and black shoes. Ja Shawn is approximately 2.5 feet in height and weighs approximately 48 pounds. ...

Anyone with information on this case or the location of the child is asked to contact the New Orleans Police Department via the non-emergency number (504) 821-2222. All media inquiries regarding this case are also directed to the same phone number. (WWL TV source)
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but despite how I cringe when I hear news of African-Americans committing crime, I hope this story of three black kidnappers is true. I hope that three black men in their late 20s, dressed like ninjas, toting AK 47s, and driving a dark Chevy Tahoe without license plates kidnapped little Ja Shawn Powell because under those circumstances, it's possible the child is still alive.

If these mystery men didn't abduct Ja Shawn, then I hope it's a story in Ja Shawn's father's mind that he believes completely because then we'd have hope that the father is delusional or schizophrenic and forgot Ja Shawn at a relative's house. We'll be able to exhale later tonight when we learn that Ja Shawn has a kind, old Aunt NeeNee or some other wise black matriarch, and she had him all along. We'll watch the news and smile at what a great appetite Ja Shawn had when he ate his aunt's red beans and rice last night and how he slept in a clean bed she made up just for him. Then we'll see his mother tell how Aunt NeeNee called her and told her she had Ja Shawn and that no one in the family knew the father, who's off his medication perhaps, had wandered into an NOPD station to report his hallucination. Now, the dad will get the mental health care he needs, and Ja Shawn will be safe with people who dote on him. Wouldn't that be beautiful?

The probable truth is that the father or someone the father hopes to protect has already harmed this child and disposed of the body because there's no booming market for black children, and if pedophiles decided to dress up as ninjas with assault weapons, they'd do it on their off nights because even if you have a rifle, snatching children from parents who can describe you later to police is reckless. It's easier to nab a black child playing on the street or in an alley.

African-American children, even two year olds, are not a hot commodity. They're even less likely to be adopted. Yet, this father wants us to believe three black men desired his son enough to take him at gunpoint. If that's true, then there's a lot more to Ja Shawn's abduction. It was not random, and someone should buy movie rights.

Whatever Happens There's a Story Here

Here's a good question for America. If the mystery of Ja Shawn is not solved by midnight, will we see the kind of media attention given to missing white children and white females? Will Ja Shawn's story get the kind of coverage Caylee Anthony's disappearance received?

In that case, Caylee's mother, Casey, was the suspect, and months after the police worked to dissect her mother's lies, Caylee's body was found. In the meantime, the little girl's face was everywhere and Nancy Grace of CNN screamed about little Caylee nearly nightly, and the other news outlets are still covering Caylee.

Will we see a search for this little black boy like the search we saw for Susan Smith's children in 1994? She claimed a black man had abducted her two sons, a story I thought highly unlikely the moment I heard it. Fortunately so did the sheriff of the South Carolina town in which Smith lived, but he played along and launched a nationwide search.

I know I sound callous, to assume Ja Shawn's father is lying or delusional, and certainly I think of all the pain JonBenet Ramsey's parents endured as it was assumed they murdered their little girl in 1996, but they were innocent. Her body was discovered in her parents' home two years after the Susan Smith circus, and so there was no need for search, but lots of room for public obsession with seeing the case solved. The parents of JonBenet told a story that seemed only slightly less improbable than Ja Shawn's father's tale, and the Denver police botched the investigation focusing too much on the parents, since parents are the first suspects when children turn up dead.

Ja Shawn's father's tale, however, is so macho that it sounds like a male fantasy. Of course he had to give up the child under such dramatic, threatening circumstances. How could he possibly fight not one but three men with assault weapons? It sounds like a man's story with excuses embedded for why he couldn't protect his flesh and blood. And like Susan Smith, he's created the bogey man of the era, upping the ante, black men with guns.

Sadly, he is himself a black man, and for that reason alone his story has a slim chance of being true. If the mystery men are real, they may know the father. What other reason would these men, dressed as assassins, have for taking Ja Shawn? And if they were that scary and exist, isn't the father afraid they'll hunt him down now that he's gone to the police?

Nevertheless, as improbable as his tale may be, will this father be given benefit of the doubt as was Susan Smith, at least on the surface, and Casey Anthony? Will Nancy Grace devote hours of her precious media time to demand that the gunmen be caught or do as she did with Caylee's case, railing nightly against the mother to tell us where that child is? Will she demand the gunmen come forward? Will she spend air time preaching at the father to "be a man" and tell us what really happened? Will MSNBC, ABC, Fox, and other news outlets join the search news?

