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  • Writer's pictureEmily Smith

Are the "Mysterious" Deaths of Black Women Really a Mystery?

Updated: Feb 26, 2022

FotografiaBasica/Getty Images

Ashlyn Black, a 25-year-old woman was killed early Sunday morning on May 24th, 2020 by a man she met on Tinder, a popular dating site, earlier that night. Ethan Hunsaker choked and repeatedly stabbed Ashlyn before calling the police in Layton, Utah. Hunsaker plead guilty and was sentenced on February 22nd, 2022 to 18 months of mental health hospitalization and 15 years to life in Utah State Prison. A google search for Ashlyn’s case reveals hundred of news sites, local and national, covering the story from the day of the murder and through Hunsaker’s sentencing. Among the results were also multiple blog posts and podcasts that cover true crime cases with names such as “Morbidology” and “Chilling Crimes”. These are private individuals dedicated to looking into and summarizing grisly murders for their audiences of thousands.

Lauren Smith-Fields, 23, was found dead on December 12, 2021, after her date, which she met online the same day, called police for assistance. Lauren’s death was ruled an overdose due to a mix of fentanyl, antihistamines, and alcohol. Lauren’s family was not notified by the police of her death but instead found out due to a note left on her apartment door by her landlord. The family reported the detective in charge of the case told them to stop calling and that the man at the scene “was a very nice guy”.The family's attorney plans to file a lawsuit against the city police for failing to properly investigate. The man who was there and called the police was never detained or charged and his name could not be found anywhere in these news reports. A google search for Lauren’s case turns up no blog posts, no private arm-chair investigators, or news reports of the investigative process. Instead, all the coverage of Lauren’s case consists of reports of the outrage received on social media by Lauren’s family and members of the online community. These stories all come weeks following Lauren’s death after her family and friends took to social media to fight for awareness and help in receiving justice for Lauren. Headlines did not summarize the tragic death of a young woman but instead use the grief of her family and the incompetence of the police to cover the story.

Photos used in articles about Lauren’s case consist of ones from the fight for justice rather than ones that highlight the woman who lost her life. Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media via AP

What’s the difference between these two cases to account for such a vastly different media and police response? Ashlyn is a white woman and Lauren is a black woman. Black women and women from other marginalized communities have long dealt with inequity in both the investigation and reporting of crimes against them but also in the depth and scope of media response. Lauren’s story is not the first account of a black woman’s death being underreported and underinvestigated. Kenneka Jenkin’s death in 2017 and Tamia Horsford’s death in 2018 were also recent incidents of black women mysteriously dying but not receiving the proper investigation by police. The only reason people know these names and Lauren’s is because of the public outcry and refusal to back down in the fight for justice by their friends and family. Once people on social media are made aware of the injustice occurring, news outlets report on this online organizing and sometimes cause police to revisit the case. Police are content to rule deaths like these an accident or a mystery to wrap up investigations quickly and without expending resources. Black women are consistently undermined in receiving the rights and respect from police that they are entitled to as humans and citizens. Crimes against black women need to be taken as seriously and investigated as thoroughly as those against white women.

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