Cleveland murders are a product of our own values

OPINION - The Anthony Sowell case is one that requires us to stop and reassess our values. Why are some people considered to be less worthy of police protection than others?

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Anthony Sowell is a name that most of us would like to forget. Sowell is the 50-year-old man in Cleveland found to have 11 corpses in his home after being arrested on a rape charge. His neighbors noticed the smell, but some blamed it on the sausage factory next door.

Sowell’s case jars the mind, and even the sight of him makes me want to change the channel. But not only is Sowell repulsive, the circumstances under which these women were killed are equally alarming.

All of the women were African-American. All of them were poor, marginalized and ignored by society. Some of their families called police to report them missing and the police refused to thoroughly investigate. Even Sowell was intelligent enough to know that he was taking the lives of women who would not be missed, telling one of the victims that no one would care if she disappeared. In Sowell’s warped mind, many of these women had already disappeared. The truth is that he was absolutely correct.

The Anthony Sowell case is one that requires us to stop and reassess our values. Why are some people considered to be less worthy of police protection than others? I recall hearing a police officer explain to me that he felt that the job of the police was to simply protect the rich from the poor. I was under the false impression that their job was to protect the good from the bad. Apparently, Sowell’s victims were not wealthy enough, blonde or blue-eyed enough to be defined as inherently good. Their disappearances were deemed unworthy of the attention of Nancy Grace or anyone else for that matter.

What is also sad about the case of Anthony Sowell is that his parole officer allegedly came to his home to check on him several times, not seeming to notice the smell of dead bodies coming from the house. Did he actually do his job or did he simply report that he did it? If he didn’t do his job, did he even have the resources to do it?

Sowell’s case further begs us to question the role of our prison system. Not to say that Sowell was a man who could be redeemed, but he’d already served several years in prison without actually becoming a better human being. For some reason, we decided that incarceration should be a time for pure punishment, and not a place to actually rehabilitate and thoroughly evaluate.

Even though the system may not have been able to help a man like Sowell, the truth is that prisons have a great deal more potential to help other incarcerated people find their way back into society. While one is not sure if Sowell could have been redeemed, the truth is that he was probably made into a worse criminal than he was when his prison sentence began.

The sight of Anthony Sowell’s face makes me physically sick. I have to look away when I see him on the television screen. Maybe the reason most of us cannot look into the eyes of Anthony Sowell is because perhaps deep down, when we see Anthony Sowell, we are actually seeing a reflection of our own values. The Sowell tragedy and murders were products of our society and we can’t get away from that.