A law of stereotyping

It has been a month since 14-year-old Yashanee Vaughn went missing. The local teenager has still not been located, although police have indicated that they believe Vaughn was murdered.

It has been a month since 14-year-old Yashanee Vaughn went missing. The local teenager has still not been located, although police have indicated that they believe Vaughn was murdered.

Parrish Bennette, 16, has come to be the police’s key suspect, and on April 8 was indicted on murder charges.

When Vaughn first went missing, police treated the case as though Vaughn was a runaway. Not filing a missing persons report until March 28, the police wasted over a week, while the family of Vaughn had to rally outside Northeast Precinct to get attention for the victim.

At first the argument was put forth that Vaughn was not being treated as a missing person because of her previous misdemeanor run-ins with the law. The police type-casted her as a troublemaker, and thus gave the public perception that Vaughn was not worth the trouble.

When forced to see that Vaughn was clearly missing and allegedly murdered, the police changed their tune and began a genuine search for her.

When different media publications printed the gap in investigation, the public reaction was highly polarized. On many local news blogs, the commentary by readers demonstrated people’s outrage at the police for racially profiling Vaughn, as well as treating her like a criminal instead of a victim.

The police also used the media as a defense tool to distract from their poor judgment. This was especially true in the April 5 Katu.com article “‘No-snitching’ code may be hindering missing teen case.”

Indicating that a “no-snitching” code amongst Vaughn and Bennette’s friends was a reason that they were unable to get any solid evidence regarding the case, the article fails to address why many communities are reluctant to talk to the police, even if indeed they do know something.

The commentary on the news site, which says that it will be edited for appropriate content, is overrun with extremely offensive, bigoted statements. One commentator states, “Anyone following the ‘no snitching’ rule is simply showing themselves to be a lowlife, chicken s***, parasite, honor-less, ignorant, weak, classless loser. Or, you could just say ‘gang member.’ In light of all of this crime lately, I’m reconsidering my view on ‘abortion.’ Maybe it should be the other way around, you should have to prove that you are capable of raising a child. That would eliminate 99 percent of the future gang members.”

It is no secret that in our criminal injustice system, the people who know something about a crime can be charged with being an accomplice based on what they tell. The laws are built around a “quick to punish” mentality instead of focused on the needs of the victim.

Profit-driven by the largely privatized prison industrial system, and ideologically driven by racism, amongst other isms, the police have not historically been successful at helping victims of domestic violence. What they have been successful in is putting well over a million people of color in prison.

This is not to say that people who victimize others should not be held accountable for their actions. It is to say that the current system has not been effective in stopping it and makes criminals out of people based on stereotyping.

Vaughn herself was treated this way before the police changed their minds. If Vaughn had feared an attack by Bennette beforehand, it is likely that she wouldn’t feel safe going to the police about it, since they were focused more on criminalizing her than helping.

This is indicated by the fact that many victims of domestic violence and other crimes against women are not reported. The police have been called into question a number times for their interrogations and harassment of rape and domestic violence victims.

Yashanee Vaughn’s story continues to unfold. I am truly sorry to her family for the loss that they have suffered and for the injustice that they have experienced on top of this terrible tragedy. May Vaughn’s story be a lesson on how our society lacks in helping victims. Until we can address this elephant in the room, we have no chance in making a safer city for us all. ?

To give anonymous tips and any other information regarding Yashanee Vaughn’s case, please call Crime Stoppers.