The new Netflix series “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” presents the infamous serial killer from the perspective of his victims, many of which were African American or other people of color. The Black community thought Dahmer’s targeting of Black men was racially motivated. He resisted the claims and said in his court statement that he did not hate anyone; he knew he was sick and had accepted responsibility for his crimes. The series, however, explains why Dahmer got away with his crimes for 13 years without facing police investigations, and systemic racism seems to be a leading factor.
One incident in particular makes the connection clear: In the first episode of “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” Dahmer’s next-door neighbor, Glenda Cleveland, grew suspicious after hearing noises in the middle of the night and smelling a horrible odor from the vent that she shared with the killer. When Cleveland’s daughters saw 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone trying to escape Dahmer’s apartment, she called the police to help the boy.
Once officers Joseph Gabrish and John Balcerzak arrived on the scene, Cleveland tried to tell them that Sinthasomphone was a minor and needed to be rescued. However, when Dahmer arrived, he convinced the officers that he and the boy were a gay couple. Unfortunately, the officers ignored Cleveland and even escorted Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer’s apartment, where he murdered the boy.
Many viewers of the series wonder why the police ignored Cleveland yet believed Dahmer. Some blame systemic racism, stating that the police trusted Dahmer because he was a white man and doubted Cleveland because she was an African American woman who lived in an impoverished neighborhood. Although Dahmer got away with his crimes back in the 1970s, systemic racism is still prevalent today, meaning people still face discrimination based on their ethnicity and skin color.
Misogyny, too, could have allowed Dahmer to evade the law, thanks to the police’s perception that Cleveland was too emotional. Others claim the police wanted to quickly escort Dahmer and his “boyfriend” back to the apartment to avoid interacting with a gay couple. Niecy Nash, who plays Cleveland in “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” stated in an interview, “I believe in one of two reasons, one because it was a black woman complaining and calling them to do something, and two, because they believed what they stumbled on was a same-sex couple. I think it was homophobia on one hand and not having that much respect for a black woman on the other hand.” In a recording of the two officers, they can be heard saying racial and homophobic slurs over the police radio in a conversation with another officer. Sinthasomphone would have survived that night if the officers did not judge him and Cleveland by their ethnicity.
Racial injustice in policing persists today, despite the fact that several departments train their officers against racial bias. For instance, if an African American person makes a complaint, some officers will insult, arrest or threaten them instead of helping. If the person decides to press charges against the police, the arresting officer might deny everything and be found “not guilty.”
An article from PBS stated, “Black people have been more than twice as likely as white people to experience threats or uses of force during police encounters, and three times more likely to be jailed if arrested.” Moreover, in an interview with Netflix, racial justice activist Rashad Robinson stated, “In my role as the leader of Color of Change, I wanted to make sure that we really enhanced the deep understanding of the systemic racism in the Milwaukee Police Department, that we really enhance all the ways in which policing failed throughout each and every stage.” Although activists continue to fight for civil rights, systemic racism will likely permeate all levels of our society for years to come. Hopefully though, with time and effort, it will disappear little by little.
Dahmer was the epitome of evil and had no remorse for his actions. Even though Cleveland and his other neighbors were suspicious of him, he got away with his crimes due to systemic injustice. Systemic injustice is still happening today even if some police departments now train their cadets on racial bias. Despite the increased pervasiveness of bias training, systemic racism, misogyny and homophobia remain a problem. And as seen in “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” systemic injustice can have horrifying consequences.