BIPOC Missing Persons Get Unequal Coverage

BIPOC Missing Persons Get Unequal Coverage

09.28.21
Jelani Day
09.28.21

Kierra Coles, Jelani Day, Xavion Smith, Daniel Robinson and Mary Johnson. Those are a few who’ve been reported missing yet received little-to-no national news coverage. And Coles has been missing for three years.

Gabby Petito was reported missing Sept. 11 and a massive search went underway, along with news coverage that dominated newscasts nationwide every day until her remains were found eight days later. 

Coles, Day, Robinson and Smith are Black, Johnson is Indigenous. Their disappearances, and death of Day, didn’t get even a small portion of national coverage which has the BIPOC community asking, again, do you have to be white to get media coverage.

Johnson was reported missing nearly 10 months ago. Local media coverage and a billboard netted a few tips and the FBI offered last week a reward of up to $10,000 for information about her disappearance, according to CNN.

It was welcoming news to the family however they couldn’t help but notice the disparity of the coverage between BIPOC and white missing persons cases.

“If that was a little white girl out there or a white woman, I’m sure they would have had helicopters, airplanes and dogs and searches — a lot of manpower out there — scouring where that person was lost. None of that has happened for our sister,” said Nona Blouin, Johnson’s sister.

At least 710 Indigenous people — more than half of them women or girls — were reported missing between 2011 and September 2020 in Wyoming, according to a University of Wyoming report.

The family of 25-year-old Day wants answers about his disappearance and death, noting disparities between how Petito’s case is being investigated compared to his and other missing persons of color. 

There were at least six agencies, including the FBI, devoting resources to the search of the 22-year-old, whose remains were found Sept. 19 at the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area in Bridger-Teton National Forest, near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, according to NBC News.

According to the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, of 543,018 people reported missing in 2020, more than 182,000 involved Black Americans, who make up 13% of the U.S. population. Despite those numbers, media coverage of missing persons often disproportionately focuses on white people. 

Meanwhile Carmen Bolden Day felt the disappearance of her son Jelani wasn’t met with the same urgency by the Bloomington Police Department after he was reported missing in August, CNN reported. D’Andre Day, 28-year-old brother of Jelani, told NBC News that he wants the same manpower for his brother that was directed toward Petito.

“I understand what [Petito’s] family is going through because we are going through that right now,” he said. “Jelani just didn’t disappear. Somebody knows what happened. Somebody needs to report what happened. We need everybody involved, the same way they were involved with Gabby.”

The Day’s are one of other Black families pleading with authorities to do more to find their loved ones. 

Rasheda Smith in Aurora, Colorado said she didn’t hear from police for more than a week after she reported that her teen stepson, Xavion, had run away in early September.

David Robinson hired a private investigator and searched the Arizona desert with volunteers for his 24-year-old son Daniel, a geologist who went missing in late June. He turned to those efforts after feeling the police weren’t making progress in their investigation.  

While Robinson empathizes with the Petito family, he told CNN it’s “hurtful” to see a young white woman’s case met with more urgency and national attention than his son, who is Black.

“You wish you lived in a world where everything was equal but it’s really not equal,” said Robinson. 

Smith said a sergeant told her no detective had been assigned to her son’s disappearance due to his history of running away and a heavy volume of cases, according to NBC News. 

“That was unacceptable. So, I assigned myself to the case,” she said. “Any kid that is out there, they should be looking for him. Past behavior, or whatever the case is, a kid is a kid.”

Black and Missing, a national nonprofit that provides resources to families of missing persons of color, said the disparity is partially because authorities often label missing children of color as runaways or criminals, influencing how news outlets cover their cases. 

“It’s a nightmare,” Derrica Wilson, co-founder and CEO of the organization told Newsweek. “But we do have a lot of Gabby Petitos in the Black and Brown community as well. We understand that not all cases get that level of attention and resources — there were multiple police jurisdictions involved — but we do have cases that want that additional assistance.”