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Jerry Davich: Misdeeds of Cleveland ‘hero’ grays a black and white situation

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Updated: June 11, 2013 6:19AM



Is Charles Ramsey an accidental hero, an incidental liar, or a convicted abuser? All of the above, it seems.

The no-name 43-year-old dishwasher from Cleveland is a perfect example of our society’s natural inclination to lionize an otherwise nondescript person. Ramsey also serves as a perfect candidate for media’s kneejerk efforts to amplify this good-for-ratings phenomenon for us.

“Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms,” exclaimed our new American hero to TV news cameras earlier this week. “Something is wrong here. Dead giveaway.”

Yes, something was very wrong in Cleveland when we learned that three women – Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight – were held in captivity for a decade. The real heroes here, of course, are those three women, especially Berry, who desperately told a 911 dispatcher: “I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been missing for 10 years and I’m, I’m here, I’m free now.”

What amazing real-life drama unfolded before us on Monday, making “reality” TV shows appearing to be the scripted, edited and polished fiction that most of them are.

Ramsey, on the other hand, was as real as you could ask for with his affable storytelling, his colorful turn-of-phrase, and his entertaining gestures. He immediately came across as a street-savvy and oddly hilarious next-door neighbor who soon became an overnight Internet sensation.

TV news shows jumped on his sound-bite saturated story involving heroics to help rescue those three women, later identified as “sex slaves” to their alleged captor. Even CNN pretty boy Anderson Cooper nabbed a fast interview with Ramsey, who has obviously never met a TV news camera he didn’t like.

“Heard that girl scream and saw him run across the street, and I went outside and wondered what he was doing, and - Amanda said, I’m stuck in here, help get me out,” Ramsey told Cooper. “So here I come with my, you know, half-eaten Big Mac and I looked and I said well, ‘what’s up?’

“And she’s like I’ve been trapped in here, he won’t let me out, me and my baby. I said well, we ain’t going to talk no more, come on. I’m trying to get the door open, I can’t, because he torture-chambered it some kind of way and locked it up, right? So I did what I had to do and kicked the bottom of the door, and she crawled out of it. She grabs her baby, which threw me off, all right, so fine. I got some girl and her kid.”

Anderson later told his audience: “If not for the actions of Charles Ramsey and another neighbor who helped him, the three women may still be in that house here in Cleveland.”

The fast-paced exchange made for compelling TV and Ramsey was already hailed as a hero for his efforts.

“Do you feel like a hero?” Cooper asked. “Because there’s a lot of people, they’re saying you’re a hero.”

“No, no, no,” Ramsey replied. “Bro, I’m a Christian, an American, and just like you. We bleed the same blood, put our pants on the same way. You got to put that away for a minute.”

But we, as a society, didn’t want to do such a thing, even if Ramsey appeared to be a caricature of a cliché, complete with dirty T-shirt, missing teeth, and motor-mouth descriptions of the situation. Plus, the online auto-tune remixes showcasing Ramsey were entertaining in their own right.

“Gotta love this guy. What a hero!” commented Sherry K. on my social media post about this issue.

“There are still good people around us!” added Connie M.

“This guy is great, so down to earth!” noted Brenda M.

The love-fest continued until news later broke about Ramsey’s crime-riddled past, drug use and prison time, including details that he was a convicted felon with three domestic violence convictions.

This new twist is what I find most interesting about Ramsey and this once black-and-white situation, which is now shaded in debatable grays. Is Ramsey still a hero? Can his personal recall of what happened be trusted? Should he still be considered a hero, taking into account his sordid past?

Regardless of his past misdeeds, he did come to the aid of Amanda Berry. (Since Ramsey’s initial TV interviews, another neighbor has been heralded for also helping to rescue Berry. But the neighbor initially spoke Spanish to TV reporters, which didn’t play well for TV sound bites.)

Do we hold Ramsey’s past against him in light of his admirable efforts on Monday? Or do we view and judge him on those instinctive actions alone? Let’s be honest, he could have simply ignored Berry’s cry for help. He could have looked the other way. He could have walked away, with Big Mac in hand, back into oblivion. He didn’t, though.

I wouldn’t call Ramsey a “hero” because that once highly-respected word gets peppered on just about anybody these days. But he is certainly a Good Samaritan who did the right thing at the right time under “damsel in distress” circumstances. This must count for something, even in our fame-addicted culture.

Andy Warhol, who would seem the societal antithesis of Ramsey, once nonchalantly quipped, “In the future, everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

I guess this even includes the Charles Ramsey’s of the world, who is now famous and infamous in the same breath. At least for the next few minutes.

Listen to Jerry’s special Mother’s Day-themed “Casual Fridays” radio show from noon to 1 p.m. Friday on WLPR, 89.1-FM, streaming at www.lakeshorepublicmedia.org.Call in with your humorous, compelling, or touching story about your mother to win free movie tickets for you and your mom. Call in at 769-9577.



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