South Central, Los Angeles–The death of 16-year-old Tioni Theus who was found dumped along an on ramp of the 110 freeway, has been the latest case to bring into conversation the ways in which murders of Black women and girls continue to be covered (or lack of) by mainstream media.
On Tuesday, city council-members Marqueece Harris Dawson (CD8) and Curren Price (CD9) introduced a motion to provide a $50,000 reward for information in Tioni’s case. Yesterday, the Governor’s office announced they were providing $50,000 in her case and Supervisor Holly Mitchell plans to allocate $10,000 from public funds.
The total reward that is now being offered in Tioni’s case is $110,000.
“Unfortunately, sometimes people are motivated by money. They may know about something but are not motivated until they receive some type of financial reward,” Council-man Price said Tuesday evening during a phone interview. “It is a tool and tactic that is frequently used.”
Price said rewards are especially crucial in circumstances where there is little to no evidence, which makes it harder to get down the the bottom of what happened to a person. He shared that the money is coming from the same pot of funds that was offered two weeks ago in the Brianna Kupfer case.
“The motion that myself and council-man Marqueece Harris Dawson introduced was to allocate $50,000 towards a reward. We [city council] will vote on it next week,” Price continued. “That’s when it becomes actual, right now it’s just a motion, but I believe it will pass.”
Initially, Tioni’s story received no media coverage. It was not until online outrage and viral social media posts, did her case make local news.
Within almost two weeks or so of Tioni’s body being found, another tragedy struck close to home. UCLA grad student Brianna Kupfer was stabbed in an unprovoked attack at a furniture she worked at on Labrea in L.A. The surrounding community immediately mobilized, pulling together over $250,000 to be offered as a reward.
It is important to note, that only $50,000 of this money was allocated by city council-man Paul Koretz, with the rest offered from community members. The same day, an all points bulletin was released and the suspect, Shawn Laval Smith, was apprehended and charged immediately after.
The stark differences in response of this young woman, compared to a teenager found in the same city, but from two different lived experiences, was too hard to ignore even if you knew it wasn’t the right time to point out these obvious contradictions.
Tioni’s case also sheds light on the case of Mikeona Johnson, who in 2020, was found dead inside her vehicle after she had been missing for a week. Her family looked for her throughout the streets of South Central, even holding press conferences to shed light on her disappearance.
Her family also pointed to a lack of coverage Mikeona received from local media when she was missing vs when her body was found next to an elementary school. LAPD have since closed Mikeona’s case despite NO arrests.
“The lives of Black women and girls is devalued and it doesn’t get the same type of attention in the press and media. This is an ongoing systemic issue we have in our society,” said Price. “Certainly there is a lot of outrage from the Theus family, a lot of outrage from the community, from myself and my colleagues. But outrage doesn’t do it. You have got to get answers.”
Price also talked about what the council could do to curb the continued culture of sex work along notorious streets in L.A including Figueroa, Western and Long Beach Blvd. Price says the council have taken a number of actions but the issue is ended in one area, only to pop up in another. He notes the council has to get more creative in their approaches to keep girls in L.A out of situations of sex trafficking.
“I think we have to work more towards moving these girls out of harms way and providing them other avenues, so that sex work is not the only option that they have.”