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Cleveland, U.S.A.: He kept murdering women because those in power didn’t care

23 November 2009. A World to Win News Service.  A serial killer kept strangling women in a poor Black district of the U.S. city of Cleveland. The police finally  searched Anthony Sowell's home in September, after he tried and failed to kidnap yet another woman in the neighbourhood. They found the remains of at least 11 women. But much more than one man's hideous crimes began to come to light. It turned out that the authorities had reason to know what was going on and didn't care.

For instance, in December 2008 an injured young woman stopped a police patrol on a street near Sowell's home. She told the officers that Sowell had grabbed her as she passed by his house, dragged her behind the building and beat her and tried to rape her. The police found blood on the floor and on his face when they went to arrest Sowell. Yet police records indicate that they thought the woman was "not credible", that her accusations were "unfounded" (despite the fact that Sowell had served 15 years in prison for rape), and that at most this had been a minor robbery attempt. They ended up releasing him without charges. (Washington Post, 13 November 2009) They paid no attention to the neighbours, who suspected that something very bad was going on in that house, nor did they care that the premises often stank like decomposing flesh.

Now the authorities say that most of the women whose bodies have been found lived alone or on the street, and had drug or alcohol troubles. That may be true, but the problem was not that the authorities had no way to know that they were missing. After the case hit the media other women came forward to say that Sowell had tried to kill them too, but that they hadn’t gone to the police because they knew they would be treated like criminals, not victims. Sowell was protected by the fact that those in power don’t care what happens to the most downtrodden, or about rape more broadly – according to the Washington Post, as many as 80 percent of women who are raped in the U.S. never dare report it. Now local officials, ministers and other authorities are urging people in the neighbourhood to "move beyond" the incident and put the painful past behind them.

Following is an excerpted article from the issue dated 29 November of Revolution, newspaper of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA.

For years, people sensed something wrong, and raised questions: about the pervasive rotten smell, about the drugs in the area, about one missing woman after another. And now that the sickening reality has surfaced, what we hear from officials basically comes down to: "We did all we could. Let’s unite and move on. Let's thank the lord and bless the dead and leave it to those in charge; after all those women were drug addicts, alcoholics, possibly prostitutes... it's a tragedy, sure ,but you all just put it behind you and put it to rest."

Weeks after the initial news surfaced, people are not putting this to rest. At the corner of 123rd Street and Imperial, where the house, the killing grounds, of Anthony Sowell stands surrounded by yellow police tape, a continual stream of people come by, walking, riding their bikes, cars slowly driving by. Relatives, concerned people, neighbours, youth – many who knew one or many of the women, come together to draw strength from each other and try to come to grips with the meaning of this nightmare.

A Black woman minister stands on the street. A young woman is with her. This minister is not one of the peacekeepers. "No woman should deserve this kind of thing, no matter what lifestyle or faults, they didn’t deserve their lives to be taken. They just didn't. Apparently the cops ignored it because come to find out there was more than one call that was made."

She continues, "The few women who survived, who actually got away, were ashamed to speak up because of their past and that shouldn’t have never been an issue. If those women had not been afraid to say something because of their past because, come on, the first thing you hear is 'oh, she a crackhead' , or whatever, then it’s like, well, 'I'm not taking that seriously.' But no matter how much someone chooses to value their own life, every life is valuable ... they did it to all women, all women got disrespected. I gotta keep making noise – it's just bringing tears to my eyes cause it’s just been horrific. I haven't been able to sleep.

"Everybody in the city, in the state, should be out here, all women, everyone should be out here. We are doing this all weekend long, to get this word out for the cause of all women. They could have developed the goddess within but they never had a chance. It’s injustice. We need to stick together, to work together."

Across the street from the house, loved ones have put up a wall where photos, at least 15 names of the missing and murdered women are posted, comments are written, teddy bears and flowers are piled. This is a memorial with an urgent purpose. People, sometimes total strangers, share memories and thoughts and closely study the photos and news articles to see who they might know, which bodies were identified, and who is still missing. Some of the women have been missing for years. Some were from across town. It doesn’t matter. People want to know the big picture.

Among the "We Love You" and "God Bless" comments on the wall is something different, a quote is posted from Revolution, issue 158, the "Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of All Humanity":
Women are not breeders. Women are not lesser beings. Women are not objects created for the sexual pleasure of men. Women are human beings capable of participating fully and equally in every realm of human endeavour. When women are held down, all of humanity is held back. Women must win liberation, and they can only be liberated through the rev
olutionary transformation of the world and the emancipation of all of humanity, and through being a powerful motive force in that revolution....

When so few will dare, this declaration is calling for something unseen in generations: an uncompromising outpouring of women and men the world over who refuse to see women oppressed, beaten, imprisoned, insulted, raped, abused, harassed, exploited, murdered, spat upon, thrown acid at, groped, shamed and systematically diminished.

