You are scrolling through social media or watching the daily news, and you see another breaking news story of another black man or black woman that has gone missing quite some time after their disappearance. After hearing the tragic news, you hope to see updates on the news channel or social media. Sadly this is not the case for the majority of people of color.
The news of 22-year-old Gabby Petito’s disappearance shocked the world as she was last seen on August 30, 2021, traveling with her fiance Brian Laundrie. Both Petito and Laundrie were in the process of going on a cross-country trip in Gabby’s white Ford van and traveling to the West Coast to visit state and national parks across the Western United States. However, on August 12th, after several reports given by witnesses, police found Gabby and Brian having a heated argument and advised the couple to separate. Gabby’s last contact with her family was in the last week of August. The family filed a missing police report on September 11th. The Petito family reached out to the Laundries family with questions regarding Gabby, but they didn’t respond to them. On September 17th the Laundrie family shared with the police that they haven’t been in contact with Brian since September 14th. At that point, plans changed to not only find Gabby but to also find Brian. With the updated information of missing persons Gabby and Brian, you would hope that both of them would be found. However, that wasn’t the case for the Petitio family as it was confirmed by the FBI that on September 21st, a body was found in Bridger-Teton National Forest that matched the description of Gabby.
With constant updates of Gabby’s case, as it was shared across social media platforms and national news coverage for three weeks, and had trending hashtags, as well as vigils being held in honor of Gabby, would it only be fair that people of color would be given the same treatment in terms of national media coverage? A term used to describe this type of difference in media coverage would be called ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’. This means that people who are often white women or young girls who hold the American beauty standard and are in the upper-middle class compared to people of color who don’t often fit the category. I had the chance to talk to some FAU students about what they thought could be done better when it comes to the disparities between the broadcast of people of non-color who go missing vs people of color, and if they agree or disagree with these disparities.
When I asked Freshman, Ruth Williams, she said, “I agree that there are differences between how much a missing Black person is broadcasted vs a missing white person. There’s no technical answer I could come up with, it’s just simple to me: systemic racism. America has put Black people on the back burner and it’s gotten worse over these past few years. The only thing that could be done for now is for more Black people to come together during these situations and overwhelm the media, basically forcing people to pay attention. All we have is each other. Another example this situation reminds me of is R. Kelly. He got away with hurting Black girls for decades and the justice system was well aware, but nothing was done because the victims were Black women. The only reason there is justice now is because of the power the Black community had in the media while pushing for justice.”
Another recent case to think about when it comes to not getting the same level of national media coverage was Illinois State University graduate student Jelani Day who went missing on August 24th. He was last seen on the university’s campus on that day and his car was found two days later in Peru, Illinois. His family filed a missing report on August 25th after speaking to Jelani just two days before. After only a few weeks for the search for Day, on September 4th, his body was found floating in the Illinois River by the LaSalle County Coroner. The cause of Jelani’s death has yet to be determined. Day’s mother is frustrated after seeing cases like 22-year-old Gabby Petitio. Her case was able to get immediate attention compared to her son who did not get enough coverage until his body was found.
Alisa Gonzalez, a senior, says that “I would say that there are disparities. I think that something that could be done better is that we can start listening to people of color when they express concern and taking them as seriously as we do for non-people of color. I think it occurs because the lives of people of color aren’t valued by the media unless it fuels their agenda or makes them angry.” This does not mean that Gabby’s case or any other people of non color who are currently missing does not deserve the media coverage, it means that it should be Gabby and Jehlani who went missing should have received the same amount of media coverage.
“Yes, I believe there is a major difference in how the media covers missing people of color vs non-people of color. The media draws attention and applies more pressure for law enforcement to find missing people and if there was more coverage on minority groups, I believe that there would be a great urgency to find them better,” says Sophomore Olivia Martinez.
The sad truth is that when it comes to a missing person who is of a person of color, they aren’t being seen on news outlets, or even across the world for that matter. There needs to be equity within porting when it comes to reporting missing cases for people of color.