Yesterday, three women, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, were rescued by pure chance after 10 years of imprisonment. Charles Ramsey was the neighbor who heard Amanda Berry’s screams and helped her break out of the house where she and the other women were imprisoned. Charles Ramsey is the hero of the day, and this week’s Twitter #Hashtag of the Week.
As you can see in his interview, Mr. Ramsey’s actions were the result of what, to him, were perfectly natural reactions to a call for help. Twitter is abuzz with talk about Mr. Ramsey for two reasons: First, though he assumed he was overhearing a case of domestic abuse, he refused to ignore a call for help. Second, his concluding comments in the interview above have sparked some conversations about race in the United States.
Domestic abuse is a tough issue for a stranger, sometimes even friends, to address. Social delicacy often dictates that we turn a blind eye, or that we only breach the topic when friends bring it up. We see what happens between two people in a relationship as none of anyone else’s business, which sometimes means that we pretend not to see, or refuse to see, violence or other kinds of abuse happening in front of us. Governments and police departments around the world are encouraging people to break the silence and report cases of domestic abuse.
Mr. Ramsey, it would seem, did not even stop to think about whether or not he should assist what he assumed was a victim of domestic violence. Instead of pretending not to hear the screaming behind the wall, Mr. Ramsey went to Amanda Berry’s aid, and helped her break open a door that her captor (or captors, as there are three suspects in custody) had rigged to stay shut.
His immediate and unhesitating reaction is exemplary. Mr. Ramsey’s actions were heroic precisely because he had no thought of their being so. From his perspective, he simply responded to a call for help.
The other cause of Mr. Ramsey’s celebrity, and one that makes us feel less warm and fuzzy inside than his bravery, are the comments he made at the end of his now-famous TV interview.
In response to a question from the reporter about the girls’ reactions when they got out of the house, Mr. Ramsey said, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms. Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”
That drew awkward laughter from the crowd surrounding him and prompted the reporter to end the interview in a hurry.
I have no doubt that Mr. Ramsey’s comments came from the heart. As to whether he was meaning to lighten the mood and insert a joke, or trying to bring up the topic of racism in the United States, only he can say.
But the result of his comments is twofold: the conversation is moving away from the disturbing reality that three women were held prisoners for ten years (and apparently one was made a mother, though that is yet unconfirmed); and Charles Ramsey is now being made into an internet meme, which sadly dehumanizes him and puts him into the entertainment category. As Gene Demby over at NPR’s Code Switch notes, Mr. Ramsey has now joined Ted Williams, Antoine Dodson and others in sudden, and arguably condescending, internet celebrity.
While Mr. Ramsey should absolutely be lauded, thanked and recognized for his good deed, we do well to remember that he is a man. He is not a superhero, and he does not need to be made into a flash celebrity who we worship for a brief time and then rip apart when we find that he is less perfect (as are we all) than we want him to be. His privacy is just as important as that of the women he rescued.
We also do well to remember the reason for his sudden fame: He unwittingly liberated three women who had been all but given up for dead by investigators. Questions about as to how that happened, how Michelle Knight’s case was so entirely overlooked, and how the three suspects were able to conceal their location for so long must be answered. And so must Mr. Ramsey’s closing comments be addressed. We have lots to do.