† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI.Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice, is contributing editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
“People forget that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched.”
~ Stanley Tookie Williams December 2, 2005
Many tales of criminal injustice emerged out of Cleveland last week. As the 10 year ordeal of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, Michelle Knight, and Berry’s 6-year-old daughter came to an end, the horrors were revealed. Kidnapping. Rape. Torture. Forced miscarriages. False imprisonment.
Questions emerged too – about potential laxness on the part of the Cleveland police in investigating further both the missing women and suspicious activity around Ariel Castro’s home. Questions about the role of race and class generally in driving missing persons police action and media coverage. Questions about “The Missing White Woman Syndrome”.
But before the week was over the spot-light turned away from both victims and perpetrator to focus on one Charles Ramsey, the too honest neighbor and eventual rescuer of Berry and the others. From the very first interview, it was clear that Ramsey made the media nervous. His life at the margins of both race and class. His raw honesty about race and some “white girls” — Dead Give-away.
He wasn’t our typical hero. So first, the laughter, then the quick turn to viciousness, as smokinggun and others dug the dirt. Just as they thought, Charles Ramsey was “the criminal-black-man” after all. The cognitive dissonance was now melting away away — Maybe he wasn’t a “hero” after all?? How, in our culture of simplistic either/or binaries, could he be?
In all that has been written since the news broke out of Cleveland, it is Liliana Segura of The Nation who reveals the central questions in Race, Redemption and Charles Ramsey. (The piece is excerpted throughout this essay, but please read the original in its’ entirety.) She finds hope in the support that Ramsey has continued to receive from many – hope that, by embracing him, we may be more generous to others as well.
The story of Charles Ramsey is a story of redemption that strikes deep at the heart of rigid social constructions of “criminals” and the cultural charades we endure to maintain them. It is a story of the complexity of the human condition – one that defies all monolithic labels. And, so, it is a window into the possibilities of transformative justice.