(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times / September 27, 2009)

Volunteers make a poster as part of the search for Richardson, who was wearing jeans and a dark T-shirt when she left the sheriff’s substation about 1:25 a.m. She had no car, no cellphone and no purse.

The story of the disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, after the Agoura Hills Los Angeles County Sheriff’s released her into the middle of the night ceased to be breaking news the moment first Emmy was awarded and couple took the stage on the premiere of ABC’s Dancing with the Stars. But Mitrice is still missing.

According to news reports, 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson of Los Angeles was intoxicated and unable to pay her $89 bill at Geoffrey’s restaurant on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu about 10 p.m. Thursday. Sheriff’s deputies took her to the Malibu-Lost Hills station where they booked her on suspicion of not paying for the meal and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. And then just like that, they let her go around 1:25 a.m. on Friday morning citing jail overcrowding. She has yet to be heard from since then.

Any other time, I guess it’d be cause for a celebration if we managed to eat and drink for free, get arrested, and released in the same night. But not this time.

Young, Black, female, and petite, Mitrice was released by the sheriff’s into the dead of the night with no money or identification. Worse yet, her mother, Latice Sutton, said a manager at the restaurant where Richardson dined, told her that Richardson was in no condition to drive. Neighbors reported seeing a woman of Mitice’s description asleep on a porch but when deputies arrived, she was nowhere to be found.

Did race play a role in the sheriff’s decision to just let her go? It has to be asked, because I find it hard to believe that the sheriff’s would let a young, white, girl, drunk or sober, go off into the middle of night. Who knows who her parents might be?

I think for me the statement of a middle school teacher named Janette Goeglein reported in the Los Angeles Times, says it all.

“I think I may have seen her walking,” said Goeglein.

About 7:30 a.m. Sept. 17, Goeglein said she was driving to a meeting when she saw a woman walking south on the road through Malibu Canyon. “I thought it’s strange to see a black woman walking in the canyon,” she said.

As the oldest of four children, I have to tell you that when I first became aware of this story, I immediately thought about my two sisters and my younger brother who is developmentally challenged. My sisters, like Mitrice, are grown women, but they’re young women. Although they are not bi-polar, they like to party and are sometimes forgetful and could easily forget their wallet or purse and find themselves in a similar situation. My brother, who is also grown at 21, is developmentally challenged. And even though legally he can drink alcohol, he shouldn’t. And if he ever did get drunk in public and found himself under arrest, I would hope that the sheriff’s would realize that while he is 21, age isn’t nothing but a number and that he’s really 12 developmentally and would call someone to pick him up instead of letting him go into the middle of the night.

So I definitely feel for Mitrice’s family.

This isn’t about personal responsibility. This is about professional responsibility. As much as law enforcement is there to enforce the law, they are also there to keep us safe. They failed to do that with Mitrice Richardson. Yes, they enforced the law and arrested her for failure to pay to her restaurant bill and some recreational weed in her car, but took no interest in her personal safety when they let her go into the middle of the night.

With every day that passes, knowing Los Angeles the way I do, what do you think the chances of her being found unharmed are?

I find myself thinking a lot about how easy it would be for me to wake up every morning, carefree and happy. It wouldn’t take much. I figure if I just stop watching the news, reading newspapers, and wear a pair of the same rose-colored glasses that everyone else seems to be sporting, I’d be well on way to living a life of pure unadulterated sweet ignorant bliss. Yep, it’s just that easy.

I know as Black people we’ve become a bit apathetic and that when it comes to law enforcement, we are used to advocating for the police to let us go—not keep us locked up. However, we can’t fall silent on this one. The sheriff’s treatment of Mitrice and complete disregard for her safety and personal well-being doesn’t deserve a pass. It could have easily been your mother, daughter, or sister missing instead of Mitrice. Join Mitrice’s family in demanding accountability and helping to find Mitrice.