The senseless death of 22-year-old social media personality Gabby Petito has garnered an enormous amount of media attention. As of the end of September, TikTok, a popular video-sharing app, reported that there were more than 1.9 billion views on posts that contained the tag #gabbypetito.
One morning, I was casually listening to the news on my television. I did not pay much attention as the commentator rattled on about the influx of Haitian migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border. Suddenly, I heard the commentator ask, “Why is there so much attention on Gabby Petito?” I started to listen closely.
The commentator then mentioned that 45% of missing persons in California were minorities (According to the California Department of Justice, there are about 20,000 active cases of missing people in the Golden State today.)
I began to wonder why these other cases are not approached with the same urgency as Petito’s?
I was reminded of Richard Wright’s “Native Son.”
The book was published in the early 1940s and the central character was a Black man named Bigger Thomas who is hired by an affluent White family to be the family chauffeur.Through a whole series of unfortunate circumstances, he accidently kills the daughter, a young White lady.
Stark terror engulfs Bigger, and he runs to evade a massive lynch mob. Bigger’s girlfriend goes to his hiding place and tries to comfort him, but Bigger, who is scared senseless, subsequently murders her.
Bigger Thomas was put on trial for the murder of both young women. Yet, as the trial proceeds, it becomes clear that the purpose was to seek justice for the young White lady, not the young Black girlfriend.
So is it racism that underlies the lack of media coverage surrounding minority missing persons cases? Is it so deeply embedded in our consciousness that we don’t even notice it?
Maybe when the commentator asked why there is so much attention on Gabby Petito, the more important question was, “Why are 700 million people so consumed with the tragic killing of Gabby Petito and not with the multitudes of other missing persons in our country?”
Disclaimer: The views in this article are those of the author. Prison Journalism Project has verified the writer’s identity and basic facts such as the names of institutions mentioned.