Would Sage Smith still be missing if she were a white, cisgender female?
Despite its charming country roads and historic college attractions, Charlottesville is no stranger to receiving its ill share of national attention—just last month, the remains of 18 year-old Hannah Graham were discovered on an isolated property in neighboring Albemarle County.
Despite the Charlottesville police department’s best efforts, it took several weeks and an endless amount of searching to bring Graham’s case to a close.
Yet two years later, the case of a missing 21 year-old transgender woman remains an open wound for the friends and family of Dashad Laquinn “Sage” Smith.
Smith’s body has never been recovered, and the only possible answers which could help solve the case are hidden away in the mind of Erik McFadden. His involvement with Smith keeps McFadden classified as a “person of interest” to the Charlottesville police department, but it is difficult to ignore the seeming lack of effort from the department when Jesse Matthew, Graham’s assailant, was found 1300 miles away from his own crime scene in less than five weeks.
Both cases point to critical differences in the treatment of both women, and their aggressors.
In Graham’s case, Matthew was actively sought out from the first lead; for Smith, however, McFadden remains at large.
His designation as a mere ‘person of interest’ suggests that, although McFadden was one of the last people to have known contact with Smith before her disappearance, Smith’s case is not cumbersome enough to launch a full-scale manhunt.
While McFadden is sought by the Charlottesville police for questioning, the fact that he continues to roam freely should be an extreme cause for concern. Just look at Matthew, who is currently being linked to the death of Morgan Harrington, another young woman who went missing in 2009 and was later found dead.
As quoted in C-Ville, Charlottesville city officials claim that “they always intended for the two cases to be treated equally,” but the harsh difference in the treatment of both cases suggests that Smith’s disappearance remains less of a concern, less human.
How else could you explain the police speaking to the main suspect in the case, and then letting him disappear without a trace?
While Graham’s case created a national outcry of justice for the countless missing women in this country, it also unwittingly opened up a question of interest for those missing persons who fall outside of the white, cisgender identity.
Compared to the media coverage of Hannah Graham, calling the media’s silence towards Smith’s disappearance deafening is a maddening understatement. Additionally, the lack of media coverage for Sage Smith fails to illustrate the extreme violence that trans-women of color regularly face.
It also begs the question: would Sage Smith still be missing if she were a white, cisgender female?
The lack of coverage for Sage Smith also highlights an incredibly dangerous media phenomenon for LGBTQ people of color—that our identities as healthy, vibrant, and important members of society will continue to go unnoticed.
Instead, the face of America will continue to flash its blindingly white smile across all media outlets. We will continue to live whatever life the media wishes to portray us as living—not as brothers, sisters, parents, or sons and daughters, but as whatever comic relief or gay sidekick role needs to be filled.
Lastly, the biggest, and perhaps the most unfortunate, disparity between the two cases may be found with both victims’ parents.
The parents of Hannah Graham received their answers five weeks after her disappearance. Now imagine being Latasha Grooms, Smith’s mother, who has waited an agonizing 104 weeks for answers, but is still left with the thought of yet another holiday celebrated without her eldest child.
TK Babington is a freelance writer, aspiring novelist, and short story enthusiast. Her research and writing has been recognized by the American Sociological Association in their section of Peace, War and Social Conflict. When she isn’t frightening complete strangers with her social critiques, she can usually be found napping the day away with her 11 year-old Shih-Tzu, Goomba, or questioning the near lack of strong, female lead characters in video games. She also works a lot. Follow her on Twitter!
“It’s important to not pretend that Richmond is exempt from that, and acknowledge that fear exists.”November 16, 2016
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