Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Horrors in Our Midst We Are All to Blame When We Stay Isolated from Our Neighbors

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Horrors in Our Midst We Are All to Blame When We Stay Isolated from Our Neighbors

Article excerpt


We are reeling in Cleveland. Not 24 hours after President Barack Obama took the stage at Ohio State University's commencement ceremony and celebrated our country's response to recent tragedies, news broke that three young women who had vanished more than a decade ago from this city were found in a home on the near west side.

"We've seen the petty divisions of color and class and creed replaced by a united urge to help each other," Mr. Obama said on Sunday. "We've seen courage and compassion, a sense of civic duty, and a recognition we are not a collection of strangers."

On Monday, we watched, riveted, as it emerged that Ariel Castro and his two brothers, Pedro and Onil, had been arrested for holding Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight captive in a house on Seymour Avenue for years. Neighbors never suspected a thing.

"He was a nice guy," Juan Perez told Cleveland's NewsChannel5. "He would come around and say hi. He gave the kids rides up and down the street on his four-wheeler. He would ask me if I wanted a ride. ... He seemed like he was a good guy to the kids that were here. ... I didn't think anything of it."

Residents here are stunned for reasons beyond the immediate shock. We celebrate that these young women are alive. We cheer for the good samaritan neighbors who responded to Ms. Berry's screams for help, broke down the door to free her and called 911.

Still, a haunting narrative, born of too-recent history and unhealed wounds, kicks in: Again, this has happened to our women.

Again, right under our noses.

In the fall of 2009, Cleveland police found the bodies of 11 African-American women buried on the other side of town, at the home of convicted sexual predator Anthony Sowell. This was no ordinary crime scene, and our town was overrun by national and international media as the story unfolded in horrifying detail over several days.

Two women were buried in the basement. Five were buried in Sowell's back yard. Four bodies were found in the third-floor sitting room near Sowell's bedroom.

As I wrote at the time for the Plain Dealer, neighbors had complained for nearly two years about the stench. …

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