Revolution #184, November 29, 2009

Vicious Murder of Black Women in Cleveland

“Move past the murder of 11 plus Black women?? We are not moving past it. NO!”

Mt. Pleasant—Sounds like an inviting neighborhood community here in Cleveland. The image of tree-lined streets of two story houses surrounding Luke Easter Park comes to mind. But now we are face-to-face with brutal reality and the media headlines all over the country: Mass murder in Mt. Pleasant. The irony of those words is shattering—the horror of 11 plus women strangled and buried in shallow graves in a Black neighborhood while the truth of what happened was buried in its own shallow grave.

For years people sensed something wrong, and raised questions: about the pervasive rotten smell, about the drugs in the area, about one missing woman after another. And now that the sickening reality has surfaced, what we hear from officials basically comes down to: “We did all we could. Let’s unite and move on. Let’s thank the lord and bless the dead and leave it to those in charge; after all those women were drug addicts, alcoholics, possibly prostitutes... it’s a tragedy sure but you all just put it behind you and put it to rest.” Right. Keep the peace in Mt. Pleasant, they say—pretend everything will be fine and it’s all under control.

Two, three weeks after the initial news surfaced, people are not putting this to rest. At the corner of 123rd and Imperial, where the house, the killing grounds, of Anthony Sowell stands surrounded by yellow police tape, a continual stream of people come by, walking, riding their bikes, cars slowly driving by. Relatives, concerned people, neighbors, youth—many who knew one or many of the women, come together to draw strength from each other and try to come to grips with the meaning of this nightmare.

A Black woman minister stands on the street. A young woman is with her. This minister is not one of the peacekeepers. “No woman should deserve this kind of thing, no matter what lifestyle or faults, they didn’t deserve their lives to be taken. They just didn’t. Apparently the cops ignored it because come to find out there was more than one call that was made....”

She continues, “The few women who survived, who actually got away, were ashamed to speak up because of their past and that shouldn’t have never been an issue. If those women had not been afraid to say something because of their past because, come on, the first thing you hear is ‘oh she a crackhead’ or whatever, then it’s like, well, ‘I'm not taking that seriously.’ But no matter how much someone chooses to value their own life, every life is valuable ... they did it to all women, all women got disrespected. I gotta keep making noise—it’s just bringing tears to my eyes cause it’s just been horrific. I haven’t been able to sleep....

“...Everybody in the city, in the state, should be out here, all women, everyone should be out here. We are doing this all weekend long, to get this word out for the cause of all women. They could have developed the goddess within but they never had a chance. It’s injustice. We need to stick together, to work together....”

Across the street from the house, loved ones have put up a wall where photos, at least 15 names of the missing and murdered women are posted, comments are written, teddy bears and flowers are piled. This is a memorial with an urgent purpose. People, sometimes total strangers, share memories and thoughts and closely study the photos and news articles to see who they might know, which bodies were identified, and who is still missing. Some of the women have been missing for years. Some were from across town. It doesn’t matter. People want to know the big picture.

Among the “We Love You” and “God Bless” comments on the wall, one especially sends shivers up the spine: “Die young, cause we living fast! R.I.P. ladies.” In the midst, something different than that, a quote is posted from Revolution, issue 158, the “Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity”:

Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavor. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the revolutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution....

When so few will dare, this declaration is calling for something unseen in generations: an uncompromising outpouring of women and men the world over who refuse to see women oppressed, beaten, imprisoned, insulted, raped, abused, harassed, exploited, murdered, spat upon, thrown acid at, groped, shamed and systematically diminished.

Copies of this quote are being read word for word with tearful eyes all that evening by scores of people; copies of it are folded up into pockets, followed by conversation and a look into the Declaration issue of Revolution and the current issue of Revolution. This has helped to focus people’s anger and agony into a search for understanding and solutions.

As cars drive by, people call out to each other, the outrage and sorrow mingle, and someone gives a horn to one of the comrades, who cries out:

“And what do the authorities say we are supposed to do? Pray, unite and move past—move past what? Move past the murder of 11 plus Black women?? We are not moving past it. NO! Forget this sadistic hatred of women? NO! For the system it meant nothing; they said they aren’t going to look for no ‘crack bitches,’... that’s exactly what the authorities said after the mass murder for the discovery, the police chief said they don’t know how these women lived, he and others ran the cold racist shit that these women had it coming to them because they had drug problems, were in prison and some of them might have even been prostitutes. As relatives of the victims have said, ‘My daughter might have had problems but she was a good human being.’”

People respond, “Tell it, that’s right. Talk it. No, we are not moving past!!”

“...People are heartbroken over what has happened, are outraged at the no concern by the authorities here. No, we are not past it and will not be. As far as uniting, we need to sharpen up the disunity with the city officials. We are not uniting with the city officials and we are not uniting with the police ... we need to point the finger of blame not just at the authorities here but at the whole setup, the whole system that degrades women every day....”

More cries go out, “The whole system is guilty for it!” 

It is a fact: the police can never be part of the solution–they were "doing their job" when they allowed this serial rapist to kill, just as they are "doing their job" when they shoot and kill young Black men for walking down the street. Their job is to enforce a world of oppression and injustice.

Our speaker continues:

“...It’s a multibillion dollar pornographic industry that shows cruelty over women, the degradation—that seems to be alright to them. That’s the connection where one out of three women in the armed services are assaulted, and rape and murder continues every day—600 rapes and assaults every day—that’s what is at stake and that’s why revolution is the only solution. We need a society where women have dignity. That’s what happened in China when it was a revolutionary society and the Soviet Union. They had equality. It wasn’t men protect women. It wasn’t men over women. I call on everyone to join the revolutionary movement, come on over, sign up and talk to me!”

A collective sentiment is expressed that moment from people on the corner: “You are very right; that is the solution!” “You’re right, we do have to have a revolution, and if we don’t do it, it won’t never get done.”

People are now talking about society. In the daily routine, you get a sense of isolated suffering and desperation going on—a woman who is raped and too shamed to tell; a family whose daughter disappears and tries among themselves to decide what to do; children going out for days in search of their mother. But as this tragedy and horror unfolds, a larger problem does surface, and an awareness of the connections is getting pieced together. One man spoke his outrage at the authorities: “They know. They were missing. Who they called ‘transients,’ these people are mothers, sisters. I don’t care what they have done. That was an animal they created. When they put a man in jail for years... and he was in the Marines, they create monsters, they teach them how to kill and bury. They know what they do.”

A wrenching effort is being made to face these awful realities. The Declaration calls out: imagine a world free from all this. And it’s like a bolt of thunder to hear that another world is not just a dream, it’s possible. To get beyond the paralysis of grief and fear and despair and resignation, to grasp the full meaning of these words, and bring that to life—it’s like the first breath of air after getting the wind knocked out of your lungs.

Struggle and conversation continues; plans are made. Some youthful males stand by the wall, silently taking all this in. A comrade asks, “What do you think all this says about how women are viewed in this society?” One answers, “That they will fall for anything.” He smiles and elbows his friend to share the “joke.” But his friend does not go for this. He wants to see more of what is in the paper, the centerfold pictures about the conditions of women. We talk about the upcoming prison issue. He says, “I got no money but I will take that paper and read it”

A young Black woman who has an independent video documenting project shares her thoughts: “I have to say that it’s shocking because it’s in my own city, but as someone who’s traveled, you go everywhere in the world, you hear of these massive horrendous violent acts against women. Like there’s women in Juarez, Mexico, who are dying every day and nobody’s finding it out. There’s women being killed every single day just from violent acts and it’s not justified. We go from places where civilizations and religions are built around women and respect is understood and built into the fabric of those societies. But now we live in a time where it’s just about how can we tear down women and nature and everything that’s beautiful. So I think it’s a sign of the society that we are living in; it’s not just one man, you know, he’s the product of this environment that we are all victims of being bred out of.”

We tell people to come with us to Chicago to hear Raymond Lotta, whose tour is all about exposing the truth about the failure of capitalism, and how lies have been told that communism is bad, about the truth of the real revolutionary societies that have been buried. This takes on important meaning in the context of what is going down here.

A few decide to join the revolutionaries at the rally happening later that evening, to help get out THIS message, and to come to another corner the next day to spread the word and get out Revolution.

The rally, called by city officials and church prominents, surrounded by major media, began and ended with appeals to go down on your knees and stay there with your head bowed low while the authorities handle the situation. Not everyone is going for this.

An older Black activist, who has had an independent cable news show for years, was disgusted and familiar with what was coming out from the official mouthpieces. “We were out here saying that [women have gone missing] 20 years ago just like y’all are and they were calling us a loose cannon, and these preachers and others out here they ought to be ashamed of theyselves because they are out here trying to keep the lid on.”

And even during the praying, and at the end of the rally, people were taking in the agitation, the words from the Declaration and getting copies of Revolution.

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