'Not For People Who Look Like Us': B-N NAACP On Justice And Racial Disparity
Leaders of the NAACP in Bloomington-Normal are offering their support to the family of Jelani Day, the ISU graduate student who went missing Aug. 24. Day was identified last week after his body that was recovered from the Illinois River on Sept. 4.
In the weeks following his disappearance, Day’s mother was critical of the investigation into her son’s case. Carmen Bolden Day drew comparisons between the handling of Day’s case and that of Gabby Petito, a white woman who went missing around the same time. Petito’s case drew national media attention and was investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI. Petito’s body has since been recovered and her death is being investigated as a homicide.
No details surrounding the circumstances of Day’s death have been released.
Carla Campbell-Jackson, vice president of the Bloomington-Normal branch of the NAACP, said there’s a term that describes the disparity between the two cases: “missing white woman syndrome.”
The term was coined by journalist Gwen Ifill, a pioneering journalist who was the first Black woman to host a national news program. Ifill used the term to describe the disproportionate media coverage of missing person cases involving white, upper-class women and girls.
“We should have that same level of passion and determination for helping to bring resolution to everyone who goes missing,” Campbell-Jackson said. Passion and determination are the hallmarks of many of the high-profiles cases involving missing white women, often manifesting as regular press conferences and obsessive updates on network news.
“We see it all the time,” added B-N NAACP President Linda Foster. “But not for people who look like us.”
In the days leading to the identification of his body, Day’s mother began publicly calling upon the FBI to get involved — just as they were in Gabby Petito’s case. That call was echoed by members of the NAACP.
“Why should I have to fight for the FBI to get involved in something so precious as this?” Foster said. “For we know (in) the past, the FBI, the CIA, were in our lives unprovoked, unwanted.”
Foster said the constant fight for equal treatment and social justice is exhausting. “Our forefathers have been doing this for hundreds of years, going back to slavery.”
But she had a message for the community, and for the family of Jelani Day as they continue the search for answers.
“We’re not tired yet,” she said.
Following the identification last week of Day’s body, the LaSalle County Sheriff’s Office announced the formation of a “multi-jurisdictional unit to further the ongoing investigation into the death of Jelani Day.” The unit includes the FBI.