Cleveland Abduction: Heroism and Drama

Spectators and viewers of the Cleveland abduction case tend to individualize their relationship with those involved in a crime, actual or alleged.

cleveland-abductionAbsentees occupy a distinct part of human consciousness. They are suspended, either alive or dead, often both. They might appear at any given moment, or they might never do so. There is contingency about their existence, qualified, uncertain, and tortured.

For three missing women – Amanda Berry, 27; Georgina “Gina” DeJesus, 23; and Michelle Knight, 32 – not to mention a 6-year-old daughter born to Berry – hope had been suspended. They were never struck off the “missing list” – faith prevailed that they were still alive.

It transpired that suspect Ariel Castro had allegedly abducted and held the three women in captivity in a Cleveland house, beginning in 2002. As the accounts were released by the prosecutors, it became clear that Castro was going to come in for a considerable, pre-adjudicatory pasting. This case is fast becoming part of the cult of criminal celebrity, with a narrative of institutional vengeance (we can’t let this sort of thing happen) to the commercialization of rescue. The requirements for this drama: a cold-blooded villain, flawless victims, and saintly rescuers.

The first part of the drama has already taken a momentum of its own. Police authorities soon released information that they found “chains and ropes in the home,” with one victim chained to wall “like some kind of trophy.”

Prosecutor Timothy McGinty of Cuyahoga County, Ohio, was clear about the sheer gravity of what he was pressing on Castro, seeking charges “for each and every act of sexual violence, each day of kidnapping, all his attempted murders and each act of aggravated murder.”

The tagged offenses of murder and aggravated murder demonstrate the murkiness at stake here – making an individual in control to account over the bodies of others. It was not merely the abduction and the sexual assault. It was the sheer totality of power exerted. McGinty, perhaps unwittingly, is admitting to the sheer tyranny supposedly present in what has now been termed “the haunted house,” a sense of Gothic nightmare in suburbia. And he is keen that McGinty be erased, as authorities are evaluating “whether we will seek charges eligible for the death penalty.”

Spectators and viewers tend to individualize their relationship with those involved in a crime, actual or alleged

Various points of identification are made. The vulnerability of the victims, the power of the victimiser, and the role played by the rescuer are fundamental in this web of meaning. Those who know the suspect are also dropped into it, an implied sense of guilt that they should have done something to prevent the crime from taking place.

Castro’s daughter Arlene has moved into a defensive mode, aware that slip-ups are being noted by journalists who have swarmed into Cleveland like hornets. Her barricades have been aggressively extensive – she has claimed that, “We don’t have a monster in our blood.” She has sought forgiveness for her father.  Even the prosecutors seem to agree, avoiding laying charges against brothers Pedro and Onil, citing “no evidence” of complicity.

The spotlight is also on the police forces who apparently deny ever receiving calls from neighbors. The situation seems remarkable – three abductees held for a decade in a densely populated area. Police on Wednesday denied claims that neighbors had called them about “suspicious” activity occurring in connection with Castro’s residence. Nina Samoylicz claims that, in July 2010, she saw a naked woman in the backyard of Castro’s home.

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Cleveland’s suburbs can be dull, and such nudity prompted discussion and a call to the police

A different account was offered by Samoylicz’s sister Faliceonna Lopez, which goes to show how unreliable gossip and speculation can be.  Only their mother, it seems, was contacted by the excited witnesses. The counter to the assertions is that the suspect kept the abductees under lock and key, a supreme effort of concealment.  The alleged criminal has to be made credible enough – one doesn’t like being made to look the fool. Martin Flask, director of public safety for Cleveland, informed reporters that “there is no evidence to indicate that any of them (the women) were ever outside in the yard in chains, without clothing or any other manner.”

While the Castro family fears demonization and the taint of history, the converse is true for Charles Ramsey, the man who, along with Angel Cordero, helped release Berry after he heard her screaming.

The internet junkies are mulling over the aura that has been generated around the rescuer, which is probably suggestive of the sheer collective guilt for how such a case could have happened. Sites such as Know Your Meme are running up videos with Ramsey. He is running on the loop, gathering a following over what was, essentially, a banal undertaking with remarkable consequence. “Thank you Charles for going to the aid of Amanda in the selfless way you did,” goes the response of a donor to a site set up to raise money for his efforts.

Everything Ramsey does from hereon in is being revered. The patois supposedly matters to some journalists – he “calls everybody bro,” as if that might be significant; he is a “straight talking” sort, lacing his words with occasional profane relish. Out of unremarkable simplicity, an orgy of interest has been generated. A saint has been born.

Some of the reverence is of the financial sort, which goes to show that rescuing an alleged abductee might just find yourself a spot of cash. Robby Russell of Portland Oregon has raised $14,000 on his site “Thank You Charles Ramsey.” “Thank you for doing what you did… thank you for the fantastic interviews,” claims the ecstatic Russell who is posting tips on where to put your “expendable income.”

The entire drama has become a true spectacle of commercialized morality and supremely demonic suspects.  Ethical constipation and guilt have a vital part to play in this. Even the solicited psychologists are lagging behind in getting attention on what frame of mind the victims must be in now. In the end, that will be less relevant than the spectacle this entire rescue has generated.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com. Read other articles by Binoy.

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  • John Cox

    I struggled to read this rambling, almost stream-of-consciousness, article. What exactly were you trying to say?