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Precious Doe: Who gets press and who does not?

18 Jun 2005

Every spring, there seems to be an uncomfortable rise in reports of missing women and children. As people leave the warm comfort of their dwellings and venture outside to enjoy the warm, spring air, it is prime season for those who are waiting for the opportunity to prey on society’s most vulnerable.

The media has been kept busy with two reports of American women being kidnapped this year, one true and one a hoax. One took place in another country and one ventured away from her home in the States. While both cases involve young white women, there are no other circumstances that tie the two together. As NBC’s Katie Couric ventures across country to interview the families of the missing women, sympathizing with their fear and uncertainly, there are a number of missing people who are not given the proper media attention that might help the police solve their cases.

Now granted, with all the problems of the world, the news networks seem inundated with stories to tell. And unfortunately, it is also up to those networks to decide what are the more relevant stories, the stories that more people will sympathize with and understand.

Natalee Hollaway, an 18 year-old American girl is missing in the country of Aruba. Having traveled there on a trip to celebrate her high-school graduation, her friends left her behind and went back to the States after she left a nightclub with three men who reside on the island. After a mishmash of suspects were detained on suspicion of her murder, three men have been singled out and questioned.

Jennifer Wilbanks, A.K.A the “Runaway Bride,” left her home in Duluth, Georgia in mid-April and disappeared a week before her wedding. On the Friday before she was about to be married, she called her fiancée from Las Vegas and told him that she had been kidnapped and sexually assaulted by a Hispanic man and a white woman. By the next day, the police and her family were becoming a bit suspicious about her story, and the 32 year-old soon admitted that the kidnapping was a hoax, as she was having second thoughts about the wedding and was ‘stressed out.’

Tamika Huston, a 24 year-old African-American woman from South Carolina, has been missing for over a year. According to her family, who have set up a website and held their own news conferences in their hometown, they tried to appeal for the national media outlets to pick up the story. According to www.DiverityInc.com, the family was told that media outlets were not interested in Huston’s disappearance.

The body of African-American Erica Michelle Marie Green , A.K.A “Precious Doe” was found in a rural area outside of Kansas City, Missouri in 2001. The 4 year-olds’ headless body was not given a name until this spring when a tip was given to Missouri police, leading them to arrest Green’s mother and step-father, who had quickly relocated to Oklahoma City soon after the body was discovered. If it wasn’t for the African-American community who named the body Precious Doe and started their own private investigation, the case might have never been closed. This was only reported in the media after the parents were arrested. While the Missouri police quickly took credit for the unsolved murder, it was actually two of the residents that lived near Green’s house that spent the four years holding candlelight vigils and spent their own money putting up flyers who solved the case.

Does anyone notice a pattern here?

Two African-American females go missing. No national media coverage. No Katie Couric travelling to the less-than-desirable rural areas to interview the friends, family and neighbours to investigate the disappearances. Perhaps if Huston’s body is found, maybe then CNN will pick it up. Missing black females are obviously not very newsworthy, at least to the main media outlets, whose attention to Wilbanks alleged kidnapping have led to her signing a $500,000.00 book deal about her story.

I wonder if she will write about trying to blame her sociopathic, selfish behaviour on a Hispanic man and white woman. Will she talk about her previous arrests for shoplifting and the sudden cancellation of at least two previous engagements to other men? As for Hollaway, the media would rather point out the perceived ignorance of the police force in Aruba, minus the fact that they granted federal government employees a day off so they could search for the American teenager. As the travel industry is extremely important to Aruba’s economic viability, the government has been basically forced to do whatever they can to find Hollaway. As Hollaway’s mother goes house to house on the tiny island, knocking on doors not only in the search to find her daughter, but also to preach the gospel, handing out religious necklaces and artifacts, I question the reason for such inundation over this case in the media.

Is part of it because of the possibility of another case in which an innocent white woman whose virtue was defiled by a dark-skinned man? America seems to love but fear that one, even though in many instances the accusations have been false, i.e. Kobe Bryant and more importantly, Emmett Till. Or maybe this is a perfect time to try and colonize another Caribbean Island? Umm, too late. It was colonized by the Dutch.

The opinion of the majority defines what is broadcast on the national media outlets. As mentioned earlier, they will decide what is newsworthy and what is not. But this seems to contradict the idealistic notion that all human beings are equal and as the Americans so largely laud through their ‘Melting Pot’ philosophy on diversity, all Americans should be seen as Americans first , and their individuality should be an afterthought. We should not pick one case over the other and we should not glorify one’s selfishness by sympathy and money, while others are ignored. But in a capitalist, racist, homophobic society, maybe we are getting what we deserve, as the majority is more concerned with the stories of Wilbanks and Hollaway because they can feel more empathy with them than they do with the missing black females – and the majority always rules.

As the late, great Nina Simone stated in a documentary about her career, “ the only way black people will ever find justice is when we are given our own country.”

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