Tuesday three women were released from 10 years in captivity in a suburban neighborhood in Cleveland. If I lived in Cleveland right now I would be throwing up. How can three teenagers go missing and the police just give up? Maybe it’s the cynic in me, but I think if they were three young men, the search would’ve been a bit more thorough. What’s three less women on the planet anyway? Girls go missing every day to human trafficking, right? Who needs girls?
We don’t think this happens in the United States. And maybe fifty years ago it wouldn’t have. That was back when neighbors talked to each other and knew each others comings and goings. I have a neighbor who we jokingly call “Mrs. Kravitz” from the old sitcom Bewitched because she knows all the comings and goings of the neighborhood. In fact, she knew our next door neighbors were moving before I did.
Do you know your neighbors? Take a step outside. Look to your left. Know them? We were friendly with our neighbors to the left, they moved and new neighbors moved in. They were nice, but we didn’t click the way we did with their predecessors. But even though we didn’t click, we still were nice to each other. We picked up their newspapers when they went on vacation. And they’ve gotten our dog George in when he’s left the back yard. Look to your right. Do you know them? For me, it’s a Pickling Factory, so I’m good on that one. Look across the street. I know both sets of neighbors whose houses are across from mine. We hang out with the neighbors directly across to the left. We’d all do anything for each other, from watching dogs, making dinner, having after-work drinks, and getting together to play our famous game of washers, or Pennsylvania horseshoes as some call it. When we have our annual summer party, the houses adjacent to mine and two houses down all get an invitation. The people across the street always bring a cooler of beer and leave it for the night. I want to build community while alerting the neighbors that there will be lots of cars and really awesome music playing.
All the news I heard yesterday on this case was how quite a few people claimed to have called the police on suspicious things happening in this house over the years. What kind of a neighborhood is it? Is it one where the police avoid? We know there are “those kinds of neighborhoods” in this racially charged world. Class and race play out in the criminal justice system in such an expansive way we cannot even begin to analyze how people in poorer communities get arrested for minor infractions or ignored for major needs, like this very case.
One can only hope this blip in our history is a teachable moment. One can only hope that these young women (who aren’t girls anymore, by the way, media!) get the psychiatric help they need to heal from this horrific decade in their young lives. And one can only hope that people will begin to look out for each other in a different way. A bystander is someone who is neither a victim nor a perpetrator. It is someone who can call for help, stop an action, intervene. We need to build a community of bystanders so that a story like this is never told again.