Monday, May 13, 2013

How Capitalism Failed Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight

Three young women go missing from a working class Cleveland neighborhood and are held captive in ropes and chains, beaten, and raped for nine to eleven years, one bearing a child and one having five forced miscarriages. Neighbors called police on kidnapper/rapist Ariel Castro multiple times to report odd behavior, including bags and plywood over the windows, three naked young women on all fours being walked on leashes in the backyard, loud banging, and a mysterious woman holding a baby in the attic making distressed gestures (1)(2). Police ignore the calls or arrive, knock a few times, and leave. Only when one of the three women breaks free from her bondage and a courageous neighbor (3) kicks in the door are the women and a captivity-born 6-year-old rescued. This leaves so many unanswered questions, the most pervasive being: how could this have happened without anyone noticing?

The kidnapper/rapist Ariel Castro has a sordid history of gruesome violence against women and children. He tormented his wife with cruel psychological games and brutally beat her frequently, resulting in knocked out teeth, dislocated shoulders, broken noses, cracked ribs, and a blood clot on her brain. He confined her and children inside their house against their will. He controlled every aspect of his wife's life and threatened to kill her if she left him. He viciously beat her with chains, which her family thinks eventually resulted in brain trauma and death. His daughter Arlene was best friends with Gina DeJesus and was the last person to see her before her disappearance. Furthermore, a police sketch released clearly portrayed Castro. Despite his misogynist and abusive history, his previous kidnapping and abuse of his children, the confinement of his wife, his familiarity with and proximity to DeJesus, and a suspect sketch uncannily resembling himself, Castro was never investigated for the rash of kidnappings.

Neighbors claim that in numerous instances police were called for suspicious behavior but were unresponsive. One neighbor, Israel Lugo, called the police in 2011 when his sister noticed a woman with a baby banging on the attic window looking as though she wanted to escape. Lugo said, "The cops came. They pounded on that man’s door around 15, 20 times, real hard. They looked in the driveway, they got back in the squad car and left." Lugo ends one interview by saying, "Anytime you call the police, it doesn't get done around here."

Another neighbor reported seeing a naked woman in the backyard and staring from an open window for a little while each day. When she called the police to report these disturbing observations, they assumed that it was a prank and did not respond. Soon afterward, the kidnapper/rapist obscured the yard and house with tarps. A neighbor who lives three doors down from Castro, 55-year-old Elsie Cintron, said that about a year ago her granddaughter saw a naked woman crawling out of the house on all fours then went back inside. The granddaughter called the cops, who never responded. Juan Perez, who lives two doors down, and his mother heard a disturbing scream from the basement about three years ago. "It was the kind of scream that made you uncomfortable so my mom called the police," he said. They never responded.

Police claim to have no records of the numerous neighbors' calls. After denying that they had ever received any calls whatsoever about the kidnapper/rapist, police finally admitted to visiting Castro's home twice. They claimed to be responding to his call about a fight in the neighborhood and to investigate his negligence on his school bus driving job when he abandoned a student on the bus, ordering the child to "lay down, bitch." Were police negligent and lackadaisical because the reports were coming from an economically disadvantaged neighborhood, because the callers were persons of color who spoke with accents, or because the allegations indicated crimes against women and children? Whatever the reasons for the police's unforgivable failures, they weren't the only ones turning a blind eye to a disturbing character and situation. Plenty of men in Castro's life were, too.

Several men acquainted with the kidnapper/rapist were ignoring red flags galore. For years, the kidnapper/rapist's son was forbidden to enter three locked areas of the house--the attic, the garage, and the basement. Two weeks ago when he visited his father, Castro wouldn't let him enter the house at all. The owner of the house next door and longtime Castro enemy, Doug Parker, claimed that the kidnapper/rapist had always had a suspiciously secured home with multiple locks and "in the heat of the summer...As sweat poured from his brow, he would notice that next door was buttoned down—windows tightly sealed, no air conditioning, all the blinds shut. And he knew Castro was in there because his car was parked out front." While recently inside the house, Ricky Sanchez heard "banging on a wall" and noticed multiple locks on the outside door. A little girl came out from the kitchen and stared at him silently. Then he couldn't leave "because there were so many locks." Yet Castro's creepy behavior didn't prompt the younger Castro, the enemy Parker, or friend Sanchez to act.

Band leader Ivan Ruiz also knew Castro was dangerous and predatory, yet did nothing. Castro invited Ruiz's17-year-old son over to play drums, but Ruiz quickly forbade him to go. "I didn't trust having him with my child. He was a senile kind of person. A crazy kind of person. He was weird," Ruiz said. Ruiz found it strange that Castro would never allow bandmates inside to unload heavy band equipment nor allow visitors to pull into the driveway, claiming there were nails in it. Another aberrant behavior was Castro's reluctance to stay overnight with his band, which booked hotel rooms for gigs in Toledo, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. "He was the only one who never stayed," Ruiz said. "He would say, 'I have to get home.' It was weird." Miguel Quinones, manager of a band Castro played with in 2008, observed that band practice was never held at Castro's place and his bandmates never entered his home. Despite his bandmate's suspicions, none of them ever felt the need to investigate the situation.

