Op-Ed: Missing Souls of Black Folks

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Imagine for a second, me, a 6-foot 250lb Black man, had temporarily lost custody of two of my three children a decade ago after being accused of domestic violence and neglect by their other parent. Imagine I had an extensive arrest record that included drug-related charges, burglary, and receiving stolen property.

Imagine if I had such a concerning history attached to me and picked up an underage white male without parental consent, then took him beyond city limits only for authorities to later find him deceased in a cane field with no reasonable explanation.

Would I be allowed to roam freely or would I be locked under the jail?

Stop imagining this scenario because that's precisely what occurred in Iberia Parish, Louisiana. However, it is not I, the 6-foot 250lb Black man picking up a white juvenile. Instead, it's Janet Irvin, a 37-year-old white mother, and Gavin Irvin, her 17-year-old son who picked up Quawan Charles, a 15-year old Black boy. These two were the last people confirmed to have been with him before Quawan's mother reported him missing on Oct. 30, and authorities found his soulless body on Nov. 3.

Even with Irvin's extensive criminal history and documented child neglect, she remains free with only a stern warning not to leave the area. This scenario only grants me one thought: Would I, a 6-foot 250lb Black man, be afforded the same luxury and level of presumed innocence as Irvin?

Quawan's story sounds like that of so many other missing souls of Black folks that don't always garner media attention or appropriate law enforcement response. Quawan's mother must now question why her son's disappearance didn't warrant an Amber Alert and why it took authorities three days to look for him.

Like the rest of Louisiana and our nation, Iberia Parish mishandled Quawan's case because, unlike white children, missing Black children never warrant the same sense of urgency.

FBI data shows more than 600,000 people reported missing in 2018 in the U.S., and 40% of those people were people of color. About 14% of U.S. children are Black, but Black kids account for more than a third of missing child cases. In 2015, the William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice cited that Black children accounted for about 35% of missing children cases in the FBI's database, while they amounted to only 7% of media references.

Just a short drive away on Nov. 1 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 19-year-old Coby Beauchamp was witnessed being shot at in one of the city's most desired neighborhoods by his childhood friend.

Despite several potential eyewitnesses that saw Coby laboring away from the scene, responding officers declined to perform an extensive search of the surrounding area and instead left with the victim's abandoned shoe and a suspect booked on unrelated charges. Beauchamp was subsequently found dead in the backyard of a nearby neighbor's home wedged between a fence and a small shed nearly two weeks later on Nov. 13.

Even after the shooter's father openly identified his son as the perpetrator and Coby as the intended target in a neighborhood Facebook group, the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office maintained that there was no injured party in relation to the shooting and Coby was not being sought in connection.

Coby's mother was alerted to the circumstances of his disappearance by Facebook group members. When contacting law enforcement and searching for answers about her son's location, the sheriff's office dismissed her son as a common criminal evading outstanding warrants and even insisted that the family enabled him to do so. The reality is, as told by countless eyewitnesses, deputies never looked for Coby.

Why do our missing Black souls have to be liars, runaways and escaping prosecution? Why can't they just be missing?

I can't help but think, what if law enforcement had only listened to the concerned mothers of Black boys? Would I still be writing this piece?

Furthermore, do Amber Alerts work for Black souls? Do the nuances and specificities of our disappearances require a Quawan Alert? Something specific to our Black souls with higher age thresholds?

Can our Black souls get the attention Amber got?

About the Author

Eugene Collins is the Current Branch President for The Baton Rouge Branch of the NAACP. He co-hosts The NAACP Presidents Radio Program in Baton Rouge. Eugene is also a dedicated Healthcare Professional with over 17 years of experience in implementing Public Health Interventions. He is a published author, founding board member of Stand Black, and a proud member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated.