Our public safety system is ill-equipped to find missing Black people or intervene in domestic violence.
The case of Gabby Petito, a 22-year-old white woman from Long Island who went missing in late August gripped news outlets in a seemingly endless saga of mystery. While the nation watched every update to the story, Black and Indigenous activists spoke out against the double standard that exists when a white woman goes missing versus when people of color go missing.
The term “Missing White Woman Syndrome” recently entered the public discourse and the public’s response to the phrase helped thousands of Black and Indigenous families who are missing loved ones feel heard. Yet, it still did not elicit the same type of response and public outcry as Gabby’s disappearance. A tragic example of this is the case of Jelani Day, whose remains were found nearly a month ago after having been missing for several weeks. Unlike Gabby Petito’s case, where the entire nation and the FBI got involved in finding her, Jelani’s family had to set up a GoFundMe account to be able to fund the search for their son. In Wyoming, the state where Gabby Petito’s remains were found, over 700 indigenous people were reported missing in the last decade, and yet the public doesn’t know their names and the media did not cover their case with the same urgency and panic that it did for missing Gabby Petito.
Our current system of public safety, which relies on police to intervene on issues of domestic violence and to find missing persons is ill-equipped to do either effectively or equitably. In fact, it actively makes the search for missing loved ones, or instances of domestic violence worse, especially for Black people. The racial inequalities of public safety in the United States make it no coincidence that the highest proportion of missing person cases are among Black People.
As Black people, we live in a country that actively disregards our pain and cries for help in situations of domestic violence, or finding our lost loved ones. It begs the question, “who will find us?” How can we get the help we need to escape situations of intimate partner violence or to be found when we go missing if the current system of public safety won’t? We’ve underfunded community interventions, but over-funded police to respond to situations that they are woefully ill-equipped to respond to. For Black and Brown people to matter, we need to start reinvesting in the solutions that will treat their issues and their lives equitably. We need to start reinvesting in community.
We have to shift the conversation away from the spectacle of the mystery of Gabby’s death and focus on the continued failings of a system that continuously fails survivors of domestic violence, and shows apathy and violence to the needs of Black and Brown people. Our calls for more safety and justice will never come from more police, they will come from community-centered solutions that don’t involve prisons but center the needs of survivors and their families.