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Missing Blacks Get Second-Class News Coverage
By: Hazel Trice Edney
NNPA Washington Correspondent
Originally posted 8/11/2005

WASHINGTON (NNPA) - When 24-year-old Tamika Huston of Spartanburg, S.C., did not return home on June 2 last year, her mother, Gabrilla Simehehe, her friends and other family members began relying on every resource to find her.
Hoping to get quick, wide-spread coverage on the 4’11”, 125-pound aspiring singer, they called in a missing person’s report to the Spartanburg, S.C. Police Department, they reached out to the local news media, missing persons agencies, and to the national news stations.

It seemed, however, the national airwaves were already crowded as day after day the stories of missing White women took precedent over people of color.

“In reference to Natalie Holloway and the others, I mean, I’m going through the same thing they’re going through. They’ve gotten the attention that they deserve to get and I wish we could receive the same attention they’ve been getting,” says Simehehe. “I guess they just pick a formula that the public would like to see. I’m angry behind this because every person should be treated equal.”

The sagas of Holloway, the American student who vanished on the Caribbean island of Aruba; Atlanta’s Jennifer Wilbanks, the “runaway bride,” who returned home safely from New Mexico after faking an abduction; and Fresno, Calif.’s Laci Peterson, whose husband, Scott, has been convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of her and their unborn son, are a few among those that Simehehe watched being aired day after day while her daughter and others were not mentioned.

The stories that have been aired are quite diverse, but the victims all have one thing in common. They are all White, young and pretty. That mold only compounded the pain for Huston’s aunt, Rebkah Howard, a public relations expert in Florida.

Howard recalled the morning that the news of a Salt Lake City, Utah case of missing jogger Lori Hacking hit the airwaves July 19 last year.

“Literally within hours after her not returning from her morning jog, it was all over the news,” Howard says. “I was so frustrated because literally all the same programs, all the same correspondents who I had been reaching out to – to no avail – were all over that story. That’s when it really hit home for me. ‘What makes her story any more compelling than my niece’s? What makes her any more important than Tamika?’”

Within four months of national news coverage, Hacking’s husband, Mark, confessed to having murdered his wife and her body was recovered.

Meanwhile, Spartanburg police say they have discovered blood belonging to Huston under a carpet inside the former apartment of a man she had been dating. Police won’t release his name, but say he has been incarcerated on an unrelated parole violation until the investigation yields enough evidence to charge him in Huston’s disappearance.

Investigators say major news coverage of a case always help to bring leads by putting pressure on the police and the community and by broadening the name and face recognition of the person being sought.

“There does appear there may be some difference in the national news coverage says Lt. Steve Lamb, the lead investigator on the Huston case. At this point more than a year later, he says, “Hope that she is still alive is very slim.”

The family holds on to what little hope is left.

“Every time Tamika gets a single coverage from a national program, new leads come in,” says Howard. America’s Most Wanted was the first national media to pick up the story in March, nine months after she was reported missing. More than a year later, MSNBC and NBC have also aired the story.

“I understand that not every case can be covered as widely as they’ve been covering Natalie Holloway, for example. But why don’t you cut back on that coverage? We don’t have to know every single time her mother meets with the police. We don’t have to know if her Mom got up this morning and had scrambled eggs,” Howard says. “We don’t have to know every detail. Report when you have something to report; then you will be able to open it up to make the coverage a little bit more broad.”

Meanwhile, Howard has established a Web site,, that features 22 other missing persons, mostly Black, who are having difficulty getting exposure in national media. The cases include nine missing adult Black males.

Among other cases of missing persons is the case of Latoya Figueroa, a pregnant 24-year-old Black woman missing since July 18.

The news coverage may not have saved her niece’s life, Howard says, “But what I think it could have saved is a lot of heartache for our family because I certainly believe had the intense media scrutiny been on this case initially, I think we would have found her by now. I think we would have had at least a confession or an arrest in the case. That’s where I think the media could have made the difference.”


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