I think of her from time to time now. When I am doing mundane things. I wonder what she buys when she shops for groceries. I wonder what she listens to on her commute to work. I imagine her shopping online, sipping wine with the TV on for background noise. I wonder if we have passed each other in the grocery store or stopped at the same time at the same traffic light before getting on the Shoreway. I like to picture her life colored in the tans and beiges of regularity. I think about her dreams. I hope, that for her, they are vivid, whimsical technicolor fantasies. Her brain wringing out her subconscious for the day. Most of all, I wonder if she still runs.
“The Cleveland Division of Police Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Unit is currently investigating a rape which occurred on Tuesday, September 2, 2014, at approximately 5:25 on West 104th Street near Lake Avenue. The victim, a 46-year-old female, was jogging on West 104th street when a male ran up and attacked her from behind, knocking her to the ground in the street. The suspect punched the victim several times in her face and body and pistol whipped her before dragging her behind a building and raping her. The suspect then fled the area on foot.” —clevescene.com, September 17, 2014
Her attack was caught on camera by the condominium’s security cameras on West 104th and Lake. Her rapist came from out of some bushes and dragged her into her nightmare. Local news stations played the footage over and over in hopes that someone would recognize something, anything that would lead to his capture. A $10,000 bounty was placed on his head. They never revealed her identity, and despite this she became more than a stranger to me.
Only the trees and the facades of well-to-do homes saw the truth that morning. It felt as if the trees would whisper to me as the wind blew on dusky evenings. He may be waiting for you. Hurry inside. Have your keys ready in your hand. Be alert at all times. I could hear the voice of my late mother chiding me for wearing the wrong thing. Her hands wringing until she got a call from me that I made it home safely.
It wasn’t as if I didn’t know that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows. I know the statistics. I volunteered for the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center Hotline. But he took her down like something out of a nature film: a beast taking down its prey from behind. Lake Avenue became the Serengeti. Who was next? What would I do if it happened to me?
“’There’s a lot of people running around here by themselves,’ Shoemaker said as she walked her small terrier. ‘Maybe people should pair up, or more police. I don’t know. The world’s becoming a very scary place.’” —Cleveland.com, September 9, 2014
Man-on-the-street interviews expressed surprise. As if the world wasn’t already a pit of despair. This neighborhood is supposed to be safe. We have million-dollar homes on the waterfront. Wine bars. A park. There is a parade of dogs and babies that make their way up and down these streets every day. Why us? The sheer brutality of the crime left people feeling open, vulnerable, angry, and helpless. There was a level of indignation that sat between the lines of hefty mortgage payments and block club calendars.
I can’t help but raise an eyebrow when people are surprised to find out that crime happens in their neighborhood. One news story said residents were “stunned.” I was never stupid about the probability that I could be the victim of a crime. Fuck adjacency to beaches, pet boutiques, and wine bars. This, however, really hit me hard. For the first time in my life, I felt unsafe. I double-, triple-checked locks. I ran from my garage to my door. I begged my landlord for security lights. I thought about her. Constantly. I wondered if her bruises were healing. I wondered if she took time from work. I wondered if she wanted justice.
How long was he to be on the prowl? Some women ran at all hours in defiance. Tracing their route up and through Lake and Edgewater, winding around West Boulevard and back down to the lake. Middle fingers to the wind. Headphones firmly in place. I placed a picture of an armed woman with a shotgun in my front window. I felt like it served as both a warning and a call to action. I kept a baseball bat close to my bed and my rifle, the only firearm I owned, even closer.
Neighbors organized a vigil at the site of the attack. I walked down from my corner across cracked sidewalks, passing manicured lawns in the brisk fall air to a crowd of people holding candles. A quiet anger permeated the silence. A man who came with his girlfriend made the grave mistake of telling women to jog with a partner. A Black man talked about how he feels like he’s being profiled by the police. Another resident complained about a homeowner who doesn’t keep his bushes maintained, which creates a horrible blind spot for drivers and pedestrians. Candle wax dripped down my hand. Where is she right now? Does she know we’re all here in her honor? I was surrounded mostly by people who I had never met, but we all shared a sense of place. Why didn’t I do a better job of knowing my neighbors? This was our home and for the women, especially, we were under attack. There were dogs on leashes and soft hellos and how are yous between those who knew each other. The truth hovered thick above us. We weren’t special. We weren’t immune. We were never safe. The crowd eventually dispersed, and we returned to our homes, locks clicking in place, blinds being drawn.
I thought of him often, too. I wondered where he slept. What he thought. What drove him to do what he did. Something is wrong with him, but does he see himself as normal? Does he live around here? He attacked her in the same place he found her and likely escaped on foot. He must not be far. Have I passed him on the street? Has he walked by my house? What does he eat? He must have moments of normalcy despite being a monster. I wonder what fear looks like to him.
“A man was arrested in connection with the rape in a Cleveland neighborhood earlier this month. The suspect was identified by the Cleveland Division of Police as James W. Daniel III of West 104th Street. The arrest was made on West 87th and Lake.” —fox8.com, no date
“The man dubbed the ‘Early Morning Rapist’ for recent pre-dawn attacks against two women on the West Side, was arraigned in court Wednesday morning on charges from those two rapes as well as a 2000 rape linked to his DNA. James Daniel III faces 22 counts, including six counts of rape, seven counts of kidnapping, four counts of aggravated robbery, three counts of having weapons while under disability, one count of felonious assault and one count of aggravated burglary.
The judge set a $1 million bond.” —wkyc.com, October 1, 2014
He was arrested around the corner from my house. Around the corner, at a place where I have walked numerous times. The relief washed over me in a warm flush followed by icy shivers. He was as real as she was, and he was caught. He was no longer a phantom haunting our neighborhood. I held my keys in my hand a little looser. My pace was a little more relaxed from my car to my door. I kept the poster in my window until the day I moved out. I remember taking it down, the tape frayed from weather and I thought of him, then I thought of her. I worried about the justice system process and what she’d have to go through. I hoped that she had someone to hold her hand. I hoped she had someone to tell her it wasn’t her fault. I hoped she felt stronger with each passing day. I hoped that despite everything she didn’t give up on the place she called home. Even to this day, I hope she still runs.
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Maria Miranda (they/them) is a queer, radical feminist, and nonprofit professional committed to advancing reproductive justice. For more than fifteen years, they have worked in the social sector in various roles including health advocate, fundraiser, grantmaker, and community organizer. Maria has advocated for women's lives by devoting time and money to various social justice organizations including NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio Foundation and New Voices for Reproductive Justice. Creatively, they have written works for the stage and have dabbled in performance art. Maria earned a bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Women’s Studies from Eastern Michigan University, a master’s in Public Administration from Villanova, and a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Public Policy from Northwestern. In addition to working full-time in philanthropy, Maria teaches courses in Women’s and Gender Studies and nonprofit topics at the collegiate level. Maria’s idea of self-care is taking naps, enjoying fried foods, drinking gin, and watching The Golden Girls daily.
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