Phylicia Barnes Death Highlights Media Double Standard

When Phylicia Barnes went missing in Baltimore in December, the media coverage on the case was sparse at best, especially when compared to other missing young girls in recent history.

Natalee Holloway's disappearance in Aruba, for instance, still makes headlines today. And yet, Barnes -- a straight-A student from North Carolina who was only 16 when she disappeared -- registered barely a blip on the media radar.

On Wednesday, her body was found in the Susquehanna River near a second body. The connection is not yet clear, but she was identified through a tattoo on her leg. And for many of us, the coverage she is now getting represents the first time we've heard about the case. 

And many are blaming her race because Barnes was African American.


Last January, Anthony Guglielmi, a Baltimore Police spokesman, said he was frustrated by efforts to bring the case national attention and thus, maybe, save Barnes' life.

He and the commander of the homicide unit had been prepared to go on CNN to talk to legal commentator Nancy Grace, but they were bumped for an hour-long report on a missing Texas cheerleader.

He said:

Day two, day three, when we were putting information out about Phylicia's disappearance, we were talking about birds falling out of the sky in Arkansas and fish coming up dead in Maryland's harbor. And this girl's in danger. And she needs help. And it was very frustrating for my office to see an anemic response from our national media partners.

Consider the frenzy around the disappearance of the lovely (and very blonde) Elizabeth Smart who was kidnapped from her home in 2002 and later found in 2003. To this day, Smart and her trial make headlines. But until today, many hadn't even heard of the Barnes case.

Consider the disappearance of Holloway in Aruba nearly seven years ago that sparked a media frenzy. The same is true of the apparent abduction of the nursing student Holly Bobo in Indiana. But in Phylicia's case, there were practically crickets.

Why? The fact is, this isn't new information. For years many have complained about a double standard that had us all aghast when a pretty blonde girl goes missing, but barely even scathed when a girl from the inner-city does.

When Laci Peterson, a beautiful, vivacious 20-something mom-to-be married to the "perfect man" disappeared, it launched a veritable media circus. Only a few months before, Evelyn Hernandez, a 24-year-old pregnant Hispanic woman, disappeared along with her 5-year-old son in San Francisco. No one cared until the Peterson case went national and then it received attention because of the parallels.

The phenomenon even has a name -- Missing White Woman Syndrome -- and it was blamed after the pregnant LaToyia Figueroa disappeared from Philadelphia at around the same time as the Holloway case and attracted no national attention because the media was focused on Holloway. 

It's a real thing, this double standard, and it isn't fair. No life is worth less than another and one shouldn't be given more care and concern than another. But then, that's obvious. The question of course is, how do we change it?

How do we change this?


Image via Martin Pettitt/Flickr

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