Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Grim Sleeper: Death and Racial Politics

grim sleeper screenshotHow did you first learn of the elusive serial killer The Grim Sleeper or have you heard of him at all? I first heard of this killer yesterday at one of the blogs I read, Field Negro, but the news went over my head.

Something distracted me, and I didn't read the post. I saw a picture similar to the one you see to your right and saw Field's headline with a question mark, "If It Bleeds It Leads?" I thought the post was about media pushing violence to the forefront of news and decided I'd come back and read the post later.

I didn't know what I had seen until I saw the words "Grim Sleeper" again in a post at by Lainad: The Grim Sleeper: How L.A. Cops Delayed Notifying the Public About a Serial Killer.

What's the issue? That the Grim Sleeper is a bleeder of story and yet it hasn't been in the news. Since 1985, a serial killer has been targeting black women, particularly prostitutes, in Los Angeles, Ca., but it took The LA Weekly, an alternative newspaper, to break the story and give it the coverage it deserves in 2008. ("The Grim Sleeper Returns") The LA Weekly reports the killer is estimated to be responsible for 11 deaths.

Someone could and someone has argued that the victims are hookers and street people and that's why the police have been slow to buckle down on this case until it received media attention. I'm thinking, nawww. Can you say Jack the Ripper? He's one of the most famous serial killers of all time, studied repeatedly by criminologists, and Jack killed prostitutes only. White prostitutes.

There's also a debate about police not being able to go farther with the case because of DNA issues and the right access to a criminal offender's data base. I'm still thinking, nawwww. That's a lame excuse and it doesn't explain why these murders were kept out of the public eye after the police realized they were the work of a serial killer.

Here's part of the comment I left on Lainad's post:
I'm appalled by the attitudes of the police that they don't want to worry the public because it's just street people. Furthermore, I agree with points others have made that if this had been some killer knocking off white women, it would have been all over the news. The police and perhaps some of the media as well seem to function under the premise that poor black somen don't matter. (Blogher comment)
Do the math, 1985 to 2009, consider all the stories you've seen in the news in just the last ten years about missing white women or serial killers who target whites or the affluent, and then meditate on the reasons why we're just hearing more about The Grim Sleeper. According to The LA Weekly story in 2008, police knew for four years that the murders are connected and the work of one man. The LA Weekly dubbed the killer The Grim Sleeper last August.

Lainad writes:
Let me repeat: It took a newspaper to announce to the public that a serial killer is in their midst. Does this make sense to you? Yesterday, (Christine) Pelisek wrote about the only survivor of the Grim Sleeper, Enitra Margette, who was raped and shot in 1988. Apparently and perhaps because her attack happened during a time where there were 50 black women found murdered, she had never been told that her attacker was a serial killer. ... Margette was not a 'street person' but an average citizen who happened to accept a ride.
I don't think he's mentioned it since his new blog went up, but I recall reading a post once by Steven Hart, a white journalist, who commented on how the media goes into a frenzy when white females go missing but remains relatively silent when minority women go missing. I mention Hart because he's one of the few people who is not a person of color who's taken on the issue of racial disparity in missing people coverage.

African American bloggers regularly take on this topic and discuss the disparity. MsLadyDeborah at From My Brown Eyed View has a Black and Missing widget in her sidebar created by the blogger at Black and Missing, and Deborah covers cases of missing people of color at her blog sometimes. As previously mentioned, Field Negro takes on the topic, and others in the black blogosphere have addressed it or at least tried to give coverage to missing black children and women; Electronic Village; Traces of a Stream; Black Perspective; Afrospear; Sojourner's Place, and many others.

Mainstream Media sometimes takes on the topic with plenty of excuses for why stories of missing black women and other people of color get buried. See 2005 USA Today; 2005 New York Times; 2006 Anderson Cooper 360; 2007 ABC; and 2004 MSNBC.

The disparity between coverage of black missing and white missing has also been addressed on an episode of the TV show Without a Trace, "White Balance." In that episode, the man character Jack, was pressured to pay more attention to the case of a white woman who went missing on the same day as a black teen.

