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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Open This Gate, Tear Down This Wall: Charles Ramsey, Rescue and Race

I had to fight back tears when I heard of the rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina De Jesus and Michelle Knight, the three women in Cleveland who were rescued from years of captivity.  The story is here. I came close to tears first out of relief for their safety. But I was also saddened because for the last several years I, like so many others, had frequented the area not far from that Cleveland neighborhood where they were found. Like so many others I little imagined that the women, the youngest two of whom had been the subject of much local searching, were still alive. All while I was glad for the women and their families I worried that the community, that we, that I, had failed them by not finding them sooner.

In the aftermath of the coverage an unlikely hero came to light.  The women were rescued thanks to the concern of one Charles Ramsey who did what too few of us do nowadays: he left the curtilege of his own home to go and see about a neighbor.  My heart swelled with pride as I heard Mr. Ramsey tell of hearing one of the victims calling out for help and of how he went to her rescue.  Thank heavens for neighbors like Mr. Ramsey. He is, as many have pointed out, an Internet sensation thanks to his detailed account of his actions surrounding the rescue.

Charles Ramsey, however, got way too real for some people in his interview.  From an NPR blog:

<< What made Ramsey really blow up on the Internet was his observation at the end of the interview.

"Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man's arms," Ramsey told a local TV reporter. The local reporter quickly pivoted away.>>

Yes, that’s what Mr. Ramsey said on live television. While it might have been a pretty cringe-worthy comment for many viewers, it is, unfortunately, a pretty accurate assessment of the situation on the ground in many places, including Cleveland. The city has for too long been racially divided by a figurative and geographical line between east and west, with the east side being much blacker than the west. Even in some of the famously integrated, inner ring suburbs of Cleveland, the level of social polarization between blacks and whites is sometimes more reminiscent of 1933 than 2013.  Mr. Ramsey gave voice to something that many of us have been saying for years: the social barriers between the races are as solid as ever in some places. Even where there are breaches in the racially inspired fortifications, too often the social interactions occurring in the breaches are cold, spare, wanting and rare. 

So, besides feelings of shared relief over the rescue, and thoughts of how we might behave to keep each other safe from the types of harms these women suffered, we might also think about how all of us might come together to address this persistent racial boundary that has also come to light.