Cleveland’s chilling lessons

The Fix is a big fan of Joel Achenbach and his blog Achenblog.  Joel writes about space, the environment, politics and whatever else he wants to write about because he’s that good. We asked him to write a political week in review piece for The Fix every Friday. This is that piece.  Make sure to follow all of his work here and follow him on Twitter too.

This was the week when we talked about Benghazi, and agonized over Syria, and watched the lawmakers maneuver on the debt and immigration. But the story that we couldn’t stop thinking about was the one in Cleveland.

Three young women – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight -- were held captive for a decade by a monster.  What a haunting, disturbing story. Yes, Virginia, there is a Boogeyman.


Amanda Berry, left, and Gina DeJesus.

Time and again in the past year, the nation has been stopped in its tracks by a horrific crime. I’m thinking of Aurora, Newtown, Boston and now Cleveland, though there were other ghastly events as well. With our 24-7 media and connectedness, we’re more of a village than ever, and we become emotionally caught up in distant events, and bonded to the victims. I keep seeing the smiling face of 8-year-old Martin Richard in Boston, whose family this week released a moving statement about the long struggle to recover from the marathon bombing. If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to do so now.

It’s hard to know how to discuss all these crimes, other than to say that they remind us that there are hideous men out there who do terrible things. We are also reminded that our lives can change in a single moment, without the slightest warning or provocation – perhaps when watching a movie, or going to school, or attending a sporting event, or walking home from our shift at Burger King.

Maybe the good that will come out of Cleveland will be a renewed focus on sex crimes and violence against women in particular. And maybe it will get us all to pay more attention to the people around us, including our neighbors. Love thy neighbor, but also drop a dime on him if you see a naked woman crawling around in his backyard.

As much as we rejoice in the freedom of the captives in Cleveland, we have to wonder how it was possible for their presence in that house to go undetected for so long. They were held captive not in some remote place, but in a neighborhood of houses cheek by jowl, not too far from where they all disappeared. Where were the heroes before now?

And – speaking now as a father of three splendid young ladies -- what do we tell our daughters? You don’t want your kids to be frightened by the world, to see it as a place of menace and malice and sickness. But every child needs to know to trust his or her instincts when someone seems off. There are worst things than being considered rude.

Ever since my kids were little, I’ve told them one thing over and over: “Solve your own problems.” Of course I was mostly talking about things like tying your own shoes, and keeping track of your own homework. But my father died young and, although I expect to be around for many decades, I always worried that I might not be available to them as they learned to navigate the world. An excellent way to improve the odds of happy outcomes is to take charge of one’s own circumstances, and know that, in crucial moments, you have to act decisively, on your own, without benefit from an authority figure, guardian angel or someone with a badge. The ancillary to this is that, when someone else needs help, don’t assume that help is already on the way. You be the help.

My guess is that the after-action report on the missing-persons investigation in Cleveland will not be pretty to read. Consider that a columnist for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Regina Brett, wrote about two of the missing women, but not the third, Michelle Knight – because Brett hadn’t even heard of Knight before Monday.

Yet all three disappeared from the same area in the same period of time. The Plain Dealer reported that Knight’s name was removed by Cleveland police from an FBI missing-person database 15 months after she disappeared, due to lack of leads in the case and inability to confirm that she was still missing.

Question: What other women are missing but, for whatever reason, not sufficiently missed?

Joel Achenbach writes on science and politics for the Post's national desk and on the "Achenblog."
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Aaron Blake · May 10, 2013