TikTok’s True Crime Followers Are Focusing On Lacking Individuals Of Shade
When Layla Jama, a Canadian TikTok user of TTDrama, posted two consecutive videos on the Gabby Petitio case earlier this week, many of her 747,000 followers left comments under her content with the hashtag #FindJelaniDay.
They asked Jama, who describes herself as a storyteller, to speak on her platform about the 25-year-old black Jelani Day, who has been missing in Illinois for a month. (Police confirmed Thursday that his body was found in the Illinois River on September 4th.)
On Tuesday – when Jelani Day was still missing, Jama made a TikTok and said, “Stop and listen, you should take care of missing blacks too.”
It is part of a growing campaign in the true crime community in response to the fact that Petitio’s case goes so viral despite the disappearance of other people, mostly colored, who have been largely ignored.
Jama’s TikTok featured an emotional clip from a Newsy interview with Day’s mom, Carmen Bolden, who collapsed when she asked for the same kind of attention for her missing son as Petitio – a 22-year-old #VanLife influencer who went missing last month while on a road trip across the country with her fiancé Brian Laundrie – got. (Petito was later found dead in Wyoming pending an arrest warrant for Laundrie, who has disappeared.)
“I know about Gabby, the missing girl,” said a tearful Bolden in the September 17th clip. “And she’s been missing for two days and her face is taped all over the place and the FBI is involved and I don’t see why Jelani doesn’t get the same coverage.”
“I want you to look for my child as if you are looking for it,” she added. “He’s not a nobody, he’s someone … and it makes me angry because this young white girl gets that attention and my young black son doesn’t.”
On her TikTok this week, Jama finished by asking her followers to “do your FBI and detective work and find him”.
The TikTok received more than 1 million views and over 80,000 shares, including a repost by the musician Lizzo who used the hashtag #FindJelaniDay.
“Before and most recently with the Gabby Petito case, it was proven that TikTok can blow up the case of a missing person and get this family the resources they need to get that person home,” @TrueCrimeCam said in another viral TikTok covering the case of Jelani on Tuesday.
The hashtag #FindJelaniDay had 9.5 million views on TikTok on Thursday. The hashtag #GabbyPetito has 919 million views.
“Gabby’s fall sparked Jelani’s fall,” Jama told BuzzFeed News in an interview on Wednesday, the day before his death was confirmed.
After Petito’s case went viral, blacks on TikTok began holding talks about how missing black people are treated differently from Petito’s, Jama said. Some of her followers even sent Jama a DM asking her to post about Jelani’s case.
Petito’s Disappearance and Now Murder has fueled a week-long national obsession with the young, white woman, whose Instagram photos dominated the news feeds and the airwaves, highlighting the blatant discrepancy in media coverage and public interest between missing white women cases and those in which people were involved, highlights the color.
The national fixation was in large part sparked by true crime enthusiasts on TikTok and Twitter, who provided their followers with a steady stream of updates, combed Petito and Laundrie’s Instagram pages for the smallest details, and shared their theories about what was happening could be.
“The world goes mad when a white woman goes missing against a black person,” Seve Day said in an interview with BuzzFeed News the day before the authorities confirmed his older brother’s death.
“We see what kind of attention or how much attention a case gets based on our skin color,” he added.
“It’s a shame to have to compare and I definitely have compassion for this family, but this missing person case has only been running for 2 days and has already received 100x more media coverage around the world than my brother Jelani Day.” Older sister Dacara Day wrote in a Facebook post on September 16, referring to Petito’s case. “My brother has been missing since August 24th, 2021 !! That’s 23 DAYS !! “
Jelani, who wanted to become a speech pathologist, was reported missing on August 25, the day after he was last seen on the Illinois State University campus and later at a cannabis dispensary in Bloomington. His car was found with his clothes in a wooded area in Peru 60 miles north of Bloomington. Investigators found a body in the Illinois River on September 4, but it took nearly three weeks to confirm it was him.
While his disappearance found local media coverage at the time, attention waned until interest in Petitio’s case encouraged social media users to delve into the stories of missing people of color.
“Shouldn’t be surprised to hear about it now, but I still am. Blow up this case like Gabby Petito and please #FindJelaniDay. ”Said a Twitter user on September 19th.
“I don’t know much about her case, but let’s put the same energy into finding #LaurenCho as we did for #GabbyPetito,” said another Twitter user in a widespread tweet, referring to the case of the 30-year-old New Jersey woman who disappeared on June 28 in Yucca Valley, California.
Another viral tweet drew attention to Daniel Robinson, a black geologist who went missing in the desert outside of Buckeye, Arizona on June 23.
Right now I’m trembling as I read about the discovery of Gabby Petito’s body in Wyoming. As we pursue this case, please take 5 seconds to read about Daniel Robinson, a geologist who went missing three months ago in the desert outside of Buckeye. His father is still looking for him.
03:15 – 20.09.2021
But Seve didn’t think it was Petitos’ case who drew attention to his brother’s story. Instead, he credited his family and friends for persistently posting and tweeting about Jelani “to get his story out and not be overshadowed by a white woman.”
Jama, the TikTok user, agreed that people were focused on Jelani’s case because of his family’s social media.
She highlighted the clip of Jelani’s mother crying on TV on her TikTok so people could relate a family member’s heartbreak, she said.
Jama also spoke to Jelani’s mother and brother to learn more details about his disappearance, which would “draw public attention” and lead Internet detectives to investigate the case.
“Social media likes a good story,” she said. “They want a riddle to be solved.”
When a missing person doesn’t have a social media presence or the family is unwilling to share information, it becomes harder for people to care about the case, she added.
Jama said social media helped put public pressure on authorities to act faster and be more transparent.
John Fermon, the public information officer for the Bloomington Police investigating the Jelani case, said he was pleased with the attention the case received, aside from a few bad tips to distract detectives.
Fermon, who spoke to BuzzFeed News the day before Jelani’s death was confirmed, said police are restricted by guidelines on how much information they can post about a missing person’s case.
When authorities release details about a high-risk missing person, be it on social media and the news media, to determine if the case is interesting.
In an ideal world, Jama said, Jelani’s case would have piqued interest regardless of Petito’s case. But the disproportionate attention paid to Petito has made people aware of the “Missing White Girl Syndrome,” she said.
It has sparked a lot of conversation and people have realized that “it’s always the pretty girl who gets the attention,” she added.