The death of Kenneka Jenkins, the Chicago-area teen whose body was found in a freezer earlier this week, hit me hard. Oh, no. Not another one, I thought. I scrolled through various news feeds, and each time was struck by the image of the precious young lady with the dimpled smile. She had an entire life ahead of her and was snatched away from the world in circumstances that are still unclear, but very suspicious.
What we do know is that Kenneka was last seen at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel and Conference Center last Saturday night. She had gone there with some friends for a party. We also know that she had gotten there in her mother Tereasa Martin’s vehicle. According to Martin, Kenneka’s friends called Martin at 4 o’clock in the morning to advise her that they had lost track of Kenneka, but had her phone and were in Martin’s car. These details are enough to make any parent’s heart sink. Martin said that she headed over to the hotel, and after being given the runaround by both the hotel staff and the police, Kenneka’s body was found in the freezer nearly 24 hours after she had first disappeared.
What’s more is that there is a very disturbing Facebook Live video that seems to show Kenneka’s reflection in the sunglasses of the young lady filming the video. Some say that you can distinctly hear someone yelling “Help me!” before the music is abruptly turned up to drown out the sound. The most stomach-churning suspicion being bandied about is that Kenneka’s friends set her up to be sexually assaulted, and for a paltry sum of $200.
Martin says that in the immediate aftermath of the discovery of her daughter’s body, her friends kept changing their stories about the sequence of events that led to Kenneka’s disappearance. Martin further states that neither the hotel staff, nor the police initially took her concerns about her daughter’s safety seriously. Media coverage of Kenneka’s disappearance and subsequent death has been scant.
Unfortunately, this is a painfully familiar scenario when a black girl or woman disappears. The assumption often made is that she’s a criminal, a runaway, or a sex worker. Thousands of disgusting social media comments that lay the blame at the feet of Kenneka herself for her own disappearance and death have made the rounds. “She should have known better,” they say. “She should have picked better friends.”
Contrast that with what happens when young white girls and women disappear from anywhere. Their disappearances and murders become national headlines and we remember their names for years, even decades after they’ve disappeared or died. Natalee Holloway, Jon Benet Ramsey, Elizabeth Smart, etc.–the list goes on and on for white female victims of kidnapping, and murders, with only scant attention ever paid to a young black girl or woman who disappears. Based on the news coverage, you would think that white girls and women are the only ones targeted for kidnappings and murders. Think about it: how many names of black female murder/kidnapping victims can you name that have become national media stories? (I didn’t think so.) The reality is that there are more than 75000 missing black women and girls in the country, but you would never know it based on public perceptions about whose disappearances matter.
Could a more motivated hotel staff or police force have prevented what happened to Kenneka? I don’t know. But when casual observers, trained police agencies, and national media outlets seem resigned to the notion that the disappearances of black girls and women is “normal” and therefore not worthy of diligent followup or news coverage, it doesn’t bode well for women who look like me and my sisters. Kenneka deserved so much better than how her life ended. And in death she deserves even more still. For our own sakes, we all do.