Chicago Sun-Times
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Column: Media's bias is showing

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What happened to Yasmin Acree, a 15-year-old girl who vanished from her West Side home on Jan. 15?

Yasmin, who is the niece of the Rev. Ira Acree, a local activist and outspoken critic of the Chicago Police Department, hasn't been seen since.

"At 15 years old, the only way she could take care of herself is if an adult is harboring her," Acree said. "If that's the case, it is illegal, and it is criminal."

In a five-part series last year, Sun-Times reporter Maudlyne Ihejirika wrote that 54 people, on average, are reported missing each day in Chicago. Just 2 percent of missing juveniles have been abducted.

But Yasmin doesn't appear to fit the profile of a teen who would run away.

Adoptive mother's anguish:

"I know Yasmin didn't run away," said Rose Starnes, her adoptive mother/aunt. "I don't know what happened to her, but I do know she didn't run away. The only place she can get to on public transportation is school," she said.

Starnes pointed out that Yasmin always had adult supervision. Unfortunately, Starnes may have overlooked a threat to Yasmin's safety that was closer to home.

At the time of Yasmin's disappearance, Starnes was renting a room to a former boyfriend, and he was the last person who saw Yasmin.

Because the man hasn't been charged with any crime even though he apparently failed a lie detector test, I am withholding his identity.

Two months after Yasmin went missing, the man moved out of the rented room at Starnes' request.

Teen left alone with mother's ex-boyfriend:

On the night Yasmin disappeared, Starnes said she did not come home because she spent the night in Elgin with another daughter. That left Yasmin home alone with the former boyfriend.

"When I got home, one of my nieces told me that somebody had cut the lock off the basement door. I didn't pay much attention to that because I felt [the former boyfriend] had done it trying to scare me because I hadn't come home that night."

Starnes became alarmed when Yasmin did not return at her usual time from her classes at Austin Polytechnical Academy.

"She usually gets home at 5 p.m. and she has to come straight home. That is when I knew something was wrong and called the police," she said.

"The Police Department wasn't convinced there was a forced entry. Police interviewed family members, and the boyfriend is the only one who flunked the polygraph," Acree said.

"We've distributed thousands of fliers. We've held prayer vigils. We placed ads in newspapers. We have done all of that, and it hurts us to have police say she has run away."

Shortly after she vanished, Yasmin was profiled by CLTV, NBC-5 and Fox News.

But the coverage was nothing compared to the media blitz that followed the disappearance of two suburban women last year.

Stacy Peterson, 23, went missing on Oct. 28, in Bolingbrook. At least 150 articles or columns mentioning Peterson have appeared in this newspaper alone.

Before then, the "missing person" spotlight was on a 37-year-old Plainfield woman, Lisa Stebic. She went missing April 30, 2007, and her case also dominated the news.

Neither of the women have been found.

"I don't have closure," Starnes said. "You don't know if a person is dead or alive," she said.

"Deep down inside I didn't know if [the former boyfriend] had anything to do with it, but I couldn't stand to look at him because if something was going on, the child is always the victim."

Whatever has happened to Yasmin, that is the point: She is a 15-year-old victim. Her disappearance is just as painful to her family and friends as that of the other women I have mentioned.

The only differences between these missing person cases is race and class.

Starnes' former boyfriend should have been hounded by the media and the police just as the men in the Stebic and Peterson cases were hounded.

Frankly, the blatant disparity in how the media handles missing person cases exposes an industrywide bias.

A reward for information about Yasmin's disappearance is being offered. Anyone with information should call (773) 378-3300.

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This page contains a single entry by Mary Mitchell published on July 8, 2008 11:01 AM.

Michelle Obama is being stereotyped was the previous entry in this blog.

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