Plain Dealer Columnist Phillip Morris
Yvonne Pointer Triplett
Plain Dealer Online Photo of Megan O'Bryan, President and CEO of The Cleveland Rape Crisis Center
Not pictured- Mary Jane Chichester
By Kathy Wray Coleman, Editor of The Kathy Wray Coleman Online News Blog.Com (www.kathywraycolemanonlinenewsblog.com)
The City Club of Cleveland, founded in 1912 and self-described as the citadel of free speech that has drawn speakers such as former President Bill Clinton and South African activist and retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, touched on the sensitive issues of rape and substance abuse around The Imperial Ave Murders with a forum on Wednesday, just five days after a Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas jury found serial killer Anthony Sowell guilty of murdering 11 Black women and keeping their remains at his Imperial Ave home in Cleveland's Mount Pleasant neighborhood, among a host of other convictions.
Moderated by Plain Dealer Columnist Phillip Morris, an unsuccessful but celebrated nominee both this year and last for the prestigious Pulitzer prize in journalism, the panel consisted of Cleveland Rape Crisis Center President and CEO Megan O'Bryan, Greater Cleveland Women's Center Executive Director Mary Jane Chichester, and Clevelander Yvonne Pointer Triplett, a nationally known children's advocate, Essence Award Honoree, author and community liaison under Cleveland Community Relations Board Director Blaine Griffin whom herself has met tragedy with the unsolved abduction, rape and murder of her 14-year-old daughter Gloria, 27 years ago.
"They kept reporting that my child was a Black child in the City of Cleveland but my child's blood was red," said Triplett, who also told one of Sowell's surviving rape victims that was in the audience and had testified to help convict the former marine that its okay to not be okay around rape and torture.
Morris opened up with a speech on The Imperial Ave. Murders and said that he believes that Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has done all he could do in response to the tragedy. He said that though some of the 11 murdered women, many with alcohol and drug addiction problems, had "willingly led to their own slaughter" in fraternizing with Sowell the system refused to believe that Anthony Sowell had done what he did, not initially.
O'Bryan, who is a member of Jackson's all female three-member commission in response to the murders that issued a 900-page report last year and made 27 recommendations for improvement, said that 19 of the recommendations had been implemented and that while substantial progress has been made, more is needed. She said that women still today are not collectively viewed or treated as equal to men and that that is a reality, and she said that nearly two thirds of reported rape victims are poor, and minority.
Chichester, whose gender specific organization helps women with drug and alcohol abuse problems and victimization, said that "women need to know that they have somewhere to go."
Triplett added that sexual assault transcends racial and socioeconomic lines and that "no matter what position survivors put themselves in they don't deserve to be assaulted."
Members of The Imperial Women, the grassroots group founded around the murders that had complimentary tickets for the event from Judith Pugsley, urged City Club sponsors to expand the forum to include law enforcement panelists so that they could discuss what they might have done differently to save lives taken by Sowell. And the group representatives said that while recommendations are okay and Jackson has done some things they want public policy revisions through statutory mandates that have teeth. They said that they want the mayor to diversify his top level law enforcement leadership team where he has no Blacks or women as law director, safety director, chief of police, chief prosecutor or EMS commissioner in a predominantly Black major metropolitan city.
And the Imperial Women responded when Morris ask why race was so prevalent around the 11 murdered Black women that an understanding of the phenomenon of institutional racism and sexism is necessary to effectively enact public policy around the tragedy and for police and city officials to fully learn from it.
Ask what has been done to make women in Cleveland as safe as possible Triplett said that Jackson and Police Chief Michael McGraph had taken the murders very seriously.
"I have met with Mayor Jackson and Police Chief McGraph and I can honestly say that they are compassionate about the issue Kathy," she said, with O'Bryan adding that "I don't think that we are going to have the same level of complacency."
Chichester went further and said that McGraph and police have to accept some responsibility for the negligence around the murders, and some audience members agreed.
"Not one job has been lost and who will be held accountable?," said Dr. Ronnie Dunn, to applause.
An associate professor in the Department of Urban Studies at Cleveland State University, Dunn said in summary that the community will not be made whole until those that failed to act around The Imperial Ave. Murders are brought to task.
Some families of the murder victims complained that their missing persons reports were ignored and in Dec. 2008 after arresting Sowell on an attempted rape complaint made by Gladys Wade, police deemed her not credible and released him from custody where six of the 11 murdered women were murdered thereafter. After capturing him in Oct. 2009 following a rape complaint from another woman Sowell was later indicted by a county grand jury on the attempted rape of Wade, which was among the 82 of 83 counts of which the majority White jury found him guilty of last Friday.
Sowell's day of reckoning begins Aug 1 before Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Judge Dick Ambrose as the mitigation phase, that is expected to last all week, gets underway with Sowell defense attorneys Rufus Sims and John Parker hoping to convince the 12-member jury to spare the serial murderer the death penalty.
Ohio is one of 35 states nationwide that has the death penalty in capital murder cases for jurors to wrangle with.
Journalist and Community Activist Kathy Wray Coleman can be reached at 216-932-3114 and firstname.lastname@example.org.