Miya Marcano was a missing 19-year-old college student whose body was recently discovered in Florida. Jelani Day was an Illinois State University student who went missing this past summer and was also recently found dead. Why were these individuals’ names and pictures not a heightened part of mainstream media and social media coverage? In the midst of these disappearances came another tragic story. For weeks news outlets and social media have been dominated with headlines and stories first related to the disappearance of Gabby Petito and now unfortunately her untimely death. There is currently a hunt in progress for her partner who is suspected of foul play in Gabby’s death. We are given daily updates several times a day on possible sightings of the person believed to be responsible for Gabby’s death. Any tragedy involving a missing person and violence against that person is important and should be at the forefront. Sexual and domestic violence victims are often not heard so stories such as Gabby’s are crucial and needed to bring awareness and accountability. What is worse than Gabby’s story is that there are countless other victims that go missing daily. Many victims are children, women, and men of color and do not receive even a fraction of the media coverage that Gabby Petito did. The injustice here is the false premise that one person’s life matters more than another. The repercussions of allowing mainstream media and social media outlets to not bring to the forefront missing people of color further perpetuates this idea that certain lives are more important than others. From a psychological standpoint, seeing only one face dominating headlines while knowing that thousands of missing people of color are out there as well, sends the message to minorities that our missing do not deserve the same energy and focus as the Gabby Petito case. It can cause those who do not look like Gabby to question their worth in society.
While Gabby’s case was instantly troubling, what was even more disconcerting was that there were several families who also had lost their children around the same time or before. These families had to beg law enforcement to step in and received virtually no media coverage. Some have come out and called this a case of “Missing White Woman Syndrome” in that we as a people are obsessed and will rally around someone pretty, blonde, and white. Labels can be offensive and the danger of labeling this case serves as an injustice to the family and friends of Gabby. The issues should not be whose life matters more or a media infatuation with one case over another. Instead, the real issue is that all victims demand coverage and attention but are not receiving it. This does not mean Gabby’s coverage should stop, however, all victims no matter their color should receive an equal amount of media attention and law enforcement intervention. Doing so shows the assailant that the public will not tolerate violence and the victims and their families will get their due justice. Miya and Jelani and so many others deserved better. Law enforcement along with the media are responsible for perpetuating a false narrative that certain victims should be prioritized over others when they do not pay equal attention to those missing whether they be Indigenous, Black, Latino, Asian, or from any other background.
It is a tragedy for a family to lose their loved ones or have them vanish with no explanation no matter what color they are. Inserting race into this case is a difficult issue. There is no need to downplay Gabby’s case, however, there is a need to highlight all cases equally. Thousands go missing each year and there is nearly not enough coverage for anyone. The odds of hearing about the case in the media are dropped dramatically if you do not look a certain way, come from a particular background, and if you are a person of color. The obvious disparities in media coverage are the issue. Gabby’s case should not be downplayed. On the contrary, other missing person’s cases need to be magnified in the same light. Hearing about this case from every major media outlet while there is radio silence on all of the other people that went missing before or after her is the disturbing factor. The media is essentially saying to the people missing and their families, you do not matter. There is a lack of empathy and sympathy and a false assumption that if you are a person of color then lifestyle or behaviors must have contributed to your disappearance. Even the interaction between law enforcement with Gabby and her partner is not the typical reaction you would see when a law enforcement figure pulls over a person of color. Once again, equity is missing and negatively impacts perceptions of law enforcement and trust in handling all missing person cases objectively.
There is an immediate need and call to action that is necessary for society to demand more. All victims and their families deserve justice. All people no matter their background, economic status, job occupation, living situation or race deserve peace, security, and safety. It is a fact that thousands of people are taken yearly. What should also be a fact is that we are using every tool at our disposal to find them before they meet harm. There are organizations out there like the Black and Missing Foundation that can help. In addition, the families and friends left behind are often the biggest voices for missing victims. Society is quick to make TikTok and Instagram stars popular based on the number of likes received. Families and friends of missing persons should use social media just as much to tell their stories and to ensure that their loved ones are found and not forgotten. In addition, we need to demand more from the media we tune into. Go to your local news outlets and television stations and insist they provide equal coverage. Many people of color are not found and the media all but ignores this but it is up to us to hold them accountable. Not doing so provides no incentive for them to do their part in helping find victims.
We cannot fault what Gabby’s family did and continues to do in hopes that they find justice for their daughter and it can inspire others so that they can avoid such tragedy. Their willingness to share their story and pull everyone into the search is something that all victims’ loved ones need to do. We should fault society for failing Miya and Jelani in only sharing their stories after their demise. Countless others need attention including Alexis C. Scott female, now age 24 missing since 2017, Breona Walker female now 25 missing since 2013, Sidney Palmer female, age 26 missing since 2021, Cashawn Ashley Sims female age 30 also missing since 2021 and so many others.
In the event that news outlets ignore you, persist harder and know that there are resources out there to help amplify your voice so that your missing loved one’s story is being told. We want to avoid further tragedies like Miya and Jelani whose stories were only amplified when it was too late. To get involved with helping those that are missing or for help in a missing person’s case, contact the Black and Missing Foundation at 877-97-BAMFI or the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 and your local law enforcement agency.