Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Charles Ramsey on his role in the Amanda Berry Rescue

By now you have read all about the situation in a Cleveland, Ohio, suburb where three young women were held captive for around a decade. You probably also saw the interview with Charles Ramsey - the brother in the clip above - who is credited with breaking down the door to free Amanda Berry.

In the coming days the world will know more about the circumstances and conditions surrounding this disturbing case; as well as the roles played by the three brothers of Puerto Rican descent who are now in police custody.

Already there are indications of sloppy police work over an extended period that presses one to wonder if this case could not have been solved sooner.

Last night was a restless night for me so I do what a lot of folks do when they can't sleep, I surfed the web for hours.

I was amused and disgusted to read some of the reader comments that focused on Charles Ramsey at media sites like CNN. The vast majority were undoubtedly congratulatory and aimed at praising Ramsey for doing the stuff of heroes where many other folks may have just ignored Amanda Berry's call for help.

A significant amount of the commentary was downright classist and racist. See also conservative talk-show host Rush Limbaugh's stretch to link the kidnappings to a speculative conspiracy to gain welfare benefits, for an outrageous example of the classicism and racism at play.

The racist element in the comments was largely ignorantly focused on Ramsey's quote as shown in the above clip. If you listen closely to the man he was merely conveying a truth experienced by many black Americans especially in big dysfunctional cities like Cleveland. Black men are not seen as protectors but as villains or gang-bangers; they are to be feared by whites (particularly white women).

Most of the disparaging responses to Ramsey focused on his language. He is described as a colorful character with a humorous linguistic take on the situation. The supposition is that of black inarticulateness drawn from an historical record of such misplaced projection. His character is described by bigoted projections of what is considered Ebonics. Some of the ridicule extended his 'colorful language' to his hair and his missing front teeth.

And in so doing, this man who is described as heroic is also re-inscribed as a black buffoon, a cartoon character characterized by well-worn prejudiices about black inferiority.

So no matter how heroic Ramsey may be, in the grand scheme of American racial history his being is not unencumbered by historical racism. In effect, he is a hero to many, but also a black one that has to be judged or made to fit a stereotypical and disfigured blackness.

This is made worse by the applied intersection of class. Ramsey is a working man. A dishwasher at a local restaurant. His language is not the vernacular of sophisticated class pretension and aloof distance from the conditions that surround him. How can it be?

At one point he tells the police to come to the scene as fast as possible by saying Amanda Berry needs urgent help and support and adding "put yourself in her shoes".

This emphasis on Amanda Berry's need is born out of the reality that Ramsey is well aware that neighborhoods like his and those who live around him are not the immediate concern of police.

Even the 911 dispatcher who takes Amanda Berry's call says that a police car will be dispatched when "one becomes available". What else could have taken precedence over the discovery of Amanda Berry - a high profile case that is almost certainly known by most folks in Cleveland?

It is early to make hard and fast judgments in this case. But I hazard a guess that the inevitably fallout will be characterized by a police department that has been less inclined to follow leads in this case than they have been to hunt down black/brown and poor folks for petty drug offenses/crimes.

It is for this reason that American prisons are full of black/brown and poor people serving out sentences for drug related crimes. Wealthy Americans see these communities as the font of dysfunction and it is these powerful folks who describe and prescribe what policing priorities must look like.

If it were the other way around American prisons would hold a large number of upper-class white collar criminals who defrauded millions upon millions from working people in the recent Wall Street fiasco, for example. That is not how the system of supposed 'meritocracy' works in America.

Policing is, therefore, not about protecting the rights and property of black/brown and poor citizens - it is undoubtedly the prioritized province of the white middle and upper classes.

Inside of this cauldron of express inequality a man like Ramsey is more likely to stand up for what is right. His act is more an expression of citizenship inside his community than anything else.

That the police missed the markings of this case over a decade is, therefore, not nearly just a matter of three men who were able to hide these young women from public view.

It is also a matter of police indifference drawn from distinct classist and racist preoccupations that define the American way.

In these terms it is hard to ignore the fact that if Ramsey was a white middle-class man or woman he would be seen very differently. A white hero does not have to contend with being a racialized object. White heroes are a normative expectation in the world of whiteness where Otherness is described by perennial dysfunction.

Now can you imagine if Charles Ramsey happened to be a Muslim?  Or worse, what if the brothers in custody were Muslim?

A whole other racialized ballgame would be in play for sure.

Gif/Clip Credit
UPDATE: (May 8; 4:32 pm CAT):

Charles Ramsey did an interview with Anderson Cooper on CNN and it contains some insights into his down-to-earth character.

You can see the interview or read the transcript here.  Either way the brother comes across as real people.

Read what he has to say when Anderson Cooper asks him about being a hero and about the FBI and possible reward money:
COOPER:  Do you feel like a hero?


COOPER:  Because there's a lot of people, they're saying you're a hero.


RAMSEY:  No, no, no.  Bro, I'm a Christian, an American, and just like you.  We bleed same blood, put our pants on the same way.  It's just that you got to put that - being a coward, and I don't want to get in nobody's business.  You got to put that away for a minute.

COOPER:  Because you know how it is.  There's a lot of people who turn away.


RAMSEY:  You have to have cajones, bro.

COOPER:  Keep walking down on the street.

RAMSEY:  That's all what it's about.  It's about cajones on this planet.

COOPER:  Has the FBI said anything about a reward or anything?  Because there was that - there was a reward for finding her.

RAMSEY:  I tell you what you do, give it to them.  Because if folks been following this case since last night, you been following me since last night, you know I got a job anyway.  Just went picked it up, paycheck.  What that address say?  That say?

COOPER:  I don't have my glasses.  I'm blind as a bat.

RAMSEY:  2203 Seymour.  Where are them girls living?  Right next door to this paycheck. ...
FINAL UPDATE (May 9, 12: 05 am CAT):

The Smoking Gun has been doing a little background digging as is the way of media nowadays and they found out that Charles Ramsey was convicted at least three times for abusing his ex-wife.

He spent time in jail for each of these convictions and there are other criminal convictions too.  Since leaving prison in 2003 he has not had any run-ins with the law but he has not paid court-mandated maintenance for his daughter and as a result his driving privileges have been suspended.

He is flawed and heroes are not supposed to be flawed, right?

So there you have it - from hero to villain on the media express in just more than a day and a bit.

We live in a cynical world driven by media hype and Charles Ramsey's fifteen minutes of fame is about done.

Now the attention will likely turn to the three women - there must be some evidence to suggest that they were somewhat complicit in their ordeal.

The digging and manufacturing is about to begin.  Sensationalism obviously sells.

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