As Black women go missing in Kansas City, Black community looks to itself for solutions
After the Kansas City Police Department denied community claims of women missing along Prospect Avenue, Black community members are creating their own missing-persons databases other resources to find missing individuals.
The last time JoAnn Stovall had contact with her granddaughter, Samone Jackson, was in early 2021. Almost two years have gone by without contact with the now 25-year-old woman, who spent much of her childhood in Stovall’s home.
Stovall raised Jackson from the time she was 5. About a year after graduating from high school, Jackson moved in with her grandfather. Eventually, she and a boyfriend moved into an apartment with two roommates on Warwick Boulevard in midtown. That was the last her grandfather saw of her.
“He hasn’t seen her for a year,” Stovall said. She said the grandfather has exchanged messages from someone texting from Jackson’s phone. “But he can tell immediately it wasn’t Samone because of the way she texts,” Stovall said.
Jackson’s disappearance is particularly mystifying to her family because her then-boyfriend is still living in the same apartment, but Jackson’s family has no contact with him.
Stovall has gone to the police for help in finding her granddaughter, but has not found their involvement to be helpful.
After establishing a case, the police spoke with the boyfriend. Officers informed Stovall that, according to the boyfriend, he and Jackson broke up and she doesn’t want to be contacted by her family.
Police have no obligation to disclose the whereabouts of an adult or return someone to their family. But with no way to verify that Jackson is well, Stovall continues to worry about the safety of her granddaughter.
“They said she’s OK. And so I don’t think that they filed the missing report. It’s like they closed the books on her because they said she’s OK,” she said.
Stovall’s story is not uncommon in Kansas City, where Black women and girls often go missing, according to community leaders. As a result of a strained relationship with police, community members are establishing their own networks and methods to look for missing people.
Excelsior Springs kidnapping
Back in October, a young Black woman escaped from a home in Excelsior Springs after allegedly being kidnapped by Timothy Haslett Jr., who is accused of sexually assaulting and beating her over several weeks. The woman said Haslett also killed two women who were in captivity with her before she escaped.
Haslett is facing charges of first-degree rape, first-degree kidnapping and second-degree assault.
An investigation is now taking place. The Excelsior Springs Police Department has activated the Clay County Investigative Squad Task Force, composed of members from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office. The prosecutor’s office said it cannot disclose any more details of the open case.
The discovery of the woman in Excelsior Springs followed reports by Bishop Tony Caldwell, a Black community leader, of a serial killer targeting Black women along the Prospect Avenue corridor, which is where the victim was kidnapped. Caldwell’s concerns were amplified by The Kansas City Defender, a Black-owned publication, which aired a video of the bishop in September. Days later, the Kansas City Police Department issued a statement in response and called the claims “completely unfounded.”
“When the post alleging missing women was brought to our attention, we checked and there had been no reports made to our department of missing persons, more specifically black women, missing from Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Missouri,” a KCPD representative said in a recent email to The Beacon.
Many in Kansas City’s Black community were angered by the police dismissal of their claims of an ongoing problem in their community. They also said local media outlets emphasized the voice of police officials over concerned Black residents.
“The talking point that they are using about this situation is that they don’t have any missing persons files in their missing persons database that match up to any of the people who were taken from out there … when that’s just kind of irrelevant to the entire situation,” said Ryan Sorrell, founder of The Kansas City Defender.
“The woman who escaped, we had said that she had been taken from Prospect and she also said she had been taken from Prospect even though she did not have a missing persons report filed in her name,” he said.
Sorrel added: “It’s not about whether or not people have a missing persons report. It’s about our people in the community saying that people are missing and why are the police not looking into them?”
Why are Black women missing in KC?
Since it published the initial article, The Defender has received a number of tips on its website about other missing individuals, highlighting an ongoing problem in Kansas City.
Of the 300,000 missing girls and women reported across the nation in 2020, a third of them were Black, according to PBS NewsHour.
In Kansas City, the proportion is similar. As of the end of November, 172 adults were reported missing this year, with 12 cases still active, according to police. Of the 12 open cases, three are Black females.
But the Excelsior Springs case demonstrated that police reports don’t correspond to the number of missing individuals.
“Right now we’re looking for 11 (persons) up and down Prospect,” said Caldwell, who leads groups that look for missing people in the area.
For many, filing a police report can present another barrier in the pursuit to find loved ones. Many concerned friends or relatives lack vital information or have had negative experiences with officers.
“Once the person still goes in to make the report, it’s still such a difficult process,” Caldwell said. “They will sit there for hours, hours and hours and hours trying to make a report. And most people get discouraged and leave. And that is what we’ve been saying that is going on.”
Caldwell said he is working with the family of a young woman whose body was found about a month ago near Prospect. Community activists suspect she may be one of the women who the rescued victim said was with her in Excelsior Springs.
The Beacon reached out to KCPD for a comment on this report, but did not receive a response.
“The police are just kind of nonchalant about it,” Caldwell said. “And I believe that because they didn’t take it seriously the first time around, with all this, they’re trying to just play it down as much as possible, hoping that everybody will just kind of go away. Which we see that’s not the case because this is still happening today with young ladies.”
Black women and girls are at high risk of going under the radar of police, policymakers and media, despite facing a disproportionate amount of violence, including domestic violence, sex trafficking and police brutality.
“Systemic racism within systems has created barriers and obstacles to Black women receiving the resources that they need when they end up in these situations,” said Michele Watley, the founder of Shirley’s Kitchen Cabinet, a group that works to amplify the voice and presence of Black women in advocacy and public policy. “From being believed when they raise these situations, to being dismissed when these situations come about.”
In November, Shirley’s KC hosted a “Black and Missing” community discussion to encourage conversation among community members, those with missing family members, advocates and police officers. The group has created a computer folder of resources for those looking for a missing individual and will continue to host events around this topic.
“The issues of Black women seem to have been put to the side or pushed under the rug or not given the same highlight,” said Watley.
Databases and other community solutions for missing Black women
Since the ongoing problem of missing women has been in the spotlight, KCPD is using a new tracking system to show the number of missing persons, which will be submitted to the Board of Police Commissioners monthly, a spokeswoman said in an email.
But members of the community are looking for their own approaches.
“Even before this situation, the Black community had the historical reasons not to trust the police department with our public safety and well-being, especially of Black women in our community,” Sorrell said. “So we’re continuing to build relationships, and do our own investigation as well, within the community.”
Sorrell is creating a missing-persons database with a team of seven software engineers, database engineers and web designers. The project is almost 50% complete, he said.
As of now, the team is brainstorming ways to verify reports without relying on police data.
Caldwell is also building a missing-persons database with the Justice and Dignity Center Coalition, a group of advocates, social workers and community leaders who collaborate to assist the underserved in the community. Their database will include missing individuals, but also the general whereabouts and pictures of unhoused individuals, so that community members will have access to vital information if they go missing.
This database will be available to agencies, churches and shelters that work with the Justice Coalition to make and verify entries.
“We will hopefully have everything running by the beginning of the year,” Caldwell said.
He said he has reached out to the police, but has not heard back from them about collaborating on the database.
In the meantime, Caldwell and others continue to look for people who are thought to be missing. One of those persons is JoAnn Stovall’s granddaughter.
Stovall believes she will one day hear from Jackson again. She asks that anyone with information reach out to the Justice and Dignity Center Coalition at 816-996-1211.
“I just want her to be found, I want her to be OK,” Stovall said. “It’s OK if she doesn’t want to be bothered with us, but I love her.”