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Missing & Black: What Happened to Amir Jennings?

By//Juleyka Lantigua-Williams

As part of JET’s special investigative report on Black children who go missing—featured in the April 29, 2013 issue on stands now—we spoke with several experts to discuss the lack of mainstream coverage of these cases. Below you will find an extended interview with Columbia, SC Police Chief Randy Scott, who played an integral role in the investigation of the disappearance of Amir Jennings, the 18-month-old went missing in 2011. Although the boy’s mother Zinah Jennings was convicted of being involved in the toddler’s disappearance, Amir has yet to be found. Here Police Chief Scott shares his insight on the case.

JET: Please comment on the media’s involvement in the Amir Jennings case.

From the local media aspect, it’s been very well handled, on a local level, with our local channels and local print media. From a national standpoint, we did not receive the national coverage to put the story out there. This was a multi-state incident. From the investigation, Amir could have been in Georgia, North Carolina or South Carolina. We worked very diligently to try to get it out to national media but other than television host Nancy Grace, we were unsuccessful. This case was no different than Casey Anthony’s; Nancy Grace made that correlation. Grace reached out to us and ran a segment.

JET: What was the result of the Nancy Grace airing?

It brought new light to the case but not enough light to solve the case. That national segment helped us with receiving leads, as far as national networks, as ABC, NBC and those types, we just did not receive any inquiries or any coverage, not due to a lack of effort from our local media. Our local media covered it consistently. We contacted national networks directly, emailed them, called them, our public information officer did email national media and tried to get coverage. When we put a $10,000 reward on the table for any information that leads to a tip that would help solve the case we received additional coverage, again, from local media, not nationally. There was a lack of national coverage in general for this case.

JET: Do you perceive a disparity in the coverage received by Black and White missing children?

There was a disparity in this case. No police officer wants to have a case where a child is missing, no one wants to investigate that, but this was a case for which we wanted national coverage to help us solve the case. This was different. This was a baby. He could not fend for himself.

JET: Did any Black-owned media reach out?

JET is the first Black-owned media that has called about this case. And I thank you for your interest and for your efforts to put this story out there. I am a parent and I just could not imagine not knowing where one of my children is for FIVE minutes. There was criticism that I was only pushing this case because Amir was Black, but I don’t care who the child is. A comment at a press conference was made to that effect and it infuriated me. I’m trying to find the child to bring him back to his family. We did an immediate Amber Alert; everything was immediate.

JET: Is there bias in the classification of cases?

In my department, no. I can only speak for my department. The reporting officer was White and he immediately knew something was very wrong about this case. In general, is there room for bias? No. Can bias occur? Absolutely. There is bias in everything we do.

JET: Do you think Black-owned media are more responsible for giving these cases airtime?

I don’t think Black-owned media has more of a responsibility; media in general has a responsibility.  I’ve seen instances where it has been the case that the national media is far more responsive in cases where a White person is the victim and a Black is the aggressor. For example, there’s the alleged beating of a White teenager in Five Points by Black teens. The media descended to cover that story. They were definitely trying to make that incident racial. As the Chief, I have to hold a good balance in certain cases so that people and the public do not perceive a bias in the investigation. But it’s frustrating that I could not get the same coverage for Amir, a small, defenseless child. This is still an open case. Because the mother has been convicted in no way is this case solved or closed. Amir is still missing.