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How America Chooses the Missing Women It Searches For

Anyone with a heart would hope a missing person would be found and brought back to their loved ones. Even the thought of a loved one being there one moment and gone the next is a fearstrucken reality lived by many, lingering in the minds of protectors such as guardians, partners, even friends. And unfortunately, the fear comes from the fact that not everyone is fortunate to see their missing loved one come back. Alive or dead. Some never hear anything after they go missing. Leaving their loved one’s story an unfinished mystery.

In Gabby Petito’s case, the 22 year old fiancé whose body remains are assumed to have been found in Wyoming near the Bridger-Teton National Forest–her mystery would be solved in just a matter of days. And though in no way am I saying this makes the situation any better. As a young woman myself, the allegations being made are sickening and just outright immoral. I wouldn’t wish or justify such a tragedy upon anyone. But I want to focus on the numbers for a second. 

Gabby Petito’s family last heard from her the last week of August, and was reported missing September 11th. The following Sunday, just 8 days later, a press conference stated a body “consistent with the description” was found, in reference to Petito’s description. This kind of urgency leads me to two questions that are not tied to Gabby or the disheartening tragedy that may of led to the loss of her life; but two questions geared toward the criminal system, as it was the FBI responding to this case. Are urgent criminal responses prioritized by money or race? Because the only two scenarios that would make sense as to how they found her so quickly–given the circumstances that she was not found in an easily assumed place such as her home or her job, but a national forest, was if there was a great deal of money involved to solve the case.. Or, if such cases are prioritized by race–figuring she’s a white woman with a grieving white family behind her demanding justice. 

I ask these questions because we all know the harsh injustices faced amongst people of color in the criminal justice world. Cases are rarely adequately addressed, emergency 911 calls come with delayed response times unless the POC is the criminal and not the victim, missing people remain missing and are often found by the community, as opposed to the police. The list goes on. And I mean on.

Again, this article has no intention of capitalizing off the harm of Gabby Petito and her family. My condolences truly do come from a genuine place. My intention is to shed light on the inequities that are to be critically addressed for the wellbeing of Black and brown bodies… Because “all lives matter,” right?

An example is Destini Smothers. Just like Gabby, they were both from upstate New York. Destini went missing in November 2020. No law enforcement organized searches. No national media coverage.

And Destini’s family did most of the ground work attempting to receive adequate help. The police never found Destini. A neighbor did, after reporting an unusual car parked nearby, in which Destini happened to be found dead in the trunk four months later, March 11th, 2021. The agencies that Destini’s family attempted to receive help from would tell Smothers’ mom they would call her back, or redirect her to leave a voicemail. And though Petito’s investigations were held outside her hometown of Upstate New York, I wonder if she was suspected to be in her hometown, would her family have gotten the same treatment? 

I tried to look for coincidences or reasonings as to why the situations were handled very differently. The only factors that came to mind were money and race. And personally, I take statistics pertaining to the criminal justice system with a grain of salt, as I believe it’s important to have my own discernment; figuring I don’t believe they are always accurate, nor inclusive. 

With that being said, I could pull the statistics up of how many Black people are missing compared to white people, but that is not the center of my focus. The center of my message directs back to the question of, are urgent criminal responses prioritized by money or race? Because for the FBI to have had hands on in this case, the local law enforcement team would’ve had to personally call the FBI and ask for their assistance. Then, it is left to the FBI to decide whether they extend their services or not. How many calls for assistance have been made to the FBI on the behalf of POC and have been answered? How many calls to our local law enforcement team have been made on the behalf of POC and have been answered? Because what I see in the face of a POC injustices are POC fighting. The family. The community. And allies. I don’t see cops with their boots on the ground. I for sure don’t see the FBI. And I don’t see national coverage coming from the actual interest of helping the family in need. But I do see capitalism and performativity. 

Next time, God forbid, we see a person of color missing, will the FBI find them in 8 days? Will there be national coverage? I guess we’ll just have to see.

My condolences go out to Gabby and her family. And also to the many missing lives who were not as fortunate as her to receive the help needed to offer a chance at justice to their family members, or better yet, save a life. When Black lives matter, all lives matter. Right?

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