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Missing while Black

By now, you likely know the story. A year ago this month, an attractive and smart graduate student and alum of Cal State Fullerton University entered a Malibu, CA restaurant alone for dinner.

Unfortunately, on this particular night, 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson was having problems. Her behavior was erratic, her speech was bizarre and unintelligible, likely the result of a bipolar episode she was experiencing. When she couldn’t pay her $89 bill, the restaurant called police, Mitrice was arrested and her vehicle impounded.

While Mitrice was en route to the police station, her mother, Latice Sutton, spoke with the Malibu-Lost Hills Sherriff’s Dept several times to explain that her daughter’s behavior was uncharacteristic and that she was fearful for her mental state and safety. Sutton asked police to call her as soon as her daughter arrived at the station and to not release her on her own in an unfamiliar place.

The phone call never came. Mitrice was released at 12:38 am by the police in the dark in an unfamiliar setting without her ID, her purse, her phone, her car and likely with some serious psychological issues affecting her.

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She vanished soon after and was never heard from again. Sadly, her remains were discovered less than a month ago in a remote area of Malibu Canyon. The police have said it is hard to determine whether it was a homicide or not, given the age of the remains.

This tragic case bothers me on a couple of fronts. First, is the release of Mitrice in an obviously vulnerable state by the Malibu-Lost Hills Sherriff’s Department. All of the witnesses in the restaurant earlier that night said that it was apparent that Mitrice was not well and acting bizarre. She obviously needed help and the last thing she needed was to be put into an unfamiliar environment in the dark with no vehicle or any way to contact family or friends.

Her father, Michael Richardson, has insisted his daughter should have been placed on a 72-hour psychiatric hold, rather than being released. Both Mitrice’s parents have filed individual negligence and wrongful death suits against the County of Los Angeles.

RELATED: Mitrice Richardson’s father demands answers

Second, Mitrice’s case is an exception in that it actually received some national press over time. As we unfortunately have come to learn, the national media doesn’t act the same way when it comes to the disappearance of folks in our community, especially compared to when a blond-haired, blue-eyed young lady goes missing.

But more importantly, there are others out there right now –like 13 year old Aja Stroud from Decatur, GA—who are in need of our help and attention.

Aja who like the late Mitrice, suffers from bipolar disorder– went to school on May 18 but no one has seen her since. Dekalb County authorities have classified it as a runaway case, making it less than a priority. But her mother, Lonyel Cole, says that’s not appropriate given her daughter’s psychological disorder and the fact she had no money or medication on her at the time she vanished.

RELATED: Missing Grad student Mitrice Richardson found dead

Dekalb County Police in GA need to prioritize Aja’s case given the length of her disappearance, her mental health and the fact she had no money or medication with her.

And regarding the late Mitrice, the Rev. Al Sharpton and others are rightfully calling for a federal investigation into the circumstances surrounding her release and subsequent death.

In closing, I must admit it’s hard for me to imagine a blond, blue-eyed female of means being handled the way Mitrice was, or Aja is.

Stephanie Robinson is President and CEO of The Jamestown Project, a national think tank focused on democracy. She is an author, a Lecturer on Law at the Harvard Law School and former Chief Counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Stephanie reaches 8 to 10 million listeners each week as political commentator for the popular radio venue, The Tom Joyner Morning Show.  Visit her online at