The case of the Cleveland kidnapping is revealing a lot of things: crime, apathy, violence against women and our perception of who is a “hero”.
We live in a world where neighbors don’t really know one another. If you reside in a low-income neighborhood with several abandoned and boarded up homes, you keep to yourself and may not expect the police to come and take down an official record about suspicious activity.
Despite these circumstances, Cleveland man Charles Ramsey, a changed man, once convicted and served a sentence for domestic violence a decade ago, decided to answer pleas for help, ironically, in what he said he thought was a case of domestic violence.
Ramsey’s decision to intervene and bring other neighbors’ attention to activity at a Seymore Avenue home could have saved three young women another day of rape and torture. Ramsey, who only lived in the neighborhood for a year, answered the pleas of Amanda Berry, kidnapped since age 16, along with two other women, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight and held captive for a decade, something apparently no one had done in the 9 years prior .
Interestingly, this story is also about how some in the media are hesitant to give credit to the not–so-articulate, vernacular-using Ramsey who saved the kidnap victims.
For example, on Wednesday, an Associated Press article read:
“In a development that astonished and exhilarated much of Cleveland, the three women were rescued on Monday after Berry, 27, broke through a screen door at the Castro house and told a 911 dispatcher: “Help me. I’m Amanda Berry. I’ve been kidnapped, and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.””
An AP article filed yesterday, May 7, also did not fully credit Ramsey’s role in initiating the rescue efforts, mentioning only that he heard Berry but not noting that he was the first to attempt to free her. The piece noted:
A neighbor, Charles Ramsey, told WEWS-TV he heard screaming Monday and saw Berry, whom he didn’t recognize, at a door that would open only enough to fit a hand through. He said she was trying desperately to get outside and pleaded for help to reach police.
“I heard screaming,” he said. “I’m eating my McDonald’s. I come outside. I see this girl going nuts trying to get out of a house.”
Neighbor Anna Tejeda was sitting on her porch with friends when they heard someone across the street kicking a door and yelling. Tejeda said one of her friends went over and told Berry how to kick the screen out of the bottom of the door, which allowed her to crawl out.
Perhaps AP and other outlets are going to hold out to see if a more hero-looking and worthy person comes forward. They sort of had him. If only Castro’s other neighbor Angel Cordero spoke English, was animated and sought the limelight, he could have told the reporter what NPR reported this week via a translator. Cordero said he was the one who rescued Berry and Ramsey got on the porch after he had already freed her himself. Hold the presses.
Wednesday’s Smoking Gun piece about Ramsey’s past conviction is another clear attempt to shift positive perceptions people have of Ramsey as a hero. Most didn’t bite as the majority, if not 100% of those commenting seemed to maintain their support for Ramsey’s good deed. Ramsey himself said he is not ashamed of the past conviction but that it has made him into the stronger man he is today. He even rejected the reward money and told Anderson Cooper the money should go to the victims because he has a job and a paycheck.
But at the end of the day, this case is beyond one man (or two) who stepped up and did his part and not ignore desperate calls for assistance.
It is also about law enforcement’s response to missing person’s calls when the missing person comes from a low income neighborhood. One cannot think of this case without also hearkening back to the 2009 Thomas Sowell case where Sowell, a convicted rapist, hid the decomposing and some decapitated bodies of 11 women he raped and murdered over the years. Despite neighbors’ frequent complaints of a malodorous stench emanating from the Celeveland home where Sowell stored the bodies, police failed to properly investigate. Many questioned whether the fact the women missing were drug addicts, poor or prostitutes had anything to do with lack of effort to find them.
Most likely yes.
But again, this current case reminds us also that in this day and age, neighbors don’t really know neighbors well enough and do not entertain one another in each others’ homes as in years’ past. We’re in an era of ‘everyone minding their own businesses’ and minimal neighborly contact. It leaves us all wondering whether we would be able to tell if one of our neighbors was hiding kidnapping victims in their basement.
Indeed, despite the fact that at least two neighbors reported seeing a chained naked woman crawling in the backyard, another of seeing and hearing a woman with a baby pound for help, none thought to be a little more vigilante and continuously hound police for help. No one thought to call the FBI? Perhaps they didn’t know that was an option.
Finally, somehow in the fury to rejoice over the young girls’ discovery, the lede in the story shifted away from the fact that this entire incident, at its core, is simply about violence against women, and perhaps a culture that tolerates it and doesn’t do enough to stop it.
This disturbing turn of events is also about how crimes against women can so easily get lost in the discussion when there is something more fun and upbeat to discuss – like a slap happy character of a hero.