Controversy in US after Pettito case media furore, ‘Loss of black women not taken seriously’

Controversy in US after Pettito case media furore, 'Loss of black women not taken seriously'

Not only in the media, but also in the police, according to critics, there is no urgency when it comes to a black woman. “These issues are taken less seriously,” says Derica Wilson of Black and Messing, which has been focusing on missing persons issues in black families for 13 years. “How often do we see the family being first told that their loved one has run away.”

For example, there is no Amber Alert, and the first 24 or 48 hours of missing a person slip away, Wilson says. “Can you imagine a white family being told about this when they report to the police in a panic?” When a black man or woman goes missing, the criminals are automatically thought of first, she says. “It’s as if the lives of these people are less important. They are being stripped of their humanity.”

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In the United States, controversy over Missing White Woman Syndrome has often raged in the media and police. But Derrica Wilson noticed a difference this time around: Several media outlets had already turned to Black and Missing for advice. “I’ll be on a panel next week in one of the biggest newspapers in the country. This is really new.”

According to Wilson, media attention is the most important link in resolving an issue. Then the public learns about a missing person, knows the name and helps them search. But she says that’s not the point. “Media attention puts pressure on the police and the FBI to put money and men into a case. It can really ensure that a missing person is taken seriously.”

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Keshai Jacobs’ room looks like she could come home tonight. With lovable toys on the bed and cheerful pictures from the past on the wall. Her mother, Tony, believes she is still alive and will return home one day. “I know it in my heart. And she needs to know I keep fighting to find her.”

Because it was a kidnapping, Jacobs says. One, in her view, could happen precisely because the media and police have a blind spot when it comes to black women. She says, “If you’re going to rob someone, you’re going to do it in a place where nobody cares, so if you want to kidnap a woman, you have to pick one that the media and the police don’t pay attention to. Just go ahead.”

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