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Missing Ohio Women Found But Bigger Message About Race?


This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. In a few minutes, we are going to talk about the controversy over where the remains of one of the Boston bombing suspects should be buried. But first we want to talk about that very disturbing story out of Cleveland where three woman, all apparently abducted at different times, all missing for many years, finally managed to escape.

Now, the details of how all this happened are still coming out, but NPR's Gene Demby, lead blogger for NPR's Code Switch team, has some thoughts about this case. Gene, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

GENE DEMBY, BYLINE: Thanks for having me, Michel.

MARTIN: The first thing that comes to mind is that there's an interview with a neighbor who helped rescue the girls and that interview has gone viral. Cleveland's ABC affiliate spoke with the man. His name is Charles Ramsey. And a reporter there asked him how Amanda Berry reacted when she saw him. Let's listen.


MARTIN: So Gene, tell us about that. What about that?

DEMBY: You could see how the interviewer kind of pivoted away from the race question, right? So Ramsey was on his back porch when he heard someone screaming for help and he went over to his neighbor's back yard and he helped this woman pry herself out. And he said, as he says, this woman was - the only reason she would run for a black man for help is if something was amiss, right?

MARTIN: So Charles Ramsey is African-American.

DEMBY: Charles...

MARTIN: Amanda Berry was the first woman to get out and called for help and got the other people to get out too. What do we know about her ethnicity? Do we know?

DEMBY: Amanda Berry is white and she's 27.

MARTIN: Well, what are the other aspects of this case that strike you so far?

DEMBY: So one of the important things to remember is that Cleveland, according to a study that came out two weeks ago, Cleveland is one the most segregated cities in the country, right? And so this interaction would've been really anomalous. There's a reason why he would've thought this was amiss, right, why she would've run into his arms.

MARTIN: And what else is social media saying about this? As we mentioned, this interview with him has - is now all over the place. What strikes you also about how social media is reacting to this story as the details still unfold about just exactly what happened here?

DEMBY: Well, he's a natural social media star, right? I mean he's a great storyteller, right? He's great on camera, right? He told the story in a really compelling way. He fits into this kind of template. Antoine Dodson, you know, hide your kids, hide your wife. Ted Williams, the golden voiced homeless man. And so, you know, he's the kind of person who, like, naturally lends himself to be kind of - become a social media celebrity.

He's already been autotuned. He's already a meme. But, you know, one of the big questions there is always, you know, are we celebrating these people or are we making fun of them? There's a very fine line there.

MARTIN: What do you think so far? From what you've seen so far?

DEMBY: I mean, it's always hard to king of gauge intention, right? I mean, sometimes, you know, it seems like, you know, there are a lot of people were saying that he's a hero, right? But there are just as many people talking about, you know, the fact he doesn't have teeth, right, or he was missing teeth, right? Or the fact of what he was wearing. He was wearing a white shirt. A kind of...

MARTIN: T-shirt.

DEMBY: Soiled white t-shirt.

MARTIN: T-shirt. And his hair is kind of a little crazy.

DEMBY: Right. Exactly.

MARTIN: Because, you know, he was off that day and as he said in his interview, he was naturally doing nothing.

DEMBY: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: And just kind of relaxing. Well, so as we go forward, Gene, what kinds of things do you think you'll be looking for as this story takes its turn here? I mean, do you think that people find it unusual that this man would play such a heroic role?

DEMBY: There's still, you know, the thing that happens. Like we're going to find out more about him. Right? We're going to find out more about the three women who were found. And so I think once we've learned more about each of the players in the story I think we'll see the trajectory of hero worship and then kind of...

MARTIN: Move into something else?

DEMBY: Yeah, absolutely.

MARTIN: All right. Well, keep us posted. Gene Deny is lead blogger at Code Switch. That's NPR's race, culture, and ethnicity reporting team. Gene was here in our Washington D.C. studios. Pleased stay tuned to NPR throughout the day as we bring you more on this developing story. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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