(Video Above: Watch my discussion earlier last week with Thomas Roberts on MSNBC on this topic.)
The media's coverage of the Cleveland rescue of three women trapped for years only a few miles away from where they were last seen has riveted the nation -- for good reason. It's not everyday that such miracles happen, when those who were lost are found and when ordinary people discover extraordinary courage within and become true heroes.
Yet what happens when heroes do not come in the package we're normally sold. What happens when heroes aren't square-jawed, broad-shouldered and white? Or when they don't even speak English very well.
There's no question that Amanda Berry's daring escape and Charles Ramsey's actions to come to her aid at a critical moment are the epitome of heroism. Or so you might think. As Ramsey's compelling initial interview after the rescue became viral, there were those, sadly, on Twitter and elsewhere who poked fun at his references to McDonald's, his missing teeth and his colorful colloquialisms.
Even more galling was the fact that others who helped rescue Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight, such as Angel Cordero, have gone largely unsung as heroes, even as Ramsey made references to "we" and "us" in describing the incident.
It speaks to the darkness of the shadow cast on our nation's immigrant community and to the media's preference for sensationalism that Angel Cordero, who claims to have been the first on the scene as Berry called out for help, has received far less media exposure outside of local news. Cordero is soft-spoken, modest and speaks Spanish primarily in contrast to Ramsey.
The Cleveland rescue story is like chocolate chip ice cream -- so much to celebrate yet studded with America's worst blights when it comes to how lower income communities, especially those who are black and brown and female, are treated by law enforcement and the media. It seems like poor police work indeed that Ariel Castro never came under suspicion given that he was among the last people to see her, had a history of kidnap and domestic violence, and was known to live in a house with boarded-up windows in which no one was allowed to enter. The connections with Castro and his other victims seem less clear but it's well-known that the vast majority of women are raped by someone they know, which would seem to point towards a tighter investigation of DeJesus' social circle. And let's not forget the media's failure here as well.
This is not the first time that the powers that be have failed lower income, majority black & brown neighborhoods. One need look no further than Anthony Sowell, another Cleveland kidnap & rape case in which those who protect and serve waited too long to do either. 11 women died at his hands yet despite an overpowering stench of decaying bodies near his home in a working-class neighborhood, women going missing and a ex-con with a prior record of kidnapping & rape living nearby, no one stepped in.
Or take the case of "Dr" Kermit Gosnell, who ran a drug mill during the day and an abortion clinic by night well-known for providing abortions to low income minority and immigrant women in Philadelphia. Despite obvious signs of horrible medical malpractice, numerous complaints and illegal late-term abortions in his house of horrors, authorities failed again and again to step in until a woman died.
Everyone deserves the equal protection of the law in America, no matter their ethnicity and no matter how rich or poor the neighborhood in which they live. Violence against a domestic partner or a child should treated with the same level of seriousness, scrutiny and severity than the same assault from a stranger on a city street. Because we're all in this together -- what happens in the house next door or the neighborhood down the road can threaten us all. We can avoid the collective horrified shock to the nation's psyche of evil living in our very midst if we are willing to demand that justice is served, no matter your color or nation of origin.