A pair of Black girls missing for days from Milwaukee was found by a search party of residents who banded together after police decided against issuing child abduction emergency alerts for them, according to reports across social media reports and from local media. It all unfolded against the backdrop of an alleged child sex trafficking ring the girls’ relatives suspected they could have been taken to be a part of.
The girls first went missing on Sunday, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a police spokesperson said the 13- and 15-year-old girls’ cases “had not been considered critical missing and did not meet the criteria for an Amber Alert.”
However, local media was presenting the story as one of the police being the victims of violence from civil unrest (allegedly caused by a lackadaisical police response to the missing teenage girls). Fox 6 reported that seven police officers and one firefighter were hurt in addition to at least three people being shot, not by police, following a series of fires that were set.
But on Facebook, where local activists and residents were documenting the events with live-streamed videos and photos, a different story was being told. A local photographer identified as Amanda Schlicher Press offered her own account of the case, which culminated in the reported safe rescue of the girls on Tuesday night. She painted a picture of racist policing that worked to serve a particular self-serving agenda.
Press said one of the missing girls’ mothers tracked her daughter’s phone to a house and alerted police about it, but the authorities never responded. That prompted a search party of civilians to get to work.
“A group of neighbors showed up at the house to knock on the door and look for the girls and when they did, shots were fired at them from inside,” Press wrote. “THEN the police showed up, arrested the people who were shooting from within the house, but claimed to not see any evidence of the girls there, and left the scene.” She later added that the “House is connected with a known sex predator and it was suspected that the girls had been lured or grabbed for sex trafficking.”
Community activist Vaun L. Mayes recorded several videos from Tuesday and streamed it live on Facebook in conjunction with the Missing Person MKE account, a social media network it said was created in February “because there is a clear bias and selective culture/practice when it comes to issuing timely amber alerts and missing person reports in Milwaukee for POC.”
After the house was set on fire, “A search party of neighbors, NOT the police, found the two missing girls, and two other missing children, around 4:00pm. They were following neighbors’ tips from house to house that appear to be a straight up sex trafficking ring. They were doing this while dozens of police officers were ON SCENE doing nothing but harassing and intimidating residents. Police on the scene started using tear gas and rubber bullets on angry neighbors who were doing their jobs for them,” Press wrote.
Milwaukee police, which only announced one girl had been found, said it “cannot confirm” allegations of a sex trafficking ring and an investigation has been started. The police chief condemned the residents taking it upon themselves to serve justice in the community.
Milwaukee Police Chief Alfonso Morales called it “vigilantism” and “an unruly crowd” despite them reportedly finding the girls.
“What you had today is vigilantism. You had people take the law into their own hands and run off of information that has not been proven. We need to investigate that. That’s what the police is here for,” Morales said.
To be sure, the Department of Justice has issued guidelines for issuing AMBER Alerts, including five pieces of recommended criteria that the missing girls’ case seemed to fit perfectly.
According to a CNN report last year, “data shows that missing white children receive far more media coverage than missing black and brown children, despite higher rates of missing children among communities of color.”