Phillip Morris at the Cleveland Plain Dealer has written a very apropos column on Anthony Sowell and the eleven women he murdered.
And as the unmistakable smell of rotting human flesh enveloped the neighborhood around Sowell’s house, a community shut its eyes and held it’s nose, while Sowell kept making his run to the beverage store.
The registered sexual predator in their midst made little effort to conceal the horrors that police say he perpetrated on women, but a neighborhood — and a city — blithely ignored the parade of women walking into Sowell’s home without ever walking out.
It appears that a serial killer was able to kill with abandon and confidence in a congested neighborhood because he knew that no one would bother to come looking.
The killer knew that on his streets, a black woman can simply disappear. No questions will be asked. He arrogantly told one of his victims, who managed to escape, that no one would come looking for her because she was a “crack bitch.”
This reminds us of the vast differences between what happens when a white woman, or an owning class woman, disappears versus a black woman, or poor woman. Not only were these women murdered, but no one was even seriously looking for them after they died. Even when relatives did note their absence, authorities declined to look into the matter. What’s the worth of a drug-addicted poor black woman? It should be the worth of a human being, but we have unmistakable tiers for determining who is worthy of society’s resources and emotional investment. Our own memories serve as evidence: when we think of missing women we heard about in the news, who comes to mind? Who’s searches made the media?
Newsweek recently had a story on this exact topic. It discusses a situation in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, where ten women have been killed and several more are missing. Their profiles are strikingly similar to the women killed in Cleveland. All black. All poor. Most with a history of drugs.
“If it was someone of a different race, things would have been dealt with the first time around; it wouldn’t have taken the fifth or sixth person to be murdered,” says Andre Knight, a city-council member and president of the local NAACP chapter. “All these women knew each other and lived in the same neighborhood; this is the sign of a potential serial killer. When it didn’t get the kind of attention it needed, it made the African-American community frustrated.”
In Rocky Mount, the police only recently warmed to the thought of a serial killer, perhaps because a killer hasn’t been handed to them on a silver platter as Anthony Sowell was (though there is a local sex offender who was charged with one of the murders in October). Work hours and community resources would have to be expended to determine the existence of a serial killer and locate hir. Not worth it if the killer only strikes poor black victims. The community of Rocky Mount had better hold onto their resources for something more important. Sports stadium, anyone?
Sowell was, unfortunately, quite smart, and knew things like this. He struck upon a ‘winning’ formula, which probably also stroked his ego for its boldness, its audacity. He preyed on women whom he knew society valued little. He didn’t even bother to hide his deeds. He killed women and in some cases just left the bodies where they lay, allowing the stink of his murders to oppress the entire neighborhood. Everyone knew something or someone had died. And collectively, they accepted it with few questions. He knew they could smell it. When they did nothing, surely he felt that the neighborhood was complicit.
This case is really a story about complicity. Anthony Sowell did the raping and murdering. But so many others made it possible for him to do so. Don’t they deserve any credit for their work? The prison system, the police system, our “war on drugs”, drug dealers, the community, the city leaders, the economic system, institutional racism?
The number of people complicit in these rapes and murders of black women is staggering.
UPDATE: Someone who agrees with me:Cleveland, You Know You F&@ked Up, Right?