Just so people won't think I'm an angry black woman making a stink during a time of suffering for a father on an issue that only I've noticed, I point to this commentary from the Crocker Chronicle, a blog by a white male, Scott Crocker, speaking of Caylee's case:
While I have no problem with her extended family getting the word out about her disappearance, I am growing tired of the media's fascination with missing person stories. I certainly wouldn't want to hinder a family from doing whatever it takes to find a missing loved one, but it appears that the media only wants to help with these searches when the missing loved one is a white female (and it doesn't hurt if she's pretty or cute and her family has some money). Sadly, my perception is based in reality.

In a study done a few years ago by Scripps Howard News Service, it was discovered that although whites make up just over half of all missing persons cases, they accounted for 76% of CNN's coverage. Black children, on the other hand, made up only 13% of CNN's coverage of missing individuals although the FBI found that 1/3 of missing children are African American. Hispanic children made up only 9% of CNN's focus, yet were 21% of missing children in a Justice Department study. In addition the reporting on missing boys and men compared to females is woeful.

So why do the sad tales of Laci Peterson and Natalee Holloway and Elizabeth Smart and Madeleine McCann and Caylee Anthony garner so much attention and hardly any of us have heard of someone like Tamika Huston, a young African American woman who was missing for more than a year before her body was found? Her disappearance generated little national media attention and is just one example of a media bias that has even led to the coining of a new phrase, "Missing White Woman Syndrome." (Crocker Chronicle)
Anderson Cooper responded to critics with questions about the media and missing white woman syndrome. He thinks the critics are "a little right and a little wrong."

Caylee Anthony was not a white woman, but a white girl. Susan Smith's children were boys. Still, from what I can see, white children and white women get more coverage than minorities. Cooper asks:
Is that racism or realism? We can't cover every murder, but ignoring them all or reporting just statistics seems irresponsible. So how should we decide whose life or loss is covered? (360 Blog)
I don't have an answer for that since I'm not part of the MSM, but his readers had much to say on the subject.

Back to Ja Shawn's story: The obvious question is this: If the father's lying, then why should the media waste its time following the story?

The consideration: Casey Anthony's story was fishy from the start as was Susan Smith's, but the media followed the story. And while the public and the police were wrong in assuming the Ramseys killed JonBenet, the fact is the media followed the story anyway. When was the last time a black child went missing and the media went into a tail spin trying to solve the mystery?

"Oooh, I know," you say. "Jennifer Hudson's nephew, little Julian King." True, that was a black child who briefly went missing and the media and public went insane, wanting to know the truth. But if Julian King had not been related to a celebrity, actress, singer, and Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson, would that black child's abduction and death received as much attention?

It seems the Hudson case is most likely the result of domestic violence. It's probable this New Orleans case's end will be similar.

Perhaps my mind is running down this track because I recently wrote about the white gunmen of Katrina who shot black men but were never investigated. I asked, "Is black life worth more than a wine cooler?" (Really, more people read my post on women and their ball-jointed dolls than read the white vigilantes story.) So, inequalities in black and white are on my brain right now.

If the father harmed Ja Shawn and is lying, then I want him busted and behind bars. If he's protecting someone else, then I want that person busted and behind bars. If the father's telling the truth and three black men with AK 47s took his child, then I want them busted and behind bars.

And if America is indulging in thinking white lives are more valuable than black lives, then I want to see America overcome that injustice and get to a point where crimes against black children get the same attention as crimes against white children. Eventually, I want America to have few crimes like this to report about anyone's child.

Most of all today, I want Ja Shawn Powell to turn up safe and well-cared for, an unlikely ending to this horror story.

Update: Mother doubts father's story. Sounds like a child support/domestic case. WWL TV interviewed the mother and has video:
“We went through child support court on December 4,” said Daniella Powell, mother of Ja Shawn. “First his dad was ordered to pay $446 in regular child support, and he was ordered to pay me $4,000 in back child support.” (WWL)
The mother told WWL TV that the father's name is Danny Platt, but the TV station reports that the police have not released the father's name. Ja Shawn's mother also says she let the child go with the father because the court said he was entitled to visitation.


Blue State Cowgirl said...

You are spot on in your assumptions. But I don't think it's so much that the media thinks white lives are more important. It's that for the media "FEAR SELLS" and selling means more advertising dollars.

Sadly, when a Black or Hispanic child goes missing, many assume "Oh, business as usual. Drug dealers, living in crime ridden areas. So what, happens every day."

