Media

Why turn this into a race issue?

The Voice newspaper, among others, is publicising a campaign to find a missing teenager, Serena Beakhurst. The Voice suggests that the racism inherent in the system means that there has been little mainstream media exposure for this case. Latching onto this, and escalating the racial theme, the Socialist Unity blog has run a story with the headline:

MISSING BLACK GIRL, INVISIBLE TO THE MAINSTREAM PRESS

But why turn this into a race issue?

For a start, the mainstream media has publicised the campaign. Today it featured in The Sun, The Daily Mail and the Evening Standard. Yesterday it featured on the BBC News and in the London’s most widely circulated newspaper, The Metro. Celebrity Twitterers like Stephen Fry helped get the news out to millions. Last week, it featured in the local paper, The Guardian.

So it seems far from being invisible, the mainstream media stepped up when the case was presented to them.

Still, The Voice, who say the (white) Jo Yeates got more media attention, really does want to make this a race issue. The police deny that it is. A little elementary research – and Occam’s razor – provides a less conspiratorial explanation.

Reviewing research by The Children’s Society, one discovers the following:

It is estimated that 100,000 young people run away each year in the UK. In other words, one in nine children in the UK have run away from home at some point. Proportionately, more girls run away than boys. In half the cases, the runaway returns after a night, but in the other half it is for longer period. In 10% of cases, it is for a month or more. A third of these cases are reported to the police as missing persons when the child has been missing a single night.

Let’s think logically. It is far less common for an adult with no known mental illness or depression and who has made their movements known to simply disappear. The urgency is greater when there is evidence suggesting a crime, as in the case of Jo Yeates. Ms Yeates disappeared from her flat leaving behind her coat, wallet and phone. There was also no evidence of the shopping she’d been seen on CCTV purchasing just minutes before her disappearance. Of course foul play was suspected and the resulting publicity reflected this. It was amplified when her body was found a few days later.

Cynically using this tragedy, The Voice has done what the tabloid gutter press does best, and stirred up controversy and grievance where none need exist.

If Serena Beakhurst is a victim of profiling, it is certainly not racial profiling. She unfortunately falls into the ‘teenage’ demographic where, if police were to immediately publicise every case, there would be over 250 a day.

Instead of doing some serious journalism and analysing the police responses in the annual 100,000 cases to see if there is any real evidence to support a racial bias accusation, they chose to contrast it to one single high-profile case.

What’s more, The Guardian reports that there have been several sightings of Serena Beakhurst over the holiday period, so it is very likely that this fact will have influenced the difference in approach to the Yeates and Beakhurst cases.

So, what do The Voice and Socialist Unity hope to achieve? Will creating community friction help to find the missing girl or is she really just being used by cynical people who sell papers by keeping everyone angry and nursing grievances?

Anyone with information is being asked to contact the Lambeth Missing Persons Unit on 020 8649 3423 or 0300 123 1212 quoting ref: 10MIS049123.

UPDATE

Serena Beakhurst has been found:

A missing teenager whose plight was highlighted by a clutch of celebrities on Twitter has been found by police.

Serena Beakhurst, 14, was located in the Wandsworth area of south London, the Metropolitan Police said. She was said to be well.

The girl vanished three weeks ago, and the likes of Stephen Fry, footballer Rio Ferdinand and Sarah Brown – wife of ex-prime minister Gordon Brown – all posted links to appeals for information about her.

A spokesman for the Met Police said: “Serena was found in the early hours of Wednesday in Wandsworth. Officers will be speaking to her in due course.”

It is not clear, at the moment, whether she had simply run away from home.

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