"Monday's Not Coming" By Tiffany D. Jackson.

Tiffany D. Jackson Reminds Us That Carlee Russell’s Story Is the Exception in Almost Every Way

The situation around Carlee Russell has been an exhausting, emotional roller coaster—from her disappearance to her reappearance and the fallout that followed. After calling 911 on July 13 claiming to have seen a child wandering alone on a busy highway, Russell disappeared, unwittingly prompting a search effort in Hoover, Alabama. When she returned 49 hours later and the cops couldn’t find evidence of a missing child, questions were raised. According to the Hoover Police Chief, Russell released a statement via her lawyer admitting she lied about the child. The resulting stress doesn’t just come from Russell seemingly lying, but the larger conversations about it all—and incoming consequences for everyone.

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From the jump, Russell’s story fits into the larger narrative of true crime as a spectacle. This certainly can’t be separated from the rising belief that more and more people are being snatched up daily in broad daylight. There’s the question of what accountability—which is not the same as punishment—looks like. Many are expressing anger about feeling duped and “made” to care. Underneath it all is a constant frustration expressed by many, particularly Black women, about Russell’s fabrication and how it means they’ll be taken less seriously. Through it all, there’s one simple truth that needs more attention, and award-winning YA author Tiffany D. Jackson is the person to say it.

While probably known more for her two horror novels (White Smoke and The Weight of Blood), Jackson’s fiction often touches on the violence faced by young Black girls. This includes violent systems and violent social orders like adultification, gentrification, grooming, the police state, and more. She’s also the writer of Monday’s Not Coming, a YA novel about the terror of having your best friend go missing and no one caring. Following the Russell story, Jackson took to social media to emphasize the anomalies of the story—specifically, how this extraordinary attention given to one woman who lied should not be weaponized against others.

@writeinbk Please keep helping to bring black girls home safe. #authorsoftiktok #carleerussel #missingblackchildren ♬ original sound – writeinbk

What we saw with Carlee as far as the media coverage was completely unprecedented. It’s like a unicorn sighting. Black women, specifically Black girls—we don’t get that kind of media coverage and we need to continue that energy. So, don’t stop doing the right thing just because someone did the wrong thing.

We need more community activism in order to bring our girls home safetly. Back girls make up over 40% of girls missing, but you would never know that unfortunately because of media bias.

Jackson went on to discuss some of the contributing factors to media bias, such as prioritizing white people, poor network connections, and the belief that Black girls who go missing are runaways. Part of this bias is an unwillingness to see Black children as innocent and worth protecting. Jackson isn’t the only one concerned with this backlash and indifference to missing person cases. The Black & Missing Foundation released a statement following Russell’s first public statement. They warned of the same attitudes that Jackson and others have called out.

There are far too many missing people of color who actually need our help and are counting on us to help bring them home. We are calling on our community to not let this single incident undermine our efforts to help us find us. We have shown that we have the power to make our cases a priority too, and we must move forward and build upon this momentum.

Russell needs to take accountability for lying. However, that should not come with punishment for supposedly “causing” more racism or sexism—things Russell faces, too. No single person deserves that weight on their shoulders. With the exception of the distress Russell caused her family, this was a victimless crime. It doesn’t deserve to be a blip in the public consciousness, let alone evidence that we should stop believing victims.

Russell’s story and situation are the exceptions to the deadly social belief that women, especially non-white ones, are fake victims of violence. One person lying about an underreported and under-acknowledged crime doesn’t represent the whole. This is true of kidnapping and it is true of sex crimes. We know that logically and statistically, but that fact fights an uphill battle when centuries of social attitudes push us to discredit people in need.

Right now, lawmakers in Alabama are trying to raise Russell’s crime from a misdemeanor to a felony. A law like this would hurt a lot more people than it’s aiming to protect. It also sends yet another signal to actual victims of crimes that they will be punished—because we know this will be used to silence and intimidate victims more than it will the anomalies like Ms. Carlee Russell.

(via TikTok; featured image: Katherine Tegen Books)


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Author
Alyssa Shotwell
(she/her) Award-winning artist and writer with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. She began her career in journalism in October 2017 when she joined her student newspaper as the Online Editor. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 & Oxygen Not Included.