What really sells is not just a white girl or kid going missing but one from a nice safe middle class family (Casey Anthony, who seemed on the verge of White Trash, I thought, was a bit of an anomoly.) Because you can sell, sell, sell a scary story of "Hey, you might live in a nice lily-white burb, but THIS CAN HAPPEN TO YOU. Evil people are everywhere, ready to snatch your children and molest them."

And what never gets properly covered, even in cases of white children, is that when a child is abducted, molested or killed, OVERWHELMINGLY the perpetrator is a relative or friend: Dad, weird Uncle Harry, Father Ted or the scout leader. But that doesn't play as well as the Big Bad Boogie Man.

Part of the culture of fear that sells newspaper and airtime.

peas said...

Together we can make a change

Did you hear they found a child's body?

Vérité Parlant said...

They've found a child's body that may be Ja Shawn's.

I think you're correct, Blue State. It's not the media thinking white lives are more valuable. The media tend to go for ratings so whatever sells best goes up top.

However, I do think the media know that riding news of a white child's abduction will get more ratings for the reasons you stated. We assume that white kids are safer, live in safer surroundings than minority children. However, even this assumption tells us we live with an evil paradigm. Society assumes black children are more expendable and maintains a laissez faire attitude about the potential outcome of black life, an almost, "it was bound to happen eventually" mentality. And with that goes the assumption that "they deserve it," they bring it on themselves, unlike us who live in middle-class, white communities. I saw this very comment type as one of the first on the Ja Shawn story at WWL. The guy said that's what black people get for living violent lives, a seeming total ignorance that more than likely it was a case of domestic violence and whites are not immune.

And it's exactly as you say. Fear sells. White families hear of a black child murdered and don't think "That could be my child" and so it's nothing they have to worry about or a problem they need to address unless driving through "the hood." I'm not beating up white people here because this type of thinking is natural. It's similar to how black people feel when they heard a serial killer was out hacking up little blondes, "Whew! Well, that's not me." Or learn some guy gone crazy with a gun at a school in the Midwest, "Hmm. Well, that's not us."

Nevertheless, if we had awakened this morning and the news had been about a white father claiming three black men with AK 47s took his blond-haired little boy, the MSM would have picked it up immediately. Again, fear of the boogey man, who tends to be black. (I still think most people would've thought the story pretty fishy though.)

But after it turned out the father probably did it, we'd still have the experts on discussing the crime later tonight, the likelihood that the father killed the child and why. We'd see debates about what's wrong with the family courts that the mother was ordered to let the father have visitation if he seemed unstable, etc. And more posts about recognizing the signs of a crazy ex, when an estranged lover may harm a child, etc. Somebody would want legislation or some kind of law such as "Ja Shawn's Law" giving parents more rights to challenge non-custodial parents who demanded seeing children at odd hours so they won't be accused of denying visitation.

But it's a poor black mother and a poor black child so it will go down as par for the course. Nothing to be examined.

I think this falls under institutional and subconscious racism. Very subtle and unlikely to go away ever.

In the case of Caylee, the same kind of coverage applied to Julian King because stardom propels you beyond race in some instances. People say, "Hey, if a star like Jennifer Hudson can have family abducted and murdered, anyone can!" Even black people were angry in that case, blaming the environment, saying Hudson should have moved her family from the neighborhood. But would a move from the hood have saved her family from the hatred of her sister's estranged ex husband? Unlikely.

In all the cases I mentioned, except for JonBenet Ramsey's murder, it was not random violence or the expected result of a crime-ridden neighborhood. It was the probable result of volatile family relations and mental illness gone unchecked, domestic violence, even in this case today, sadly.

People think they can control the boogey man when he lives in the same home or is related by blood. Actually, that's the boogey man most difficult to confront and keep at bay. We all have this boogey man in common somewhere in our family trees, the perpetrator of domestic violence.

I watched the video of the mother talking about the father in this case. He sounds like a sociopath, a creature only interested in his own needs and wants. Ja Shawn meant nothing to him. A life meant nothing to him and he didn't want to take responsibility for fathering a child. If he killed his son, and it sounds as though he did, I hope they put him under the jail.


I thought of Precious Doe. Then I realized that all of the media hype was over a decapitated child. They were not searching for a missing child, but for the murderers of an unknown child. Why was no one looking for her when she disappeared? As I recall, her parents did not report her missing as they were the perpetrators, but what about other people who knew of the little girl? Did anybody give a heads up to the police that something might have been fishy? I don't recall, but I do know that there was no massive coverage until the child was found dead - a long time after her disappearance. I probably shouldn't be writing of something for which the facts are quite hazy in my mind, but you certainly made me think. You are right. And it is pathetic.