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'Find Our Missing' on TV One

THE SHOW "Find Our Missing," TV One, Wednesday night at 10

REASON TO WATCH Ten-part series devoted to finding missing black Americans, hosted by S. Epatha Merkerson.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT This unusual TV One initiative -- the network declines to call it a "documentary" -- is designed to "draw attention" to missing black Americans whose disappearances have mostly gone unnoticed by the national media. Local media did cover both cold cases profiled tonight. The first is of Pamela Butler, a 47-year-old program analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency, who disappeared on Valentine's Day 2009. She had just broken up with her boyfriend (interviewed here). The only things gone from her Washington, D.C., home were sheets. Police have no evidence to suggest foul play.

Next: Hassani Campbell, a 5-year-old boy with cerebral palsy, who was in a leg brace at the time of his 2009 disappearance from a busy Oakland, Calif., neighborhood. A massive police search turned up nothing, including evidence that the boy had ever been in the neighborhood. Attention turned to foster parents, though neither was charged, and they eventually left the state. Phone numbers are posted on-screen for viewers to call if they have any information.

MY SAY This may be overstating the obvious, but if you are black and if you go missing, your chances of becoming the focus of a relentless, obsessive, exhaustive discussion on a national cable network like (say) CNN Headline News -- now known as HLN -- is just about . . . zero. This certainly isn't to suggest that all missing white people will get that treatment, either, but the odds are better than "zero" and much better if the subject is blond and female. TV One, to its credit, isn't pointing fingers or griping, and, in fact, notes that both received excellent local media coverage, while police response was fast and comprehensive. But what happens when (or if, assuming they are still alive) people like Butler or Campbell cross state lines? Then, they truly have disappeared, and maybe forever.

BOTTOM LINE Pictures on milk cartons may not save these two, but a smart, well-produced and well-intentioned series like this just might.


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