By Edly Termilien
Gabby Petito captured headlines when she was reported missing on September 11. Her case sparked another conversation about the “Missing White Woman Syndrome” and what it means for similar cases of Black and brown Americans. From Elizabeth Smart (2002), Megan Kanka (1994), Laci Peterson (2002) and now Gabby Petitio (2021) this term is nothing new to the media.
People of color have been hearing about “white woman syndrome,” and now with social media, Black and brown people are not staying silent anymore. In 2020, Black women will go missing or be killed at a higher rate than white women in America.
According to Black Femicide US, on September 29 more than 1,000 Black women were murdered across the US in 2021.In 2020, FBI statistics showed at least four to six Black women and girls were murdered per day. Lot of these cases don’t even make the local news.
When white women go missing it makes national news and when the case closes, some get laws or protection systems after their names.
Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 came after the murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn son Conner. Pregnant Peterson was murdered by her husband Scott Peterson.
Megan’s Law was named after Megan Kanka who was raped and murder by sex offender. Megan’s law is a law that made information available to the public regarding registered sex offenders in surrounding communities. Amber Hagerman was a young girl abducted while riding her bike with her brother in Arlington, Texas. After Hagerman’s death, the Child abduction alert system created the Amber alert.
In wake of Petito’s case, Jelani Day, a 25-year-old male Black graduate student, went missing on August 24 in Bloomington. According to ABC 7 Chicago, there are more than 400 open cases in the state of Illinois and Black and brown people account for at least 44% of those cases, despite them only making up 31% of the state’s population.
Kenedi Houston, a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin expressed her concerns about missing Black women since she said “as a young college student,” safety is one of her “top priorities.”
“As a Black woman, I wonder if the media would be attentive to a missing person that’s not white or male,” Houston said. “The rising number of missing children and teens due to human sex trafficking, or other cases. I think one solution to finding many missing Black victims and for their stories to be mainstream, is to expand the circulation of missing person notifications in Black owned media outlets as well.”
Houston feels that “missing white woman syndrome” holds more importance than vulnerable Black and brown people’s cases that don’t get as much attention. The justice system needs to hold each case equal and equitable to pay importance to both Black and white missing individuals.
Isaiah Chancellor, a junior at UT Austin said “missing Black victims cases go under the radar in mainstream media” because “we are not the priority.”
“It’s the conscious invalidation of Black bodies in America that causes us to be overlooked,” Chancellor said.
Chancellor believes the U.S. needs a task force to efficiently investigate cases, regardless of what race someone is because everyone deserves a chance for justice.