Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Missing White Woman Syndrome?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 21, 2010 at 1:01 PM

First off, I'm sincerely sorry for the family of Valerie Hamilton, the 23-year-old daughter of a police chief who's lifeless body was found in a storage unit. What happened to her was unjust, uncalled for and just a horrible thing all the way around. It's a sad shame anyone in our society has to endure anything so awful.

But as the news rolled in about her disappearance, her death and then the hunt for the man suspected of murdering her, I couldn't help but wonder if every missing or murdered person gets the same amount of police and media coverage.

Take this snippet from Qcitymetro.com:

Monroe said information from witnesses "and some exhaustive work by detectives" guided CMPD much of the way.

Harvey's arrest came hours after Hamilton’s father, joined by Concord Mayor Scott Padgett, asked viewers of ABC's "Good Morning America" to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg police catch the man suspected of killing his daughter.

"I just want to get this guy now," Merl Hamilton said, his voice breaking several times. "I want to ask my law enforcement brothers and sisters across the country to help with this.

"I'm trying to stay strong. They know what it means, because the cameras are on, but they took my daughter, guys.

"Play it straight, play it by the rules, but you all get out there and find this guy for me. When it comes back my way, I'll pay you back."

Read more here.

What does that mean, exactly? Is the police chief essentially admitting the police work harder on some cases than others?

And, this has to be said: Are we, as a society, more riveted when white women and children are missing or murdered than, say, African-American people or Hispanic people? There's even a name for the phenomenon: "Missing White Woman Syndrome." Think Lacy Peterson and Natalee Holloway. Around the same time Peterson, who was pregnant, went missing, at least two other pregnant women — both minorities; one African American, one Hispanic — also went missing. Do you know their names?

It's difficult to say for sure if Missing White Woman Syndrome is a real thing, in part because no two missing person or murder cases are exactly alike. But, in Valerie's case, the media coverage and the police chief's statements make you wonder.

Of course, in this instance, the victim was the daughter of a policeman. I think it's fair to say any father would do anything within his power to find his daughter and bring those who violated her to justice, that includes offering favors to peers who go out of their way to locate a murder suspect. Is that ethical? Well. That's not for me to decide. I can image, however, that not one single moment of this can be easy for him, or anyone else involved, and I don't blame him for doing everything he can on his daughter's behalf ... as any father would.

At the same time, every person in our society deserves our best efforts -— regardless of who their parents are or their socio-economic background. We can, and should, do better to ensure every crime victim receives equal treatment by law enforcement officials, the judicial system and the media.

What are your thoughts? Is Missing White Woman Syndrome a real thing?

Here's more about Missing White Woman Syndrome:

Rhiannon "Rhi" Bowman is an independent journalist who contributes snarky commentary on Creative Loafing's CLog blog four days a week in addition to writing for several other local media organizations. She will be a guest on WFAE's "Charlotte Talks" program Sept. 23rd where she'll discuss coal ash. She'll also be live-Tweeting from TEDxCharlotte Sept. 24. Additionally, she's on the steering committee for the Greater Charlotte Society of Professional Journalists. To learn more, click the links or follow Rhi on Twitter.

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