Being in Indiana for a couple of days has put me squarely in the epicenter of a severe outbreak of Missing White Woman Syndrome (MWWS). If "Help! Missing!" posters could bring someone back to life, we'd have like 15 Lauren Spierers by now. The case is not only a matter of tremendous local interest and controversy but it is fodder for the national media as well – CBS, CNN, Fox News, USA Today, and on and on. Three observations:
1. Remind me again why we care? Let me rephrase that: remind me again why we care selectively. People who like to pretend that our society is classless and post-racial and all that other sweet sounding pap need look no further than Jessica Lynch, Natalie Holloway, JonBenet Ramsey, etc etc for contradictory evidence. Finding exact statistics or reliable estimates is difficult, but the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children lists 920 female children who have gone missing in the last five years and have not been found. If we were to get a number including male children, adults, missing persons who were eventually found, and cases that never get reported, we would see that literally thousands of people go missing every year. Why do we fixate on a handful of them?
2. Good question, Ed. Let me answer that: because as individuals and as a society, we divide our fellow Americans into Innocent Victims and People Who Had It Coming. When young, pretty, upper/upper-middle class blond girls go missing it's a huge tragedy because We think that isn't supposed to happen to her. That's only supposed to happen to the underclass we stridently ignore. No one cares when a young black teenager disappears because, well, that's what the media and society at large expect to happen to black kids. You know, the girls all get murdered by their Pimps and eventually the boys all get shot in drive-bys or end up in prison. And We lack sympathy because We rationalize the decision to blame the victims: their parents are all Welfare Queens or they choose to live in poverty and kill each other like animals so hey, what else do you expect to happen?
Hispanic kids can disappear without notice because Hispanics are generally the invisible underclass (and backbone) of the urban economy. Besides, how can we search for some Mexican kid – they all look the same anyway!!!! Ha ha ha. But what a tragedy about poor Lauren. It's not the crime that shocks us but the shattering of our expectations. Being the victim of violence is practically the birthright of little Ebony or Luis. Lauren's birthright was wealth and privilege, so it's jarring to the average suburban Nancy Grace fan to see that she won't get it.
3. Lest you think this hoopla is harmless, the media circus and public attention impact the way the police/prosecutors operate. In fact, it guarantees that the case will be nearly impossible to resolve. When the public works itself into a frenzy over the matter the police go under the microscope – why can't they find that poor girl? They know they have to charge someone. In Spierer's case, they're just dying to charge one of the men who were with her before she disappeared. As a result, not one of them is going to cooperate with the investigation and offer information that may be useful. Every one of them has a lawyer and instructions not to say one single word (which I don't criticize – people who offer information in high-pressure situations like this usually find themselves suspects in short order). Let me throw a hypothetical at you.
Let's say I walk Lauren back to her apartment. I see her get in someone else's car and then no one ever sees her again. I tell the police "I was alone with her, and I'm the last person to see her before she disappeared. I saw her get in a car with someone I didn't know and that's all I know." That sounds like a helpful thing, right? I might even be able to describe the car or the driver. That kind of information could move the case toward a resolution. But these days – and given the mindset of cops/elected officials – the more likely outcome is that I find myself a suspect or perhaps even charged with murder for A) admitting to being the last person who saw her and B) offering information that can't be corroborated in a case where the cops desperately need to charge someone – anyone – to mollify the public. So of course my lawyer instructs me on the only logical course of action: say absolutely nothing to the police or anyone else. It doesn't matter that you're innocent and you're trying to help; they'll pin everything on you in a heartbeat if you give them the opportunity.
And with that, I'm already angry at myself for having been sucked into devoting 780 words to this case. As sad as her disappearance is for her family, the cold reality is that what happened to her is unfortunately common. I'm not any more or less concerned about her family and her fate simply because her parents are loaded and she was pretty.