Broken Trust: The Tragic Case of Susana Morales and the Ongoing Struggle for Justice

Susana Morales

In a world where many families risk everything to migrate to the United States in search of safety and a better life, the tragic story of Susana Morales serves as a stark reminder that the very institutions designed to protect and serve us can sometimes fail us. On February 6, the lifeless body of Susana Morales, a 16-year-old girl who had been reported missing since July 26, 2022, was found in the woods of an Atlanta suburb. The shocking twist? One of the prime suspects in her murder is Georgia Officer Miles Bryant.

The Shocking Disappearance of Susana Morales

The Morales family’s ordeal began with the disappearance of their daughter, Susana. Despite their pleas and insistence that Susana was not a runaway and was on her way home when they last spoke to her, the Gwinnett County Police dismissed their concerns. Tragically, their inaction led to the unthinkable: a teen kidnapping and murder at the hands of one of their own.

In February, Officer Bryant, a 22-year-old with a troubling history of stalking, harassment, and inappropriate behavior towards women and girls, was terminated from a nearby police department in Doraville County due to his involvement in Susana’s killing. He now faces a slew of charges, including felony murder, kidnapping, first-degree burglary, filing a false report of a crime, and concealing the death of another. Shockingly, he remains in the Gwinnett County Adult Detention Center without bond.

The Morales family, like many others who have lost loved ones to police violence, was taken aback by the revelation that a law enforcement officer was responsible for their daughter’s death. Jasmine Morales, Susana’s sister, expressed her disbelief and said, “I was shocked. I had to process it for a second. I was just like what? That explains why it took so long for us to have an answer. It’s a police officer. I’m guessing they know how to cover their tracks.”

A Tragic Tale of Police Inaction and Mismanagement

Susana’s tragic case is not an isolated incident. According to Mapping Police Violence,  at least 1,176 people lost their lives at the hands of law enforcement officers in the U.S. in 2022, the highest number since at least 2013. Moreover, a study conducted by Bowling Green State University revealed that police officers were charged with rape 405 times between 2005 and 2013, likely representing only a fraction of the actual cases. A 2022 NBC review of department rosters in New York, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia found that many officers accused of sexual abuse and harassment not only keep their jobs but are even promoted.

The tragedy of Susana Morales highlights a broader issue. Throughout the country, there has been a surge in the number of missing young Black and Latina women, particularly during the pandemic. Activists have pointed out that these cases remain unsolved, leading to heart-wrenching situations like Susana’s. It’s a harsh reality that families like the Moraleses, who came to the U.S. in search of peace and safety, often find themselves let down by a system that is supposed to protect them.

What makes matters worse is the lack of national resources and media coverage for these cases, resulting in a lack of quantifiable data concerning missing Latinas. Many missing Latinas are erroneously classified with white women and youth, obscuring the extent of the problem within this community. A local mother and anonymous community member lamented, “Hispanics aren’t being heard or taken seriously. No one cares about the Latino community.”

A Call for Justice and Reform

To address these systemic issues and the lack of due process by local police, the Morales family initiated the Justice 4 Susana petition. Their demands include a fair and transparent investigation by the Doraville County Police Department, the conviction and trial of Officer Miles under the full extent of the law, an acknowledgment that Title 35 of the Georgia Code was violated when officers delayed reporting Susana as missing for 48 hours, and a comprehensive evaluation and reform of the process for missing minors, ensuring that families have access to full transparency during investigations.

Following Susana’s tragic death, protesters accused the Gwinnett County Police Department of discriminating against the Latine community. Her case is the third instance of a missing Latine teen found dead in the area within a month, coinciding with the establishment of the new Atlanta Police Foundation, which some local activists have dubbed “Cop City.” This controversial project, a $90 million police and fire department training center, threatens to displace many of Atlanta’s predominantly Black neighborhoods and harm its natural forestry.

In response, hundreds of Black, Latine, and Native people took to the streets to voice their opposition to Cop City. The chants of “Stop Cop City” and “Viva Tortuguita” reverberated through the streets, highlighting the urgent need for change in how law enforcement interacts with marginalized communities.

Susana Morales

Susana Morales’ story is not an isolated tragedy; it is indicative of a systemic issue that persists despite widespread calls for police reform. The fractured relationship between law enforcement and disenfranchised and marginalized communities has left a scar on our society.

The 2022 Police Violence Report paints a grim picture, with the majority of unarmed individuals killed by police being people of color. Black and Latine people are more likely to be unarmed and less likely to pose a threat when killed by the police. Furthermore, Latine individuals are killed by police at nearly double the rate of non-Latine white Americans.

In the face of unimaginable grief, Jasmine Morales, Susana’s sister, summed it up perfectly when she said, “No amount of money, no amount of justice can bring her back to us. But what we can do is try to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anybody else again, and that’s why we are here.”

In the wake ofr Susana Moales’ tragic death, it is imperative that we address the systemic issues plaguing our law enforcement agencies. Only through comprehensive reform and accountability can we hope to prevent more lives from being lost to those who should protect and serve. Susana’s memory must serve as a catalyst for change, pushing us to create a safer and more just society for all.