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Danette Mitchell: The Petito case and missing people of color

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The Reporter
Danette Mitchell
September 30, 2021

Founders and sisters-in-law Natalie Wilson and Derrica Wilson of the Black and Missing Foundation recently released a statement acknowledging the power of how national media coverage can galvanize a community in helping find a missing person.

They were referencing the heart-breaking and tragic death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, who went missing on a cross-country road trip with her fiancée. Police recently found her remains. The search continues for her fiancée, who is not officially listed as a suspect, but is being searched for like he is one.

The founders stated that Black and Brown missing persons often don’t make the headlines — despite making up nearly 40 percent of all persons reported missing. The disparity multiplies the grief and struggle of families seeking answers. These families deserve to bring their loved ones home or find closure in the event of a tragic outcome. We can no longer ignore these facts, say the founders.

There are reportedly more than 600,000 individuals currently listed as missing. More than 200,000 of these are individuals of color who rarely capture media coverage.

MSNBC’s Joy Reid recently discussed the issue of missing people of color and the lack of media coverage during her episode “The ReidOut.” Bay Area News Anchor Frank Somerville tried to piggyback off Reid’s remarks, only to wind up being “suspended indefinitely.” The incident, according to interviews by Bay Area News Group’s Chuck Barney with sources who did not reveal their names, occurred when news director Amber Eikel rejected Somerville’s proposal to tack a brief commentary about racial inequity onto a straight news update of the Petito story. Somerville had wanted to point out the glaring disparities in media coverage of White crime victims versus people of color.

Spotlighting a critical issue in the media, like missing people of color, energizes other steps to solutions, particularly when presented by those who garner large media platforms and draw hundreds daily to their social media.

Since the Petito tragedy, the Black and Missing Foundation has reported increased submissions because of the heightened awareness and conversations about missing people of color. However, the media frenzy of the issue will cease. We must continue addressing missing people of color in the United States with persistent urgency.

Action next steps suggested by the founders:

  • Join them on their social media platforms.
  • Post, tweet, and share the profiles of the missing. One share may be all it takes.
  • Demand diverse stores from the news director of your preferred media outlets.
  • Donate to the Black and Missing Foundation to continue the work of helping the missing and their families.

Black and Missing is a 14-year-old nonprofit organization whose mission is to “bring awareness to missing persons of color, provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety.”

In 2020, I talked with Natalie Wilson about additional action steps to address the issue. She suggested that Black organizations like local NAACP chapters and sororities, including schools and parent-teacher conferences, present Black and Missing in a virtual presentation while they have a captive audience. I have invited the founders to present to Solano County residents whenever their schedules permit.

Natalie also suggested that we use our votes to push an agenda that will drive funding to specific needed programs such as local SAFE houses, providing resources and counseling to those who are found and have been sexually exploited.

More importantly, parents must be vigilant in their homes concerning their children and teens. The Black and Missing Foundation provides preventive measures for parents to help keep their children safe at Resource information to help families find a missing loved one is also available.

Racism contributes to the disparities in media coverage and across the board that, historically, has normalized a mindset that people of color lives ranked lower than Whites. All families deserve to bring their loved ones home, no matter the outcome, requiring community engagement, equal law enforcement and media coverage.

Photo credit: The Reporter

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