UPDATE: After much public outcry for answers regarding the death of Lauren Smith-Fields, a Bridgeport, Connecticut medical examiner ruled her death as “accidental” and said it was caused by “acute intoxication due to the combined effects of fentanyl, promethazine, hydroxyzine and alcohol,” according to CNN. However, Smith-Fields' family lawyer says the medical examiner’s report still doesn’t answer major questions about the 23-year-old’s untimely death.
"The M.E. findings doesn't cure any of the Bridgeport [police]'s lack of process, in (fact) it makes it worse. Instead we are left with more questions than answers as a result of a botched investigation or lack thereof," attorney Darnell Crosland told CNN. As of Tuesday (Jan. 25), the Bridgeport police — who the Smith-Fields' family has accused of mishandling the investigation, being “racially insensitive,” and refusing to notify the family of her death — is now investigating Smith-Fields’ death as a crime. The police, assisted by the US Drug Enforcement Administration, will be focusing their attention on "the factors that led to” Smith-Fields’ death.
The following story was originally published on January 21, 2022.
Black TikTok influencer Lauren Smith-Fields was found dead in her apartment on December 12. As the 23-year-old’s family continues to dig for answers over a month later, police have yet to determine her cause of death. The apparent lack of urgency from law enforcement is all too familiar; there is a decades-long history of missing Black women and girls going unsolved and unreported in the U.S. And as we watch this dire endemic plague family after family, the Black community is tired.
Smith-Fields’ body was reportedly found in her apartment after meeting up with Matthew LaFountain, a white man she met on popular dating app Bumble. According to an incident report that was obtained by Crosland and shared by Rolling Stone, Smith-Fields’ body was found by LaFountain, who said Smith-Fields was unresponsive in the bathroom with a bloody nose before he called the police. And despite him being the last person she was with, he was never questioned or arrested by law enforcement because, as her brother said cops told him, he seemed like a ”nice guy.”
64% of Black women said they do not feel safe in America, while 29% don’t feel safe on mainstream dating apps.
“It’s happening all too often with Black girls missing across this world, across this country, and no one says anything,” Darnell Crosland, Lauren’s family’s attorney, told Rolling Stone. “When a white woman goes missing, the whole world drops everything. We are done with this valuation.” Smiths-Fields’ family is suing the city of Bridgeport for failure to prosecute and failure to protect under the 14th Amendment, the post-Civil War Constitution addition meant to provide equal protection under the law for all citizens, including previously enslaved Black people.
Multiple TikTok creators have been using the platform to raise awareness of Smith-Fields’ death, calling out the media for ignoring cases of dead and missing Black women and girls. This case is the latest example fueling the fear Black women in this country are forced to live with every day. The fact is that Black women don’t feel safe doing things every person should have the right to, including just existing in the world.
According to a recent study conducted by dating app BLK, 64% of Black women said they do not feel safe in America, while 29% don’t feel safe on mainstream dating apps. What is it going to take for our lives to matter? What is it going to take for us to be protected? What is it going to take for our existence to no longer feel like a liability? And what is it going to take for mainstream media, and the police, to care enough to try to answer any of the above questions?
What is it going to take for our existence to no longer feel like a liability?
In 2020, approximately 100,000 Black women and girls were reported missing, though very few of them made headlines. Meanwhile, in a phenomenon so pervasive that PBS journalist Gwen Ifill coined it “missing white woman syndrome” in 2004, dead and missing white women make headlines everyday.
In 2021, for example, the world nearly stopped amidst calls for justice when Gabby Petito — a 22-year-old white woman who was traveling across the states with her fiancé — went missing (and was eventually reported dead). There is no denying that these crimes shouldn’t be happening to anyone; Petito’s death was absolutely devastating. But the failure to also rally behind Black women in such cases is a harrowing reminder that the system was never built to protect us. And now, Lauren Smith-Fields is another hashtag, another dead Black woman, and another example of how that very system continues to fail us.