Samaria Ayanle’s tragic death prompts theories about a serial killer targeting Black women in London

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Apr 6, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

In recent years, discussions surrounding the perceived inaction of law enforcement agencies in cases involving missing Black women have ignited significant social discourse. The tragic death of Samaria Ayanle, a 19-year-old student whose body was discovered in the River Thames in February 2024, has further underscored these concerns.

This delay in connecting the dots has prompted widespread speculation and criticism regarding the responsiveness of authorities, particularly in cases involving women of colour. Some netizens have also begun fuelling suggestions of a potential serial killer targeting Black women in London.

For context, on 13 March 2024, the Metropolitan Police confirmed that the body that had been pulled from the River Thames on 22 February was indeed 19-year-old student Ayanle, who had been reported missing on 8 March.

Ayanle was last seen at her university accommodation near Marble Arch. On the same day, a body was found near Putney Pier, but authorities initially did not associate it with any missing persons reports.

An investigation into Samaria’s death was initiated after a member of the public reported seeing the body near Putney Pier. Yet despite extensive efforts to match the body with recent missing persons reports, no matches were initially found. The body was subsequently sent for further examination by the coroner, while details were uploaded to the UK Missing Person database in hopes of facilitating identification.

It wasn’t until many days later that investigators finally linked her case to the body found weeks earlier.

This harrowing revelation highlights broader concerns regarding the insufficient focus on cases involving Black women in the UK, especially those concerning domestic violence, assaults, and related issues.

Since the discovery of Ayanle’s body, there have been reports of several Black people whose bodies were found in or near bodies of water, with many of these cases being deemed “non-suspicious.”

Black Women UK shared the names of these people on their X account, including Blessing Olusegun, Richard Okorogheye, Olisa Odukwe, Kayon Williams, Taiwo Balogun, and Ayanle.

While the speculation regarding a potential serial killer targeting Black women may seem sensationalist, it reflects the deep-seated fear within the Black British community that these deaths are not receiving the attention and urgency they deserve.

With limited media coverage of these cases, individuals have turned to platforms like TikTok to raise awareness and discuss these deaths. Many argue that it’s improbable for all these women to have died due to suicide or “non-suspicious” causes as determined by authorities.

@jumawastara1

Samaria ayanle #samariaayanle #news

♬ green to blue (Sped Up) - Aurenth
@drxppy.dej

#foryou #fyp #londonserialkiller #london

♬ original sound - Deja🖤🍉

Would Samaria Ayanle’s death have received more attention if she were white?

According to the National Crime Agency, Black individuals comprised 14 per cent of missing person cases in England and Wales from 2019 to 2020, a figure four times higher than the proportion of the Black population living in England and Wales during that time.

Comparisons have been drawn to cases like that of Sarah Everard, whose disappearance and subsequent murder in 2021 shook the nation and sparked conversations about women’s safety. However, the stark difference in media attention between cases involving Black women and those of their white counterparts is glaring.

Would Ayanle’s death have received more attention if she were white? It’s a question that lingers, highlighting the disparities in media coverage and societal response to missing persons cases.

The grim reality is that numerous crimes involving Black women, marked as “inconclusive” and with no apparent cause of death, have simply failed to receive the same level of media scrutiny.

A video campaign was even launched in the UK in 2022 to underscore the failure of police intervention, particularly in cases involving Black women, where victims are often left with their abusers despite calls for assistance.

According to BBC  analysis, in nearly one-fifth of missing person cases in England and Wales between 2022 and 2023, either the ethnic background of the individuals was not documented or was classified as “unknown.”

Shockingly, five forces neglected to record ethnicity in over half of their missing persons incidents. Responding to this concerning trend, the Home Office informed BBC News of its initiative to fund a report addressing this issue, stating: “We are committed to taking steps to improve police responses to these investigations.”

Jane Hunter, a representative from Missing People, emphasised the critical importance of accurately recording people’s ethnicity to help police identify patterns within specific communities: “Without data, it’s really difficult to properly understand what’s going on.”

As further exemplified by the BBC report, across England and Wales, approximately 47,000 incidents were conducted by 32 police forces, with many categorised under “no,” “other,” or “unknown” ethnicity. This data gap poses significant challenges for understanding and addressing the root causes of missing persons cases.

To try and gain further insight into the epidemic, SCREENSHOT reached out to a former police officer who served for 30 years in the West Midland police department: “I retired after serving 30 years. I can, hand on my heart say that I have never come across any investigation being dealt with differently because of the person’s ethnicity. If I had come across this I would have challenged it to the highest level… I can assure you.”

In the wake of Ayanle’s tragic death, one cannot ignore the historical and ongoing marginalisation of Black women, both in the criminal justice system as well as in society at large. The disproportionate impact of violence and discrimination on Black women is a symptom of deeply ingrained racism and sexism. It’s a reminder of the intersections of race, gender, and class that shape individuals’ experiences and outcomes.

When Black women’s lives are treated as expendable, it sends a chilling message about whose lives are deemed worthy of attention and concern.

Let’s not overlook the broader context: when considering demographics, it’s crucial to acknowledge that the UK journalism sector is overwhelmingly white, comprising 94 per cent of the workforce, with Black journalists constituting a mere 0.2 per cent, according to data from 2016.

Furthermore, a survey conducted in 2020 by the Reuters Institute revealed that all of the top editors among 100 major media outlets in the UK were white.

This lack of diversity at the helm of media organisations raises concerns about the breadth and depth of coverage, particularly regarding topics that affect minority communities.

As the debate continues, it’s crucial to amplify these voices and demand accountability from authorities and the media alike. Until then, the question remains: would Ayanle’s death have garnered more attention if she were a white woman? And is there really a serial killer in London targeting Black women? These are conversations that we not only should keep having, but that must keep happening.

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