The Baltimore Police Department homicide detectives assigned to find the killer of 16 year old Phylicia Barnes who went missing and found later dead, while visiting family in Baltimore during Christmas, 2010, arrested a suspect last week. Michael Johnson, a former boyfriend of Barnes’ older half -sister has been arrested for her death.
It is a bitter sweet ending to a case that failed to garner national attention of 16 year old Barnes, a bright African American teenager, headed for college. She was likely thought to have been abducted according to Baltimore police but later found dead in the Susquehanna River. Phylicia was a straight A student from North Carolina who was visiting relatives in Baltimore over the Christmas holiday in 2010 when she went missing on December 28, 2010. She was planning on attending college in Baltimore, having graduated a year early.
Baltimore detectives pitched the media to cover her missing story. There was some coverage on Nancy Grace show, ABC news and a few other outlets. But, that limited coverage occurred when Baltimore police pleaded with the media to run her story. By all accounts, if Phylicia were a white teen age girl, her story would have appeared nationally, just like Elizabeth Smart, Natalie Holloway, Casey Anthony, Robin Gardner or Chandra Levy. The media was obsessed with both the Aruba cases of two missing women Holloway and Gardner and of course, the Chandra Levy cases. The media stayed on the Elizabeth Smart abduction from Salt Lake City, UT until she was located, months later. But, when it came to a similar black teen age girl, she was almost invisible to the media. Baltimore police spokesperson described her case as “Baltimore’s missing Natalie Holloway.”
The main stream media seriously lacks diversity when it comes to African American women appearing in the media and news stories about them. Often times, the faces of black women and girls are almost invisible from the media. That includes black women commentators and news about black women or girls gone missing in the media. In the case of missing Phylicia Barnes, the lack of media coverage may have cost her life. If there is a silver lining, it is that the Baltimore Police Department did not give up on fighting in finding Barnes’ suspected killer. The father of Barnes says the police were in almost weekly contact with him. The police stood by and fought until they could bring some closure to the family of Phylicia Barnes. May she rest in peace. Johnson has been indicted for first degree murder in the death of Phylicia Barnes.
Debbie Hines is a lawyer, former prosecutor and legal /political commentator appearing in national and local media including the Michael Eric Dyson Show, NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates, RT TV, CBC- Canadian TV, NPR, XM Sirius radio, the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today, Black Enterprise among others. She founded LegalSpeaks, a progressive blog on women and race in law and politics. She also writes for the Huffington Post