Minnesota advocate Lakeisha Lee holds a picture of her sister, Brittany Clardy. Clardy, 18, was missing for two weeks before her remains were discovered in the trunk of a car in 2013. Credit: Vice News/Tubi

New documentary shows how missing and murdered Black women and girls aren’t allocated the same law enforcement resources and media coverage as their white peers.

When Brittany Clardy went missing from her home in Minnesota in 2013, her family immediately knew something was wrong. The 18-year-old, a youth coordinator at a local community center, had told her mother she was just going to the corner store and would be right back. But she didn’t return or respond to messages, something that was uncharacteristic for her.

Clardy’s family contacted law enforcement. When an officer suggested that Clardy may have left voluntarily and gone somewhere with her boyfriend, “we were like, ‘No,’” Clardy’s sister Lakeisha Lee tells correspondent Alexis Johnson in the Vice News documentary, “When Black Women Go Missing.” “We are the experts on our family. We know that she did not just run away with her boyfriend.”

Two weeks later, Clardy was found murdered in the trunk of her car. Her killer, Alberto Palmer, would later plead guilty to fatally beating her with a hammer at his brother’s home and concealing her body. In the documentary, Lee says she was devastated by the killing of her sister, who she described as a “sensitive soul.”

“If she was alive today, she would still be doing something that had to do with kids and caretaking,” Lee says in the documentary. “She always was a caretaker.”

There are many Black women and girls across the country with a similarly tragic story as Clardy’s. Black women and girls go missing at disproportionately high rates, and young Black women and girls age 20 or under make up more than 15% of missing persons, Statista reports, despite making up just 2% of the US population. Despite the epidemic, missing people of color don’t receive the same kind of law enforcement resources and media attention as their white peers, advocates say. In “When Black Women Go Missing,” released via Tubi in March, Johnson and her team highlight these persistent disparities as they investigate three cases — including Clardy’s — in-depth. 

“As a Black woman in this country, I can see myself or even my loved ones reflected in so many of these victims,” Johnson says in the documentary. “But what I couldn’t wrap my head around is how such a prevalent crisis could still be so largely ignored.”

Cases of missing white women like Gabby Petito and Natalee Holloway often garner intense national media spotlight — something late journalist Gwen Ifill called “missing white woman syndrome.”  But most people likely wouldn’t be able to name a missing person of color that’s received wall-to-wall media coverage, according to Natalie Wilson, the co-founder and chief executive officer Black and Missing Foundation, which advocates for increased awareness around cases of missing people of color. 

“There’s definitely an issue, and our mission is to ensure our missing are household names too,” Wilson told URL Media.

Another persistent issue is that missing youth of color are often criminalized in the media, Wilson said. Clardy met her killer via an online sex ad in February 2013, and some media referred to her as a “prostitute” in headlines, rather than as a victim of sex trafficking and violence.

“What we’re also seeing is that our children of color aren’t necessarily seen as victims, they are adultified, and it’s like, ‘What happened to you? You brought it on yourself.’ And that’s not the case, these are minors, and they’ve also very vulnerable,” Wilson said. 

Law enforcement officials often classify missing youth as runaways, Wilson said, making them ineligible to be the subject of an Amber Alert. Even for adults, families say law enforcement can be too quick to assume that missing people left voluntarily, which they see as diminishing the possible dangers they face. In the documentary, Shadira Smothers, the sister of another slain Black woman, Krystal Anderson, describes a similar first interaction with law enforcement as Clardy’s sister — an officer suggesting the woman had run away. 

Shadira Smothers holds a picture of her sister, slain South Carolina woman Krystal Anderson, 30. Anderson’s ex-boyfriend was charged with her murder in 2022, but her remains have never been found. Credit: Vice News/Tubi

“Brittany’s story happened in 2013, and Krystal’s story happened in 2022, but both have very similar experiences,” Johnson told URL Media. “It was really eerie, and it highlighted that it is a systemic issue, we’re not just talking about one police officer who didn’t do their job.”

Anderson, a 30-year-old mother of four, was reported missing in August 2022 in South Carolina. Family immediately suspected her abusive ex-boyfriend. Despite a large amount of incriminating evidence pointing to the ex-boyfriend, Anderson’s family said the local sheriff’s department didn’t take the case seriously. It would take more than a month for the ex-boyfriend, Tony Berry, to be arrested. Anderson’s remains have yet to be found.

“So it was a bittersweet moment, you know, it was like okay they got him, but where’s Krystal, where’s she at?” Smothers told Johnson. “To me, this man has committed the perfect crime, because he had all the time in the world to do it.”

The documentary details how Black families often conduct missing persons investigations on their own, which Johnson said takes a significant emotional and financial toll. 

Despite the grim statistics and media coverage disparities, there is some movement around advocacy and awareness for missing Black women and girls. Minnesota established a task force to study the issue, chaired by Clardy’s sister Lee, and in 2023 the state became the first in the nation to establish an Office of Missing and Murdered African American Women and Girls. Also last year, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) introduced a bill that proposed a similar office on the national level within the U.S. Department of Justice. The office would spearhead data collection and policy development efforts, theGrio reported, as well as provide federal grants to local groups that support victims and families. The bill is named after Clardy.

“When Black Women go Missing” is available now on Tubi. You can also attend three upcoming live screenings:

NEW YORK: Screening hosted by Empire State University Black Male Initiative, Saturday, June 29. Register here.  

WASHINGTON, D.C.: Screening hosted by Washington Association of Black Journalists, Monday, July 1. Registration link TBD.

PITTSBURGH: Screening hosted by Pittsburgh Video Consortium, Friday, July 14. Registration link TBD.