September 25, 2021
MADISON (WKOW) — Gabby Petito’s case has captured headlines and been featured on social media feeds for weeks, and one organization is saying missing people of color often don’t receive the same information.
Derrica Wilson, co-founder of the Black and Missing Foundation, said she was inspired to start the organization because of Tamika Houston, a woman who went missing from Wilson’s hometown.
Wilson turned grief into action because she said Houston’s case, like many other stories of missing people of color, was buried in the headlines because of a missing white woman.
Around the same time Houston went missing, Natalee Holloway disappeared, and Wilson said Holloway became a household name.
“Thirty percent of missing persons in the United States were persons of color, and that number has since increased to 40 percent,” Wilson said.
While the percentages keep growing, Wilson said media coverage hasn’t kept pace.
“I can roll off the names of Laci Peterson, Chandra Levy, Natalee Holloway, Caylee Anthony, Gabby Petito, and not one person can roll off a missing Black or brown male or female that has garnered mainstream media [attention],” Wilson said.
Jelani Day, a Black man, was reported missing weeks before Gabby Petito, and his case didn’t receive widespread coverage until recently.
“There’s no sense of urgency to find them, and, quite frankly, oftentimes there’s not even a police report associated with it,” Wilson said.
Some say people go missing all the time from ordinary neighborhoods and its the unusual circumstances surrounding Jayme Closs or Natalee Holloway or Laci Peterson that prompt the media attention. But Wilson said she believes disparities in media coverage are mostly because of one factor.
“It is definitely race,” she said. “When it comes to missing men and women of color, their disappearance is associated with some sort of criminal activity, and so it really desensitizes the fact that this is someone’s child. This is someone’s husband, somebody’s wife, someone’s brother, and sister.”
Wilson said she isn’t trying to diminish any family’s pain if their loved one is missing.
“Our heart goes out to Gabby Petito’s family, no family should have to go through this, but what we are demanding is for equality across the board,” she said.
Wilson said social media is a powerful tool to help and is encouraging people to like and share profiles of the missing.
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