When JonBenet Ramsey was savagely murdered in 1996, the story was on the front cover of every newspaper around the nation for what seemed like an eternity. It was, and remains, a tragic and fascinating case, but the media coverage of this little girl’s sad demise speaks volumes about us as a society; our priorities and attitudes as well as our perspectives about race and class are revealed through the ongoing discussion about this child, her parents and the crime itself. Now, 17 years later, some are asking about JonBenet Ramsey, but their questions don’t center around who killed the tiny beauty queen. Rather, the question on our minds is when can we stop talking about her?
Why should we stop talking about her, though? After all, her murder is still unsolved and it was revealed this week that a grand jury desired to indict her parents back in 1999. That means, of course, that the experts involved in the case must have had enough evidence to move forward with an indictment but the DA put the kibosh on it, citing insufficient evidence. In 2008, another DA stated that DNA evidence cleared the entire immediate family of any involvement in the little girl’s death.
The news has been reported thousands of times that the family has been completely cleared. An attorney for the family has cited “conclusive 2008 DNA testing that led to the unequivocal, public exoneration of the Ramsey Family by the Boulder District Attorney.” It ran in every newspaper in the nation five years ago.
So, why are we still talking about Jonbenet Ramsey and when can we stop? The answer lies steeped in the racial and class inequalities embedded in American society. Because JonBenet was white, and her family very rich, her case has garnered much more attention than many other cases. There are black 6 year olds who are murdered, too. There are cold cases that revolve around Hispanic children. There are savage and unspeakable crimes that happen to many minority children on a consistent basis, but the murder we are constantly reminded about, the one we’re never allowed to forget is very important, is the murder of JonBenet Ramsey.
Does it really matter that a grand jury wanted to indict John and Patsy Ramsey for this crime in 1999? These two poor souls had nothing to do with the child’s death, and DNA evidence now proves that to be true. Yet, cover pages around the nation are taking up their front page space with this “news” about what the grand jury wanted to do when that space could be devoted to one or more of the current, open cases revolving around minority and all children; more recent cases that have not grown cold. Instead, we are forced to gorge on the sensationalistic details over and over while simultaneously punishing the Ramsey parents, even torturing Patsy Ramsey’s memory beyond the grave.
By dredging up this story again and again we’re glorifying and reinforcing what it means to be white in America while at the same time inflicting pain on the Ramsey family as a sort of retribution for their being wealthy. Being rich and white in America means you get all the attention on the news to the exclusion of minorities, but you also get the jealousy and wrath of those less fortunate than you combined with a culture whose decline into a complete loss of empathy is currently reaching epic proportions.
Have you ever heard of Sherrice Iverson? No? Well she was just 7 years of age when she was horrifically sexually assaulted in a bathroom and murdered. How about Patrick Alford? He was also 7 when he disappeared. His case is a cold case, just like Jonbenet’s. Hassani Campbell was just 5 years old when he disappeared. He had cerebral palsy and was disabled. Ever hear of him? Adorable Danydia Betty-Jacqueline Thompson was walking to school when she disappeared. Her body was found about a week later and her case remains unsolved. Why isn’t her picture gracing the front cover of every national newspaper today? These minority children and their tragic circumstances have gotten no media coverage at all.
You’ve never heard of any of these children even though focusing on their cases is much more important than a totally irrelevant grand jury desire from 1999. Why?
JonBenet Ramsey is gone, and her parents have been cleared of her murder. When can we stop talking about her and move on to fresher cases that have a greater probability of being solved? All children who have suffered terrible fates deserve a voice, not just wealthy, white child beauty queens. It is not the fault of the newspapers, though. They are simply a mirror that reflects what the public wants and demands to consume. Continuing the abuse of the Ramseys in the press to elevate our own self worth to the exclusion of these other, more recent cases is wrong, so let us stop engaging in it, no matter how satisfied it makes us feel.
An editorial by: Rebecca Savastio