Over the past few weeks there has been exhaustive national — in fact, global — coverage of the initial disappearance of North Port resident Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, the eventual discovery of the 22-year-old’s remains in Wyoming and the ongoing massive search for her fiancé, Brian Laundrie.
And make no mistake:
There are understandable reasons why the Petito case has sparked such worldwide media interest. There are obvious reasons why such coverage has become a staple for our endlessly voracious 24-hour broadcast news networks. There is a universal instinct to agonize when an individual so young ominously disappears from sight.
And to grieve when it’s revealed that individual’s life has been stolen. And to hunger for answers as to why something so horrific could happen to another human being.
None of these emotions have ever been confined by borders — and they never will be. And all of these emotions, of course, are being acutely felt by everyone in this community and state.
All of us feel a wrenching in our hearts over Gabby Petito’s death. All of us mourn the senseless loss of Gabby’s life.
All of us want justice to be done in Gabby’s name, regardless of how long it takes to for it to be delivered and whatever appropriate paths must be taken to bring it about.
But it is possible to express profound sorrow for Gabby Petito’s death and zealously seek righteous closure to her case while also feeling a deep sense of despair that there are far too many other individuals who have gone missing or lost their lives — but who have failed to draw even a fraction of the sustained, sweeping media attention that’s been devoted to the developments regarding Gabby, a young white female.
The truth is that it should enrage us that — as the Herald-Tribune’s Samantha Gholar Weires recently reported — there has been relatively sparse media attention paid to the disappearances of Black individuals like Latonya Baxter (a mother who has been missing for two weeks in the Florida Panhandle) and Daniel Robinson (a geologist and engineer who is roughly the same age as Petito and went missing in Arizona some three months ago).
It should enrage us that, as Gholar Weires also reported, while more than 700 Native Americans have gone missing from 2011 through last year — according to a joint study done by officials in Wyoming — less than half of the cases have received notable media coverage.
It should enrage us that after six Asian American women were among eight people killed in March during a shooting spree by a young white male, too many media outlets naively and uncritically accepted at face value one law enforcement official’s early insistence — based, bizarrely, on a conversation with the gunman — that the shootings were not at all racially motivated.
And it should enrage us that a significant number of unsolved killings involving members of the LGBTQ+ community have generated isolated and limited coverage by the media; indeed, according to the Human Rights Campaign advocacy group, while at least 20 transgender or gender-nonconforming individuals have died in violent fashion during 2021, the actual number may well be much higher because “too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.”
We should agonize over the fates of these individuals, too. We should mourn for their affected lives, as well.
And we must begin to embrace the fact that giving their stories the attention they warrant would not diminish how we rightly agonize and mourn the heartbreaking death of Gabby Petito. Or lessen how resolutely we yearn for justice to be done on behalf of a young woman whose life has been lost far too soon.
— Sarasota Herald-Tribune