Every time I turn on the news over the last few days, I catch a part about the tragic disappearance and now death. Gabby Petito. The 22-year-old’s name has made headlines after mysteriously disappearing a few weeks ago. Petito was traveling cross country with her boyfriend, Brian Laundry, Who is said to be the last person to see him alive.
Before his disappearance, Petito and Laundry argued during a visit to Moab, Utah. At one point it became physical and barbaric the police could be called. “Both men and women reported that they fell in love and were going to get married and desperately didn’t want to see anyone accused of the crime,” the police report said.
Like other countries in the world, I watched the video of her crying on the side of the road while talking to law enforcement that day. Petito and Laundry heard the 911 call during their cross country road trip. And then, I read the most news of his body discovery.
The story is tragic and the pain his family and friends have to feel is something I wouldn’t wish for. But within three days of coverage of his case, I asked a friend of mine, “It’s very sad, but what am I missing in this case?” Rarely does the story of a missing person become international news.
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On August 1, 201 own, my own family suffered a gut-wrenching fog of grief when family friend, Brenda Hopkins, went missing. Three years later, police have no lead but continue to search for information on his disappearance. She was a 68-year-old black woman living in Maryland.
In the case of Brender, one, possibly two, a few short articles have been reported in local TV news and local newspapers, but there is no national coverage. Is one story worth more than another? Is a life worth more?
Thinking about Brender and now the coverage of the Petito case has forced me to ask some questions. Is Petito’s story getting so much coverage because the events of the missing people don’t actually happen as often as they seem, so when they do, we need to light a huge floodlight? The answer is no, because in the United States alone, by the end of 2020, the FBI’s 2020 National Crime Information Center (NCIC) had a record of 6 active missing persons, missing in the database of missing persons and unknown persons.
Is the coverage so high because he was missing for about a month and most people found it early? Maybe, but studies conducted by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found that an estimated 613,000 people went missing in the United States last year, and about 60% were people of color, mainly black and Aboriginal women, who have been missing longer than their white counterparts. There are possibilities.
So again, I asked my friend, what in this case? He looked at me and said, ‘You know why. Because Gabby Petito was a young, white woman. ‘
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My friend was right, and I knew it all the time. The coverage that blacks, tribals, and people of other colors receive in the media is comparatively less than what is given to missing whites.
In 2017, the hashtags #DCmissingGirls and #BringOurGirlsHome (originally used as a campaign to free more than 200 girls and teenagers abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria) began trending on social media. In an effort to find dozens of missing black and brown girls, the DC Police Department began posting pictures of missing black and brown girls on Twitter. National outrage spread because it was found that 1 black girl went missing in 2 black hours. It didn’t turn out to be an exact timeline, but the fact remains; Our daughters were still missing.
The timeline controversy has sadly turned into a story. The families of each of these missing girls felt the same frustration as Petito’s parents do today, without the same attention, attention or resources that his case is getting. Those girls and many BIPOC girls across the country go missing every day and local coverage rarely gets national attention.
The unequal consideration given for missing persons of color is largely given to the source of why they disappear. The belief is that BIPOC people have criminal behaviors related to their escape or disappearance. Rarely is the same idea placed on whites. One would think that this would put even more pressure to resolve these cases. Then people of color, especially black and brown girls, are constantly being fired, because our lives are actually disposable to some people.
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Of course, some skeptics would argue why we should do everything about the nation? Why isn’t the Gabby Petito story worthy of attention? That is not the argument here. Petito deserves as much attention as she deserves until the story is tragic and her killer is brought to justice, but so do other missing women in this country.
The fact of the matter is that the media chooses to cover the stories they believe are the most interesting and will collect so far, not including the stories of missing blacks. According to The Black and Missing Foundation, about 39 percent of missing persons in the United States are black people and yet blacks make up only 13 percent of the population. And the numbers are even more alarming for Indigenous women.
I hope Gabby’s family will be able to find off for the tragic way he lost his life. I hope the Brender family can be shut down one day too. Finally, I hope that all of us (in the media and beyond) will pay close attention to all the missing people in this country and that Gabby Petito will light the floodgates for them with the same intention that he set out to achieve.
Ashley Allison is a political strategist and social justice lawyer who has worked for President Obama, President Biden and Vice President Harris. He is also a CNN commentator.
(Photo by Octavio Jones / Getty Images)