Color naming

In Chicago, We Walk for Her March shines a light on missing women of color

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CHICAGO — In the 100-degree heat Tuesday night, Myrna Walker walked for her sister Nancie Walker, whom she last heard of in January 2003 before disappearing.

Pausing in the shade under the trees that line Martin Luther King Jr. Drive in Chicago’s South Side Bronzeville neighborhood, Myrna Walker recounted how, two months later, sanitation workers found the dismembered body of his sister in three garbage bags along a highway. More than 20 years later, the case is still unsolved and continues to hurt his family.

“I want some justice. Our mother is 93 years old. She wants to know something before she dies,” she said.

This is the fifth year in a row that Walker and about 70 other women from Chicago’s South Side have participated in the We Walk for Her march in memory of those they consider forgotten: women and girls, most of whom were black. , whose bodies were later recovered but their case was never solved or disappeared and were not found.

For years, activists in Chicago have urged city leaders and police to take these disappearances more seriously. The common refrain at this year’s march was that police and news media attention is scarce when black women and girls go missing, as opposed to white women and girls. Regarding the police response to her sister’s case, Walker said, “It’s been null and void almost since the time we went to the police station” in 2003 to report the disappearance.

Even when the police have evidence, families say, some cases still flounder. Latonya Moore last saw her daughter Shantieya Smith on May 26, 2018. The following month, Smith’s body was found decomposing in a parking lot. DNA samples that police said they sent to the Illinois Crime Lab never arrived, according to the agency. Moore said police told him the officer originally handling the case had been reassigned to another district.

“There was no follow-up with DNA,” she said. Out of frustration, she stopped calling. She left Chicago for a new home in Kankakee, Illinois, where she is raising Shantieya’s daughter. “My grandchild really doesn’t talk about her anymore,” she said.

Chicago is only part of a larger national problem. More than 260,000 women went missing in 2020, the latest year tracked by the National Crime Information Center. Thirty-five percent of the total, or just over 90,000, were black women, a striking finding given that black women make up about 13% of the US population.

Statistics show that black women are at high risk for multiple factors that can lead to disappearances. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that 45% of black women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. According to a Congressional Black Caucus Foundation report released in 2020, black women and girls are also more likely to be victims of sex trafficking, and nearly 60% of all arrests for child prostitution are of black children.

Despite the obvious vulnerabilities revealed in the data, cases involving missing women and girls often stall, if they take off in the first place. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said there were not enough resources allocated to cold cases and errors were common due to competing reporting systems between law enforcement agencies and the courts.

“People become numb to that,” he said. “The issue is not getting the attention it deserves. Which is a problem when you look at the really mean people out there. To look at [Chicago serial killer] John Wayne Gacy. The world of missing persons has not changed since. Absolutely not.”

Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy killed 33 teenagers and young men. He was sentenced to death and died by lethal injection in 1994.

Last fall, Dart created a special unit of five investigators and a sergeant dedicated to solving 150 cold cases of missing women and girls in Chicago over the past three years. The move was in part a response to efforts by Dart to use DNA evidence to identify eight sets of remains from the Gacy cases that his office exhumed in 2011. Three victims have been identified so far. In addition, his office solved four death cases unrelated to Gacy and found five missing persons alive. Two missing persons had died without the knowledge of their families, his office found.

Dart said the results “opened my eyes” to how easily people disappear in the modern age despite GPS, video and other technologies. Reports sometimes contain inaccuracies, he said, and for most resource-strapped jurisdictions, cases are not prioritized.

Working on the Gacy cases gave him “the deep impression that everyone missing persons is a disaster,” he said, adding, “There is very little difference today compared to there. 35 years old”.

Since late last year, Dart’s unit has narrowed the list of 150 missing women and girls to 138; of the 12 resolved cases, two people were found dead and the others alive. Either the missing persons had had no contact with their families by choice, or their status was misreported. Dart’s office reunited a woman with her family after the woman, who had been placed in a nursing facility for mental health and addiction treatment, was moved to a new center. His family was never notified.

Fifty-three percent of the unit’s remaining cases involve black women, Dart said.

He did not rule out the single killer theory and said he would ‘find it hard to believe’ that there was not a single person responsible for the deaths of at least several people on the list. . He said investigators will look for common features once he can narrow down the names to those that are truly missing. “We are definitely heading in that direction,” he said.

Shannon Bennett, founder of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, a group that helped organize Tuesday’s march, said he was convinced a serial killer was operating in black Chicago neighborhoods. In 2019, the Chicago Police Department assigned a team of detectives to review the cases of at least 75 women who had been strangled or suffocated between 2001 and 2017 after a Chicago Tribune investigation showed that 51 of the cases had not been resolved. Part of the investigation involved a trip to Wabash Valley Correctional Center in southern Indiana to interview Darren Vann, a serial killer sentenced to life in prison in 2018 for killing seven women in the north -western Indiana. Vann declined to meet with detectives but told investigators in Hammond, Ind., years earlier that he had killed “many more” women in Illinois.

Ahead of Tuesday’s We Walk for Her march, activists said the administration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D) shared blame with police for not prioritizing cases of missing women and girls. (A Lightfoot spokesperson said the Mayor’s Gender-Based Violence Initiative has committed $25 million to support services for victims of sex trafficking and others targeted because of their gender.)

Teresa Smith said the priority for women like her is to raise awareness. His mother, Daisy Hayes, disappeared in May 2008. In April, a Cook County judge entered a not guilty verdict in the trial of Jimmy Jackson, Hayes’ boyfriend.

During the march, the drivers of two oncoming cars slowed down to ask Smith why she was participating. “For missing women!” she said, and they nodded and rolled over.

“We need to get more out of the community,” she said. “People don’t know what’s going on.”