Human beings have learned a thing or two about evil over the millennia, yet evil has lost none of its power to surprise. And when we find it living next door, whom do we blame for having seen without perceiving? Blame the human tendency to find the possibility of evil so close to home unfathomable.
The kidnappings of two teenage girls and a young woman in Cleveland that extended into roughly a decade of captivity in a small, shabby home with boarded-up windows in plain sight of neighbours, now blessedly over, is another episode in the unending story of human evil.
Who looked and didn't see?
Anthony Castro, an adult son of alleged kidnapper Ariel Castro, knew that his father was a violent man who had been the subject of a court order to stay away from his ex-wife and children. Anthony knew about the kidnappings. As a journalism student, he had written a story about them. And his father had strange ways with his house, which seems to have been mostly unused. "There were places we could never go," Anthony told the Daily Mail in London. "There were locks on the basement. Locks on the attic. Locks on the garage." Should Anthony Castro have probed?
And what of the neighbours who allegedly saw and raised a fuss? A man named Israel Lugo told CNN that his sister saw a woman behind a boarded-up window, and he called the police. Police came and pounded on the front door but when no one answered they left, he said. Police say they have no record of it. Mr. Lugo also said four or five people from a retirement home behind the house reported seeing women on dog leashes in the backyard; the police were called, but didn't show up. Again, police say they have no record of it. Should the sister, the elderly people and Mr. Lugo have persisted?
An aunt of a kidnap victim said, "We all have to stick together, neighbour with neighbour. We need to still be a family, neighbourhood with neighbourhood. We need to watch out for all kids. Really, watch who your neighbour is because you'll never know." There's the impossible tension. To be neighbours, and to watch your neighbour. To perceive the evil close to home. To be together, but with eyes wide open. After everything, it's an eloquent plea.