CLEVELAND — The slayings of Reagan Tokes and Alianna DeFreeze had much in common.
Both were abducted, raped and killed in Ohio in 2017. Tokes was a 21-year-old college student, DeFreeze a 14-year-old seventh grader. Both their killers, previously convicted sex offenders, were subsequently found guilty.
Yet only one victim got a law with her name on it — Tokes, who was white.
That disparity in so-called namesake laws represents a national trend: White crime victims are much more likely to get crime bills named after them than black victims.
An Associated Press analysis found that more than eight in 10 stand-alone laws named for victims of violent crime since 1990 honored white victims or groups of victims that included at least one white person.
Namesake laws have been a popular way for lawmakers to recognize victims of horrific crimes and enact tough-on-crime laws, and many of them have become common parlance in the national criminal justice discussion.
AMBER Alerts that warn the public to look out for a missing child are named for Amber Hagerman, a white 9-year-old from Texas who was killed after being abducted while riding her bike with her brother. Sex offender registries and notification systems were set up under federal and state laws named for 6-year-old Adam Walsh, 11-year-old Jacob Wetterling and 7-year-old Megan Kanka, all white children abducted and killed by sex offenders.
Racial disparity in such laws has left black victims such as DeFreeze underrepresented. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, black young people in her age range — from 12 to 19 — experience violent crime at significantly higher rates than their white peers, including being five times more likely to be victims of homicide. The AP’s analysis showed that only about 6 percent of namesake bills related to violent crimes were named after black victims.
The Tokes and DeFreeze murders have led some Ohio lawmakers to question whether racial preference is a factor in the naming of crime laws. The issue is back before lawmakers in at least three separate bills that are expected to see more debate this month.
“All of our babies, all of our women, all of our men, people who lose their lives, everybody is worthy of being acknowledged,” said Ohio state Rep. Stephanie Howse, a Cleveland Democrat who is black and who publicly objected to the Legislature’s differing treatment of Tokes and DeFreeze last year. “The system that we are in has made a determination of who is more valuable than others.”
DeFreeze’s mother, Donnesha Cooper, said it was devastating when a bill that would have created an “Alianna’s Alert” failed to pass last year.