House of horrors. Nightmare on X Street. Shiftless apathetic residents with criminal pasts. Throwaway victims with dead-end lives.
Over the past several weeks the news cycle has churned with high profile examples of systematized violence against women and embattled communities of color. The Richmond High gang-rape incident, the Department of Justice’s egregious findings on untested DNA rape kits and the Cleveland serial killer case have all demonstrated that sexualized violence continues to be a national unaddressed epidemic. When news of convicted rapist turned serial killer Anthony Sowell’s Cleveland killing spree broke recently the media dove in feet first with its boilerplate on black urban dysfunction. In incredulous narrative after incredulous narrative, black criminal pathology, neglect, neighborhoods saturated with and inured to violence were all on lurid display.
The Cleveland story received more coverage than is normally devoted to poor black communities. Yet the coverage was noteworthy for its relentless focus on the macabre circumstances of the discoveries in Sowell’s house. Lost in the mainstream outrage over the house of horrors was the specter of decades-long neglect by the local police. Cleveland residents have long complained about the lack of police follow-through on missing person cases in the community. In language that echoed the sentiments expressed by black communities from South L.A. to North Carolina, Cleveland community members weighed in on the lack of coverage, exposure and law enforcement presence around local efforts to track their missing. Some of the Internet stories of the missing evoked the stereotype of drug-addicted black women, alluding to their being prostitutes and transients. With their spotty pasts and run-ins with the law the two Sowell victims who were positively identified were portrayed as textbook examples of black female criminality. And what bigger contrast could there be to nationally mourned white female abduction victims who are invariably depicted as apple-cheeked pictures of unblemished innocence.
In the mainstream narrative, unruly criminal illicit black women, the kind who “invite” rape anyway, are hardly worthy of mention must less sympathy. Thus, Sowell was able to hide in plain sight because of the presumption of guilt that the criminal justice system associates with black communities. As a parolee in a criminalized community it was easy for him to rack up multiple victims. It was easy for him to let these murdered women literally decompose in plain view on his living room floor because of the belief that black communities are cesspits and black lives are not worth protecting.
In a more "rarefied" sector of the East Coast another “house” of horrors is being buttressed in the name of healthcare reform. Nancy Pelosi and her lawless Blue dog Democrat posse in the House of Representatives have voted to include an amendment to the healthcare bill that would deny women the right to abortion coverage. Under the terms of a private healthcare exchange in the misnamed public option women could not purchase plans from private insurers who provide abortion coverage. This provision would essentially create a two or three tier system in which wealthier women would once again be able to fund abortions and poorer women would be left to their own devices. Black and Latino women, who are disproportionately un and under-insured, and have the most to lose from unwanted pregnancies, would be the most deeply impacted. And with the more conservative Senate trotting out its own bill in a month, hardcore white collar state sanctioned violence against women will be on full display.
Sikivu Hutchinson is the editor of blackfemlens.org and a commentator for Some of Us Are Brave on KPFK 90.7FM.