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Rally in Oakland

Rally outside KTVU calls on media to cover missing Indigenous, Black, brown women

on October 12, 2021

A day after Indigenous Peoples Day, dozens of activists and others gathered outside the KTVU building in Jack London Square Tuesday to shed light on missing Indigenous women and the lack of media coverage for Black and brown women. 

They set up an altar, held up flags and banners, and gathered in a circle. The scent of sage filled the air as Lyla June Johnston shared a prayer, welcoming the ancestors to the circle.

“We ask that you protect our women because they are the lifeline that will keep our people going forward,” Johnson prayed. “We ask you to bless our so-called enemies. Bless each and every person in this news studio behind us.”

The protest came weeks after longtime KTVU News anchor Frank Somerville was suspended in a disagreement with the station over what The Mercury News said was his attempt to point out racial disparities in media coverage of missing persons, in a story about Gabby Petito, whose disappearance made national headlines in September.

KTVU representatives did not address the rally and did not respond Tuesday to Oakland North’s request for comment.

Morning Star Gali, who is the project director of Restoring Justice for Indigenous Peoples, and George Galvis, executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice organized the rally.

Galvis criticized KTVU for suspending Somerville rather than having the difficult conversations about the lack of coverage. He acknowledged that Petitio’s story needs to be told, but so do the stories of thousands of overlooked women of color.

“We are here to denounce the erasure of Black, Indigenous, and women of color by KTVU News,” Galvis said. “That is violence against our communities.”

Rally in Oakland
Ruby Rodriguez and two of her children listen to George Galvis perform a traditional song. (Semantha Norris)

According to the 2017 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls report, the media covered only a quarter of the more than 500 cases of missing indigenous women in one study by the Urban Indian Health Institute, which issues the report. Only 14% of those cases were covered more than once. 

The UIHI found that California has the the sixth highest number of cases, with 40, and that San Francisco ranks in the top 10 cities, with 17 cases. 

Ruby Rodriguez said the Fresno County sheriff’s department did little to find her sister Bessie Walker, a 27-year-old Indigenous woman whose body was found weeks after she was reported missing. Family members discovered Walker’s remains just 25 yards from her mother’s home in Big Sandy Rancheria, Rodriguez said.

“How come her death is so quiet?” Rodriguez said. “Why wasn’t more done?”

Rodriguez believes someone killed Walker.

Tony Botti, spokesperson with the Fresno County Sheriff-Coroner’s Office, said Wednesday that Walker’s body was found about 100 yards from the home and that it was too badly decomposed for a cause of death to be determined. He added that the office is waiting for results of a toxicology report. 

The rally ended as it had started Tuesday. Elder Wounded Knee, 79, closed it with a prayer. 

“This is nothing new to Indigenous people,” Wounded Knee said. “Our people have been missing since 1492.”

This story was updated with information about the Bessie Walker investigation.

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