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  • Writer's pictureAllison Murray

Why aren't we buying bottled water for Sacoya?

Hundreds of thousands of women go missing in the United States each year. The vast majority of these women are found safe within relatively short periods of time, but some women remain chronically missing or are tragically found dead each year.

Eliza Fletcher. (People Magazine via Facebook)

Earlier this month, kindergarten teacher Eliza Fletcher, a 34-year-old white woman from Memphis, Tennessee, went missing in the early hours of the morning while on a run. The case quickly made national headlines, and social media lit up with people searching for Fletcher. Tragically, her body was found three days later, and a man was arrested and charged with her abduction and murder.

However, as many will remember, the news and the social media storm surrounding Fletcher did not taper off after her body was located – if anything, it intensified. Campaigns to “finish Eliza’s run” spread like wildfire across social media sites, and the hashtag #runforeliza trended nationally. Many were upset – understandably – that a woman on her daily run would become the seemingly random victim of such a heinous crime. It became clear that many women saw themselves in Fletcher, and viewed her killing as something that could have just as easily happened to them. Self-defense classes continue to be held in her honor.

Runners, supporters and mourners attend a 4:20 a.m. “Let's Finish Liza's Run” event in honor of the woman kidnapped and killed while running on September 2, 2022. (Mark Weber/Daily Memphian via AP)

A case you may not remember as well, however, happened around the same time just last year. In late August 2021, 33-year-old Devin “Sacoya” Cooper left her partner’s home in Columbus, Ohio, to get bottled water at a local convenience store around midnight. Police and the FBI have repeatedly reiterated that they suspect that Cooper was the victim of foul play, and have urged anyone with information to come forward. Her case remains unsolved, however, and police stated earlier this month that there is “nothing really new to share” about her disappearance.

Sacoya Cooper. (The Columbus Dispatch)

Cooper’s partner, like Fletcher’s, immediately sounded alarm bells when she did not return home, but no social media storm answered his pleas; there were no viral calls to “buy bottled water for Sacoya,” no classes offered on how women can stay safe while running errands at night.

Though these two incidents – a woman leaving her home, not to return – happened almost exactly a year apart, the responses could not have been more different. The stark contrast between how the two cases – one involving a cis, white woman, and one involving a trans, black woman – were treated by the media and the public, and the differences in their outcomes are remarkable. Fletcher’s case was solved in a matter of days, and though it ended tragically, the quick work that police, with the help of witnesses, made of the murder was able to give her family a closure that Cooper’s family has still not received.

It is impossible to know whether Cooper’s case would have been solved as Fletcher’s was if it were given the same attention. But the difference in outcomes of the two cases raises questions about whether more cases could be solved if they were all given a firestorm of attention like Fletcher’s was.

All victims deserve to be advocated for and remembered – including Fletcher. But it is impossible not to notice the continued attention Fletcher is receiving while thousands of Black women remain missing. Because it is easier for those in power to see themselves in people like Eliza Fletcher – a wealthy, cis, white woman – than it is for them to see themselves in those like Sacoya Cooper – a Black, trans woman – cases like Eliza's will continue to be focused on while cases like Sacoya's remain unsolved. News organizations, social media users, and law enforcement officers must recognize and actively combat this bias until all victims are given an equal chance for justice.

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