Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1594      May 22, 2013

Culture & Life

Female, black and vulnerable

Keith Sulzer, commander of the Cleveland Police force in the US city of that name became highly indignant when a surprising number of critics emerged after three young women who had been kidnapped and held prisoner for ten years in a house in the poor part of Cleveland were finally rescued.

The critics claimed that the police would have taken the disappearance of the three young women a lot more seriously if they had been white or from well off families. The white police chief found that assertion very unfair, but critics pointed to other cases to prove their point.

Notably, they pointed to the case of Anthony Sowell. He was a serial killer who specialised in raping and killing drug addicts and alcoholics. One woman he attacked escaped and reported the attack to the police, but they didn’t believe her, and released Sowell without charge.

When further incidents forced police to finally search Sowell’s house in 2009, they found the bodies of no less than 11 women.

Journalist Angie Schmitt wrote a few weeks ago that “what made these women such easy targets was being black, being women and being from the highly segregated and desperately poor east side of Cleveland. …

“Nobody was going to tear up the city looking for a few black women from the east side with sketchy pasts.”

Judy Martin, founder of community group Survivors/Victims of Tragedy, maintains that when poor people – especially poor people of colour – go missing, the police assume the person has simply walked away and that there is no crime to investigate.

Stung by the widespread criticism, Sulzer hit back: “The Cleveland Police Department doesn’t care about someone’s economic or social status,” he told reporters. “We don’t care what status you’re from. Everybody gets the same treatment.”

Throwing Sulzer a bone, Angie Schmitt also pointed to “significant underfunding of police and city services” in the most affluent nation on Earth as a factor in the police failure to adequately follow up cases of missing poor people. Police Commander Sulzer told a public meeting of concerned east side residents that 2,900 people were missing in Cleveland alone.

But according to Mark Anthony Neal, Professor of African-American studies at Duke University. “We live in a society that places an incredible amount of value on whiteness at the expense of those who can’t fit in the box of whiteness.” He told the media that “across the US, missing people from Black or Hispanic backgrounds and lower socio-economic status are more likely to get few resources and attention than affluent, white victims.”

The inherent racism in the police handling of the cases echoes the findings in court-ordered investigations into racial disparity in instances of “stop and frisk” by the New York Police Department, which found that some 87 percent of the five million individuals stopped by the NYPD were Black or Latino. Now the city is facing a federal class action suit over the alleged racism in the police actions.

Of course, picking on US crime statistics is an easy target: the country that promotes capitalist greed and being rich as the most admirable of all virtues, is also the country that relentlessly promotes crime and criminals via its films, TV shows, novels and newspapers. Even its criminal trials are presented as entertainment, making celebrities of the prosecutor, the judge and of course the criminal.

In US TV shows and movies, it is always the criminals who have the fanciest cars, the classiest mansions, the most upholstered women – as well as the most servants and lackeys, receive the most respect and have the most money.

That reminds me of one of the distinguishing features of the old Untouchables series with Robert Stack: the criminals were treated with contempt. It stood out because that attitude is so uncommon on US television. Gangsters might come to a sticky end, but only after they have led an exciting, luxurious, glamorous life of crime.

Meanwhile that utter hypocrite and war criminal, the British PM David Cameron, whose government has joined with its NATO allies in arming and deploying terrorists and religious fanatics to try to destroy the secular, democratic state of Syria, had the barefaced gall to get up in the UN and bleat about the “poor Syrian people” who according to him were being mercilessly killed by their own government.

The shameless immorality of capitalist politicians does not escape public notice and must play a significant part in forming people‘s opinions about the “rule of law” and whether it is something that they should really care about or not. Clearly, if the rich and powerful don’t care about it then why should the common people?

Something else that people care about is who can marry them. In Britain generally there are at present two forms of marriage: religious or church weddings, and civil ceremonies. But in Scotland, the new Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill allows for a third form: a “belief-based” marriage other than the existing religious forms. The Free Church of Scotland was disturbed by this, foreseeing the possibility of belief-based marriages extending beyond the churches to other types of belief.

They foresaw legal weddings by people who believed the earth was flat, people who believed they had been abducted and probed by extraterrestrials or people who believed they were really animals trapped in human bodies.

Frankly, why not? What makes their beliefs more – less – silly than those of Christians or any other faith-based system? In France, you can get married in a church or a temple or a pumpkin, but you must get married first in a civil ceremony at the town hall or it won’t be legal. That sounds like a sensible system capable of satisfying everybody, whatever they believe in.   

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