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Gabby Petito case sparks debate over differential coverage of missing minorities

Why do missing minorities never make national headlines?
Gabby Petito.png
Posted at 9:57 PM, Sep 22, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — The Gabby Petito story has dominated news headlines and mobilized a legion of social media users. But, the despairing truth is that Gabby is just one of many.

By December 2020, the FBI had over 89,000 active missing persons cases, and 45% of those cases were people of color, like Brittany Tiger.

Tiger disappeared in February 2018. Her body was found in a field in March of that year.

According to her sister, Jessica Tyson, the police never opened a murder investigation. In fact, according to Tyson, there wasn't a murder investigation opened until July 2021. She said the FBI opened the investigation after the family pushed for it.

"Thankfully they picked it up," she said. "That's a blessing, but we've hit so many dead ends that we can't really get our hopes up."

Hundreds of other Native American families are going through the same situation.

Spirit Rain Chasing Hawk is a father of five from South Dakota. His mother Mabel Ann Eagle Hunter said he's been missing since August 9. She said he was at a family member's house, and the cops were called. He was gone by the time they arrived.

According to Mabel Ann, the cops haven't been helpful and local media doesn't want to cover his disappearance.

"People should care that someone is missing because he's a human being," she said. "He's a father, a son, and he's loved by his family and his people the same as anybody else."

Watching the news coverage of Gabby Petito has been difficult for those families, and other minority families looking for someone they love.

"It's evident that we don't matter. We are invisible," said Mabel Ann.

The numbers from the Urban Indian Institute back up her claims.

According to the Urban Indian Institute, there are more than 6,000 missing and endangered indigenous people, most of them are women. But, according to the DOJ, there are only 116.

"The numbers from the DOJ just aren't accurate. A third of those people missing are minors, teenage girls," said Alicia Norris.

Norris is the co-founder of Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality.

"We have been shouting from the rooftops for years and no one is listening," she said.

It's the same for Black Americans.

According to the Black and Missing Foundation, of the 543,018 Americans reported missing in 2020, 59% were white or Hispanic, 37% were black. Only seven percent of the minorities reported missing received media coverage.

The reason for the disparity: Most minority children are initially classified as runaways. Adults are labeled as criminals or having some criminal involvement.

"No matter the circumstances that is still somebody's child," said Yvette Lewis, President of the Hillsborough County NAACP.

Lewis, like many others, said Gabby's story has shown her how powerful the news media and social media are. It also proves, for Lewis, the news media has to do a better job giving every missing person the same attention it does for white women, like Gabby.

"They are quick to say we are a diverse city and country, we're this melting pot. But, the scale is still unbalanced," Lewis said. "It's up to the media to get the story out and tell what needs to be told."

If you have information about a missing person or would like to report someone missing, follow these links: