Today Cleveland celebrates the return of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight. We feel a collective sense of gratitude and amazement at their survival and reappearance. I listened to versions of their story covered locally, nationally, and internationally and that feeling seems nearly universal.
But they were gone for a decade. Gina disappeared when she was 14 and Amanda when she was almost 17. They’ve spent a significant amount of their lives in captivity, in conditions we don’t even begin to understand. And their prison was in a crowded urban neighborhood, near some of the most heavily re-gentrified neighborhoods in Cleveland, Ohio City and Tremont. How did this go on for so long? How many times have we asked ourselves that lately? Boston, Newtown, others. Situations that weren’t right but no one could put their finger on what was wrong.
In Cleveland, we faced the same question with the Anthony Sowell case. He was charged in 2009 with the murder of eleven women over a four-year period. The bodies were buried in the yard and stored throughout the house. And no one noticed. At least no one “credible.” There were women who apparently escaped, but no one connected the dots. And the 11 women who died? Other women with credibility issues: addiction, criminal records.
The first woman kidnapped and brought to Seymour Avenue was Michelle Knight. A relative said that the family thought that Michelle left town after her baby was taken away from her by child welfare. So far the media has not pried into Michelle’s past (eventually they will, once the regular details get a little boring). But her situation bears similarities to some of the women killed by Sowell.
What Amanda, Gina, and Michelle also shared with Sowell’s victims was a neighborhood mired in poverty. The Near West Side of Cleveland, outside of Ohio City and Tremont, has rundown housing stock, gang problems, and significant homelessness. Not far from Seymour Avenue is the spot along I-90 where Angel Bradley-Crockett’s body was eventually found by police after several phone calls and a visit by the highway department – the police had dismissed the naked body as a “deer carcass.” Her killer was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
In a world whose mantra seems to be, ‘there’s no such thing as privacy,” we’re pretty good at minding our own business in the Midwest. Neighbor puts up a 6-foot fence? That’s his business. Neighbor boards up his windows (providing it doesn’t violate the building codes)? That’s his business. As Charles Ramsey, the neighbor who helped Amanda escape put it, “Like I said my neighbor, you got to have some pretty big testicles to pull this off, bro. Because we see this dude every day. I mean every day.”
There is no one answer to why this happened or went on for so long. But Cleveland seems to keep repeating the same mistakes where its missing poor women are concerned. Back in March there was a movement in the US and elsewhere to draw attention to violence against women around the world. It seems we have a great deal of work to do, still, at home.
Categories: American Culture, Crime/Corruption, Race/Gender
I am amazed as well that they were found alive after ten years. We went to sleep last night and were happy to actually see a good news report that they found these women after all this time. We live in a small city near Cleveland and we are definitely aware of what is going on in our neighborhood.
Interesting argument. Although you could argue the same thing with the guy in California with the girl in the backyard and Newtown. And the guy in Switzerland who kept his daughter in an underground bunker. Neighbors knew something was wrong, but….
I think it’s just plain hard to know when something is weird, but OK, and when it’s weird but not OK. And predators aren’t stupid. Just like lions target crippled gazelles, so do sexual predators target the weak and unlikely to be believed, from Dahlmer to Sandusky to……..
Agreed. This isn’t really a local phenomenon. Maybe it’s more of a 21st C one? The Midwest has always been a MYOB kind of region, but maybe our digital connections are exacerbating that? As we connect more with networks and “friends” online, maybe we take less not of our physical neighbors? Historically there have always been Bad Things Happening in Plain Sight. Is it more common now? Not sure.
It’s difficult to find the right balance in a free society between privacy, and surveillance and vigilance.
Wow. This is tough … really tough.
I was preparing to comment when I saw Otherwise comment, “Interesting argument.” Argument? What argument?
“But Cleveland seems to keep repeating the same mistakes where its missing poor women are concerned.” Justice for the poor is significantly inferior to the justice for the rich. Add some classification of minority and it falls off the table. But that is not unique to Cleveland. I lived in Cleveland; I live in Austin; it’s not that different on that particular dimension (aside: don’t get me wrong, Austin is a far, far better place to live — although Cleveland is far better than when I left).
“Back in March there was a movement in the US and elsewhere to draw attention to violence against women around the world. It seems we have a great deal of work to do, still, at home.” If fixing things at home was a prerequisite to sending money abroad we wouldn’t send a dime out of the country.
“In a world whose mantra seems to be, ‘there’s no such thing as privacy,” we’re pretty good at minding our own business in the Midwest. ” Russ handled that.
But what I focused on initially was, “How did this go on for so long? How many times have we asked ourselves that lately? Boston, Newtown, others. Situations that weren’t right but no one could put their finger on what was wrong.”
This comes up over and over and over again. The problem is that when one of these catastrophes happens people track back from the event and find all kinds of idiosyncrasies that should have told someone, somewhere that this was going to happen. Otherwise captures it with “I think it’s just plain hard to know when something is weird, but OK, and when it’s weird but not OK.” Tracking back from the event, it is almost always possible to say someone should have known. But start from the other end, how many people would have fit the “weird” profile of Ariel Castro: remember, people saw him and interacted with him every day, he was out going, he “helped” search for one of the missing girls. Going forward from prior to the abductions I can’t imagine a way to identify him — from the early accounts, he wasn’t even weird from outward appearances. And the Tsarnaev brothers: I understand all the info that, going backwards from the bombings, leads people to think someone should have known. But when I think of it … put them in categories, how many people would have been in the same risk category — hundreds? thousands? How do you follow all of them? Nothing I have seen so far identifies them as true outliers. Weird … maybe … but even that is not totally clear. Outliers on a dangerous scale … I have not seen it.
For the past 20 years quality management and risk management have been my life. Absolutely they should pour over every detail of what happened to learn what may have been done better but it is harder than it looks. By making “improvements” it is just as easy to make things worse than it is to make things better, maybe easier. Analyze the systems and look for real improvements but, in the mean time, celebrate that this outcome was far better than most.
Yup. Richard Jewell. Odd doesnt mean guilty. They backward logicked the guy right into that, and he was innocent as a lamb.
Every single time we slap ourselves beside the head and say we should have known. Sandusky in the shower. Dahlmer’s escapee. I think it’s human nature to try to say “we should have known,” because it’s easier to believe we made a one-time mistake than to believe that monsters can live right beside us and there’s no way to tell them from the rest of us..