Numerous neighbors, friends, relatives, and bandmates observed disturbing occurrences at the Castro house. The women who reported the incidents to police to police were ignored; the men who observed suspicious behavior failed to alert the authorities or to investigate the situation independently. Women have historically been ignored by authority (often with the consequence of being diagnosed with hysteria, locked in institutions, and subjected to electroshock therapy). But what of the men who did nothing? Perhaps the men were hesitant to involve police since police have a documented history of harassing and assaulting men of color, but this does not explain why the numerous men who were suspicious of the kidnapper/rapist did not confront him or otherwise investigate the situation themselves.

One possible explanation for the men in the community's (including the police's) lack of intervention in the inexplicable happenings at the home of the kidnapper/rapist is the culture of silence and secrecy surrounding domestic violence. Domestic violence is still widely considered a private matter in which outsiders should not intervene. We are socialized to consider domestic violence Someone Else's Problem. We frequently falsely perceive it as an equal dispute between consenting parties when, to the contrary, it primarily arises from an inherently unequal relationship between two genders, one of which has been oppressed in nearly every culture for centuries due to the biological nature of femaleness and the consequent sole burden of performing all of the reproductive labor for any given society. Domestic violence harms everyone in the community, and comrades must struggle to overcome our individualistic socialization to stop the epidemic of violence behind closed doors.   

What of the failures of the police? Aside from complacency about calls from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods and a misogynist reluctance to respond to potential domestic violence calls, there is yet another reason police might not have sufficiently responded to complaints about Castro and failed to maintain reliable records about 911 calls over the years. Public sector workers cannot effectively function without proper funding and resources. And Cleveland, like many other cities across the US, has faced severe cuts and layoffs in recent years.

The gutting of the public sector partially explains why police were unable or unwilling to respond to calls about the kidnapper/rapist, as well as why they failed to thoroughly investigate even the very neighborhood from which the three young women disappeared. When public service sectors are undermined by austerity measures, public servants lack the resources to competently perform their jobs. Don't misunderstand me: I have no reverence for the armed gangs of thugs called police that protect capital and terrorize working class neighborhoods, persons of color, women, and young persons, but they occasionally perform certain vital functions within society (e.g. apprehend rapists, recover missing children, locate stolen cars). While police forces continue to exist, we should ensure that they are properly funded.

Of course, while public services in poor neighborhoods are being gutted, there is always a way to fund the rejuvenation of certain parts of the city. Wealthier and whiter sections of the city build new police stations as working poor neighborhoods like the one in which Berry, Knight, and DeJesus were held captive are virtually ignored by police, allowing rapists, kidnappers, and murderers to flourish. And flourish they have. Castro is not the first woman-hating rapist, kidnapper, and murderer to operate in this forgotten Cleveland neighborhood. Anthony Sowell, also known as the Cleveland Strangler, kidnapped, raped, murdered, and dismembered numerous women just blocks away for years as police ignored calls from multiple rape and kidnap survivors.

Police neglect of numerous neighbors' complaints, as well as the cultural norm of ignoring the warning signs of domestic violence can be attributed to the fact that capital benefits from disturbances in the poor, dark side of town and in sexual abuse and violence against women. A steady stream of conflict in working class neighborhoods prevents the community from unifying and organizing against exploitation at the workplace or the rental home. Battered women are often too preoccupied with an overwhelming feeling of powerlessness to become educated about the companies polluting their air and food while exploiting their labor. Beaten children are less likely to grow into confident adults who challenge exploitation of their labor and often become domestic abusers in adulthood. Domestic abusers perpetuate this cycle and often end up in the privatized prison system where their labor is exploited as they provide cheap labor for companies.

Capital has a vested interest in perpetuating the cultural norm that kidnapping, rape, and domestic violence are private matters that should be handled by the persons involved, not intervened upon by the community or the underfunded police. The bourgeois nuclear family enforces a competitive, individualistic hierarchy that mirrors the manner in which capital exploits labor. The competitive drive between individuals under the guise of providing for one's family at all costs is perpetuated by capital and damages communities. The bourgeois notion of a nuclear family with its own individual agenda lends cultural legitimacy to the false but dominant perception that one's family must flourish at the expense of others and is one cultural justification for exploitation of workers.

Our autonomist friends are onto something when they tout the virtues of community-building. Although gardens and bartering cannot effectively threaten capital on their own, community-building activities are effective ways to combat the secrecy of domestic violence as well as the dangerous notions of the nuclear family and its competitive individualism, all the while developing comradely bonds. These bonds can become revolutionary when workers finally refuse to be further exploited by capital and seize control of the means of production. Only then can we begin to expect radical equality and a dismantlement of a patriarchy that discourages community intervention in situations--such as the Berry, DeJesus, and Knight nightmare--that capital perceives as private.
(3) Charles Ramsey was as perpetrator of domestic violence in the past, which does not negate his heroic intervention in this scenario and which, if I put aside my aversion to lauding wife beaters, might have prepared him to intervene in what he perceived as a domestic violence situation that most persons, including police, ignored (

No comments:

Post a Comment