May 10, 2013

The Cleveland Kidnappings: When Does a Criminal History Cancel Out Heroism?

I’m a recent transplant to the Cleveland area, and, while this sad story has certainly swept the nation, it has more than affected my new part of Ohio.

“Three women, at least two of whom had been missing since they were teenagers a decade ago, were find alive in a residential area near Cleveland,”  read just one of many online sources.

Even the national morning shows are still continually running updated headlines in connection with the kidnappings of these three Ohio women, but it’s taken Cleveland’s local news by storm.

On Facebook yesterday, I posted thoughts that I’ve been disturbed that this neighbor who helped these women escape, Charles Ramsey, has made more news for his upfront statements, infused with personality and honesty, about our nation’s racial divide—and also simply for the way he talks—than he has for his heroic act.

This started a newsfeed of support for him by my friends under my original statement of “I guess I don’t get it. I think Charles Ramsey is AWESOME.”

Just the small sampling of people that I connect with showed up to support this recently deemed local celebrity. So imagine my distress when a friend shared a link to the Smoking Gun, listing this man as a repeat domestic abuser.

I was speechless—and if you spend less than five minutes in a room with me, you’ll understand the level of my unhappy shock.

This, for me at least, brought up a question that I haven’t been able to let go of since checking my Facebook account last night (hence this hopefully conversation-starting article): when is a heroic act trumped by a criminal or shady past?

I’m not approaching this article from the standpoint of a trained psychologist or social worker. (I have a degree in geology and teach yoga, in addition to writing about anything my heart desires.) Instead, I’m offering up my personal insight and troubled inquiry.

When does a criminal history cancel out heroism?

For me, Charles Ramsey is still a hero.

I’m by no means supporting domestic violence, whether occurring on a regular basis or once in a lifetime. However, I am offering, from my humbly uneducated view, that acts of the everyday good Samaritan are not made any less triumphant because of an individual’s additional poor behaviors.

If I was Amanda Berry (and I in no way mean to suggest that I’m pretending to understand how she and the other two women must feel), I have to imagine (again, imagine) that I’d still be thankful to this stranger who heard my cries and came over to help.

What made national news almost immediately were Ramsey’s words that “I knew something was wrong when a little, pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms.”

Blatant? Yes. Far from reality? Unfortunately, no.

Obviously Ramsey does not lead the typical, white suburban life of either the majority of our country’s newscasters or, quite frankly, the target audience for these cutesie, far-from-hard-hitting morning shows. Are people that surprised to hear a statement like this? In a nation still fighting for gay marriage and sincere equality for all?

Charles Ramsey might be far from perfect, but his remarkable act of helping four fellow human beings escape from years of torture is, in my mind at least, deserving of credit regardless of his own personal past.

Again, I don’t dispense of the seriousness of domestic abuse.

However, when one of my friends commented under our little Facebook discussion, “I am so bummed. Can nobody be a hero?” It made me stop and think.

Initially speechless, I’ve thought about this long and hard—I think it might even be one of the reasons I woke up with a headache this morning—and here’s my conclusion:

Yes, we can have heroes. Yes, some deserve to be considered for their own person paths of enlightenment more than others, but where we get into trouble is when we expect our heroes to not be human too.

None of us are mythical Gods. None of us are perfect and free from a history of regrets or wrong doings. Some of us might have a less self-indulgent, negligent or, even possibly, malicious tale to tell, but we are all people with Achilles’ heels (whether the Smoking Gun uncovers them or not).

Not to mention that I’ve written before about our media’s love of fallen heroes. Is this story not perfect? A lone hero exalted and placed on a high pedestal, only to be immediately knocked down and torn apart? Go, U.S. media, you found your ideal character. (By the way, I hope you can taste my sarcasm; my disgust for our national love of a heinous scoop.)

Charles Ramsey might not deserve my original declaration of “awesome,” but his heroism does.

I guess what it boils down to is that I don’t think I can bring myself to so fully judge anyone while I’m walking around with my own plank in my eye.

My first response to this Smoking Gun revelation was disappointment that there are no heroes.

Then I stopped and second-guessed myself (which I think is something we should all do from time to time), because in our own ways we all need help. All of us.

These three women need rescuing in more ways than physically from behind that locked door. Perhaps Charles Ramsey needs to search his own soul. I know that I frequently need to search mine.

I’m not perfect. Can I really expect my heroes to be?


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta

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