I'm old enough to remember the Atlanta Child Murders, a case in which black children and teens were being abducted and then killed for a long time before it came to the public's attention.

FYI: Lainad pointed to a site that's devoted to covering the Grim Sleeper ( with more information. The police, as reported by Field Negro and others, are now offering a hefty reward for this serial killer's capture, and MSM such as CNN is giving the story coverage, but all this comes after nearly 25 years of the story being under raps.


msladydeborah said...


I had to read this post twice, just to make sure that I was getting the gist of the subject.


My temper is flaring over this story!

OMG! OMG! A serial killer has had the freedom to murder for 25 years!

It is obvious that since the victims were Black, it didn't get the benefit of being high profile. Law Enforcement gets no pass on this one.

We are going to have to help raise awareness about this situation. I certainly want to see this individual captured.

The press just burns me up with their discriminatory practices! This story should of been up in everyone's face years ago.

underOvr (aka The U) said...

Hi VP,

I came here from Ms. Lady Deborah's blog on this subject. I don't want to believe what I've read and yet I find it so plausible that law enforcement makes allowances for not doing their job.

How many killings does it take to get serious about catching this murderer?

Chandra Levy, a White government intern, disappeared in 2001. I have no idea on the number of officers in the DC metro area that were involved in the search and investigation of her disappearance. Last week police released information that they had narrowed the suspected murderer to one individaul.

I'm certain the number of hours devoted to her murder dwarfs the hours to this serial murderer.

Shameful and embarrassing is what that police department is.

My thanks to both you ladies for getting the message out.


Vérité Parlant said...

Thank you, Deborah, and thank yo also The U for commenting.

The police have a task force up and have offered a reward and are working overtime using the spin machine to make excuses for why they didn't act sooner to inform the public. Rings hollow to me. But I hope their new efforts are successful.

MBB Founder and Editor Denene Millner said...

Well damn. I didn't know anything about this--thanks so much for bringing it to our attention and for being a foot soldier for justice for us. It's amazing how everyone stands at the ready with excuses for why they didn't just do their damn jobs. Because at the end of the day, isn't that what they were supposed to do? Do their jobs and find the doggone killer?! Sheesh.

le0pard13 said...

Greetings, VP

I came to your post via Steven Hart's site, from today's post, in fact, that linked here. Your post and sentiments bear repeating--I'm glad to see other bloggers bringing more scrutiny to this case. As a native Angeleno, I noted that the local news outlets jumped upon the bandwagon when this first went public following the Pelisek piece. However, you now don't hear much about it.

I'm old enough to recall some of the other seminal serial killer news coverage for The Night Stalker, Hillside Stranglers, etc. You couldn't get it off of the newspaper or local broadcast, if you wanted to. This story? It came and went, sadly. One only hopes that law enforcement is not falling back on heels, again, regarding this.

Thanks for the post.

Vérité Parlant said...

le0, thanks for your visit. I'll have to drop by and check on Steve. I like his work a lot.

MBB, yes. They should apologize for not moving more quickly and move on, but more than likely they can't apologize because the family members of the deceased might make a good civil case out of that. Thank you for commenting.

SjP said...

Excuse me! A serial killer just doing his thing for the last 25 years but because his victims are Black it ain't no big thing? This is just horrifying!

What will it take to get "equal" coverage for victims of a darker hue?

le0pard13 said...


Have you seen this website dedicated to this series of killings? If it helps keeping this story in the forefront of people's awareness, I'm all for it. Hopefully, it does contribute to catching the culprit and ending this series of tragedies.

Vérité Parlant said...

Yes, I'm aware of the site. It's where I saw the CNN video that's posted at the end. I mention the site in the last paragraph of my post:

FYI: Lainad pointed to a site that's devoted to covering the Grim Sleeper with more information.

But thank you Le0. Your comment lets me know I need to do one better and put the name of the site in parentheses so people will notice it.