For weeks now, the Cleveland Plain Dealer has been running biographies of the 11 women who were found murdered just over a year ago by serial killer Anthony Sowell in a house of the east side of Cleveland.
This week, they profiled Amelda “Amy” Hunter, a “bookworm” from Chicago, that eventually got mixed up with men and drugs. All of the stories, more or less, follow the same pattern: A young woman, loved by her family, full of promise, falls prey to older men, crack and a life on the streets, and her life meets its tragic ending at the hands of a sociopath.
Here are links to all of the stories:
It’s all, of course, terribly sad.
A friend of mine pointed out, in all these stories, in all their coverage, sympathetic as it may be, the Plain Dealer never raises the bigger issue. What made these women such easy targets was being black, being women and being from the highly-segregated and desperately poor east side of Cleveland.
This is a story about racism and inequality and sexism and poverty as much, if not more, than it is about drugs and individual lives going astray. This is a story that’s inseparable from its environment: a neglected ghetto in Cleveland, in deplorable conditions even before it was turned upside down by the foreclosure crisis.
It didn’t matter to Anthony Sowell that some of the victims read poetry, or cooked greens, or cared for children. It didn’t matter to the larger society and he knew that. Nobody was going to tear up the city looking for a few black women from the east side with sketchy pasts.
The story of the Imperial Avenue victims should inspire a complete rethinking of the way Cleveland cares for its most vulnerable residents. Maybe that’s what the Plain Dealer was trying to say, without actually saying it.
I’m just not convinced, more than one year after those bodies were discovered, that is couldn’t happen all over again.
Have we stabilized these neighborhoods? Have we changed the way we look at black women? Have we repaired the relationship between the police department and the city’s worst neighborhoods?
One year after these murders, those are the questions we should be asking ourselves. It’s too bad we can’t rely on our local newspaper to raise them.