I know that by now almost everyone has heard the name Gabby Petitio. On August 30, 2021, Gabby went missing while cross country traveling with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, in early June. Gabby was in constant contact with her mother and when the messages and calls stopped, her mother knew immediately something was wrong. Along the trip, Gabby and Brian got into a few arguments or altercations that resulted in police interference. Laundrie was hitchhiking his way back to his New York home, Gabby’s parents still were unable to get in touch with her and when asked about her whereabouts Laundrie turned to his attorney (Maxouris, 2021).
Why people of color are upset that Gabby Petitio is getting so much media coverage?
It is not the fact that Gabby Petitio’s case is getting media coverage, it is the fact that there are over 500,000 cases of missing persons, nearly 40% are minorities and those cases haven’t received even half of the coverage Gabby received.
Some people call this the Missing White Woman Syndrome. For those of you unaware, this simply means that it is more likely that when a white child or woman goes missing they will use all resources to find them.
These cases will receive media coverage, the police will search even without many leads, there will be people from all around the country putting in the time to help find the missing person.
Meanwhile, there are countless minorities who have yet to be found because the majority of the country doesn’t even know they are missing. Yet, the news of a white woman missing spreads like wildfire proving that when they cry everyone listens but the tears and pleads from women of color fall on deaf ears.
Now before people attack and get upset about the phrase “Missing White Woman Syndrome”, understand this is most certainly a race issue. It is proven every day when I see the number of missing people of color I come across while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. It is scary and alarming that the people of color that are missing are almost overlooked because the media doesn’t give their story even 3 minutes of their time if they are lucky enough to make the story.
Every chance I get I try to share the post of these missing men, women, and children because I know that this may be the only way they get found. The Missing White Woman Syndrome is a direct reflection of the justice system failing the black community time and time again.
If our justice system did a better job protecting people of color in every situation instead of abusing their power maybe, just maybe, the world would be a little more balanced. We live in a world where it is obvious that a certain image will get more assistance and attention.
We see the differences in how “criminals” are labeled based on their skin tone. Just as we see how missing people of color are passed over or their case is just a footnote on our television screen. The Missing White Woman Syndrome phrase was coined by journalist Gwen Ifill nearly two decades prior to the Gabby Petitio case, and it still holds substance.
Now if I was to play devil’s advocate, another reason Gabby might be getting so much attention is that she was heavily into social media and started a following for her travel blog. The media probably picked up on it and since she was blogging her whereabouts it was easier for them to make a timeline to follow.
Now with that being said, Gabby being a little popular on social media by no means deserves special treatment. despite people of color disappearing at a higher rate, the news of these disappearances is non-existent. Yes, she had family and friends willing to take part in the search party and exhausted every known clue. However, the amount of money spent on searching isn’t even a fraction of what police used in cases of missing minorities.
Another similar story that caught my attention happened last year
A woman left for a date and never returned. The news didn’t report that she was missing and according to the family, the police didn’t do much to search for her either. “Authorities say Destini Smother was found in the trunk of a Toyota Camry with no plates early Wednesday, months after she went missing in the city after a birthday party in November“.(Myles Miller, 2021). Smother was found only because the car was abandoned for months before sanitation came to pick it up.
There are so many more cases just like this one that go unnoticed because the journalist doesn’t think that the story will capture the attention of the masses. It’s sad that there is a need for a web page dedicated to all the vanished black girls and their stories, and without knowing what to look for it’s not as simple to find. Yes, there are dedicated mostly black journalists that are pushing for stories to be heard but until we can honestly say that one life isn’t more important than another we might not ever be able to report without bias.
I am happy that the Petito family is able to lay their child to rest and say their goodbyes. However, there are families still wondering years later what happened to their loved ones. These people haven’t had any form of peace because while they are screaming out for some assistance they have to sit and watch Gabby Petito’s story play over and over.
Another missing case, Jelani Day, went missing just days before Gabby Petito and just like her mother, Day’s mother said it’s not like him to not tell someone where he was going. Their stories are similar yet if you asked around very few people had heard the name Jelani Day. These are just two cases in which black people have disappeared and have been found but there are so many families still in the dark about their loved ones with no help from the police to find them.
So I ask the question again, What makes Gabby Petito’s disappearance more important than Destini Smother, Jelani Day, or the countless other missing people?
Maxouris, C. (2021, October 5). A timeline of 22-year-old Gabby Petito’s case. CNN. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.cnn.com/2021/09/16/us/gabby-petito-timeline-missing-case/index.html.
Myles Miller, M. S. (2021, March 13). Death of 26-year-old missing mom found in NYC trunk ruled a homicide. NBC New York. Retrieved October 10, 2021, from https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/death-of-26-year-old-missing-mom-found-in-nyc-trunk-ruled-homicide/2942018/.
Pruitt-Young, S. (2021, September 24). Tens of thousands of black women vanish each year. this website tells their stories. NPR. Retrieved October 11, 2021, from https://www.npr.org/2021/09/24/1040048967/missing-black-women-girls-left-out-media-ignored.
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