Copies of this quote are being read word for word with tearful eyes all that evening by scores of people; copies of it are folded up into pockets, followed by conversation and a look into issues of Revolution. This has helped to focus peoples anger and agony into a search for understanding and solutions.

As cars drive by, people call out to each other, the outrage and sorrow mingle, and someone gives a horn to one of the comrades, who cries out:

"And what do the authorities say we are supposed to do? Pray, unite and move past – move past what? Move past the murder of 11 plus Black women?? We are not moving past it. NO! Forget this sadistic hatred of women? NO! For the system it meant nothing; they said they aren't going to look for no 'crack bitches'... that's exactly what the authorities said after the mass murder for the discovery, the police chief said they don’t know how these women lived, he and others ran the cold racist shit that these women had it coming to them because they had drug problems, were in prison and some of them might have even been prostitutes. As relatives of the victims have said, 'My daughter might have had problems but she was a good human being. '"

People respond, "Tell it, that's right. Talk it. No, we are not moving past!!"

"People are heartbroken over what has happened, are outraged at the no concern by the authorities here. No, we are not past it and will not be. As far as uniting, we need to sharpen up the disunity with the city officials. We are not uniting with the city officials and we are not uniting with the police ... we need to point the finger of blame not just at the authorities here but at the whole set-up, the whole system that degrades women every day."

More cries go out, "The whole system is guilty for it!" 

It is a fact: the police can never be part of the solution – they were "doing their job" when they allowed this serial rapist to kill, just as they are "doing their job" when they shoot and kill young Black men for walking down the street. Their job is to enforce a world of oppression and injustice. Our speaker continues:

"It’s a multibillion dollar pornographic industry that shows cruelty over women, the degradation – that seems to be alright to them. That's the connection where one out of three women in the armed services are assaulted, and rape and murder continues every day – 600 rapes and assaults every day – that's what is at stake and that's why revolution is the only solution. We need a society where women have dignity. That’s what happened in China when it was a revolutionary society and the Soviet Union. They had equality. It wasn’t men protect women. It wasn't men over women. I call on everyone to join the revolutionary movement, come on over, sign up and talk to me!"

A collective sentiment is expressed that moment from people on the corner: "You are very right; that is the solution!" "You're right, we do have to have a revolution, and if we don't do it, it won't never get done."

People are now talking about society. In the daily routine, you get a sense of isolated suffering and desperation going on – a woman who is raped and too shamed to tell; a family whose daughter disappears and tries among themselves to decide what to do; children going out for days in search of their mother. But as this tragedy and horror unfolds, a larger problem does surface, and an awareness of the connections is getting pieced together. One man spoke his outrage at the authorities: "They know. They were missing. Who they called 'transients', these people are mothers, sisters. I don't care what they have done. That was an animal they created. When they put a man in jail for years... and he was in the Marines, they create monsters, they teach them how to kill and bury. They know what they do."

A wrenching effort is being made to face these awful realities. The Declaration calls out: imagine a world free from all this. And it’s like a bolt of thunder to hear that another world is not just a dream, it’s possible. To get beyond the paralysis of grief and fear and despair and resignation, to grasp the full meaning of these words, and bring that to life – it's like the first breath of air after getting the wind knocked out of your lungs.

Struggle and conversation continues; plans are made. Some youthful males stand by the wall, silently taking all this in. A comrade asks, "What do you think all this says about how women are viewed in this society?" One answers, "That they will fall for anything." He smiles and elbows his friend to share the "joke". But his friend does not go for this. He wants to see more of what is in the paper, the centrefold pictures about the conditions of women. We talk about the upcoming prison issue. He says, "I got no money but I will take that paper and read it."

A young Black woman who has an independent video documenting project shares her thoughts: "I have to say that it’s shocking because it's in my own city, but as someone who's travelled, you go everywhere in the world, you hear of these massive horrendous violent acts against women. Like there's women in Juarez, Mexico, who are dying every day and nobody's finding it out. There’s women being killed every single day just from violent acts and it’s not justified. We go from places where civilizations and religions are built around women and respect is understood and built into the fabric of those societies. But now we live in a time where it's just about how can we tear down women and nature and everything that's beautiful. So I think it's a sign of the society that we are living in; it's not just one man, you know, he's the product of this environment that we are all victims of being bred out of."

We tell people to come with us to Chicago to hear Raymond Lotta, whose tour is all about exposing the truth about the failure of capitalism, and how lies have been told that communism is bad, about the truth of the real revolutionary societies that have been buried. This takes on important meaning in the context of what is going down here. A few decide to join the revolutionaries at the rally happening later that evening, to help get out this message, and to come to another corner the next day to spread the word and get out Revolution...

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