US debate after Petito media hype case, ‘missing black women not taken seriously’

โ€œDon‘t do unsafe things, I love you,โ€ Toni Jacobs wrote to her daughter. 21-year-old Keeshae from the U.S. state of Virginia stayed a night’s sleep with a friend. She texted back, โ€œOkay mom. I love you too.โ€ It‘s the last thing Jacobs ever heard of her daughter. Keeshae didn’t come home the next day, and has been missing for five years now.

According to Toni Jacobs, chances are wasted to find Keeshae. The first few days after the disappearance the police barely took action, the detective who was later put on the case was kept changing. โ€œThey have all the information the police have collected from me,โ€ Jacobs says in her home just outside Richmond. Local media hardly picks up her story too, she was alone.

How different is that in recent weeks in the disappearance case around 22-year-old Gabrielle Petito from Florida. The whole country searches through social media, national TV channels report daily about the case, police and FBI leave little resources unused. Petito‘s body was found, this week it became clear that strangulation killed her. And the media and police are still working on the case: Petito’s fiancรฉ is still a fugitive.

โ€œI really hate that family, but this makes me ferocious,โ€ says Toni Jacobs. โ€œThe lack of urgency at Keeshae, and then this around Gabby Petito.โ€ Both women were beautiful and in their early 20s, she says. โ€œThe only reason the Petito case gets so much attention is the color of her skin.โ€

Black and Missing

And that‘s how more people think. The media hype around Gabby Petito has once again unleashed the debate about whether media is not too focused on white young women, when it comes to missing people. According to critics, media is leading a missing white woman syndrome. While statistics show black Americans are twice as likely to go missing.

And not only in the media, the police also lack the urgency when it comes to a black woman, according to critics. โ€œThese things are just being taken less seriously,โ€ says Derrica Wilson of the Black and Missing organization, where they have been plunging into missing cases in black families for 13 years. โ€œHow many times do we experience the family first being told that their loved one will have run away.โ€

So there’s no Amber Alert, and the precious first 24 or 48 hours of a missing slip, says Wilson. โ€œCan you imagine a white family hearing this when they report to the police in a panic?โ€ The loss of a black man or woman is automatically thought of crime anyway, she says. โ€œLike these people‘s lives matter less. They are dehumanized.โ€

Key link

The debate about Missing White Woman Syndrome has been raged in the United States in the United States. But Derrica Wilson’s organization notices a difference this time: multiple media outlets have already knocked on Black and Missing for advice. โ€œI‘m in a panel discussion next week at one of the biggest newspapers in the country. That’s really new.โ€

And Wilson says that media attention is the most important link in resolving a case. โ€œThe public then knows about a missing person, they know the name and look along.โ€ But that‘s not even the core, she says. โ€œMedia attention puts pressure on police and FBI to put money and men into a case. It can really cause a missing person to be taken seriously.โ€

Keeshae Jacobs’s little room is like she can get home tonight. With plush toys on the bed and happy pictures of the past on the wall. Her mother Toni believes she‘s still alive and one day comes home. โ€œI know that in my heart. And she needs to know that I keep fighting to find her.โ€

Because it was a kidnapping, Jacobs says. One she believes could take place precisely because the media and police have a blind spot when it comes to black women. โ€œIf you were going to rob someone, you did it in a place where no one pays attention,โ€ she says, โ€œso if you want to kidnap a woman, you choose one that the media and police don’t pay attention to. Then you can just go ahead.โ€