Fifty years ago tomorrow, a then 28 year old woman who managed a local bar was murdered in New York City.  You might be thinking to yourself, what is the big deal, people are murdered in New York City all the time.  What the big deal was, was the fact that this crime captured the focus of a nation.

Her name was Kitty Genovese and her screams for help couldn’t and  didn’t save her on the night she was murdered outside her apartment building in 1964.  Fifty years later, those screams still echo, as a symbol of urbanization and the wish to not get involved in big city crime.  It seemed to symbolize that society no longer cared.

Genovese’s stabbing by Winston Moseley on March 13, 1964, became a sensation when The New York Times reported that “38 respectable, law-abiding citizens” in Queens watched the attack over more than half an hour and didn’t call police until it was too late.  While the number of people who saw or heard the crime has since become a matter of dispute, Genovese’s murder left its mark on public policy and psychology.

It spurred the adoption of the 911 system in 1968 as well as “Good Samaritan” laws that give legal protection to people who help those in trouble.

This case also gave rise to research into the “bystander effect,” the phenomenon in groups of onlookers can sometimes fail to help someone in distress.

According to police reports and trial testimony, Genovese was a 28-year-old bar manager living in the seemingly safe, well-kept neighborhood of Kew Gardens when she was attacked while returning home from work after 3 a.m.

Her attacker, Moseley, later told police he had been driving around looking for a woman to kill.  He spotted Genovese, chased her and stabbed her in the back.  Genovese screamed, and a neighbor yelled from his window, “Leave that girl alone!”  Moseley retreated to his car but returned minutes later and found Genovese in a hallway at the back of her building, where she had collapsed.  He stabbed her several more times and raped her as she lay dying.

The story was not widely reported until A.M. Rosenthal, then an editor of the N. Y. Times, had lunch with Police Commissioner Michael Murphy, who told him about the 38 witnesses.  In the story that followed, numerous neighborhood witnesses admitted to watching the attack, while other witnesses admitted hearing the victim’s screams for help and they all stood by and did nothing to help her.

“I didn’t want to get involved,” was what the neighbors who witnessed the attack or heard the victim’s screams for over 30 minutes, was quoted as saying.

The story seemed to show that New York was an urban hell where no one would lift a finger to help a neighbor.

“It fit some people’s anti-New York perspective,” said Philip Zimbardo, a retired professor of psychology at Stanford University.

Moseley was convicted of murder and sentenced to death, a punishment later reduced to life in prison.  He escaped during a transfer to a hospital in Buffalo in 1968, took five people hostage and raped a woman in front of her husband before surrendering to police. Now 79, Moseley is one of the longest-serving inmates in the New York state prison system.

While I am responsible for my actions, I would not personally get involved.  While I would call police, it would be a whole different circumstance  to respond directly to the incident.

Unfortunately, this decision to not get involved is propitiated every time that an innocent victim is incarcerated or sued by our so called legal system.  Why get involved with something that could result in yourself being injured or killed; much less going to jail or prison and losing everything you have worked for?  It is a tough question to answer and I learned a long time ago that there are many people, who will, after the fact, find fault with whatever you did during an incident, but they were not there and were not involved and you were.  It is the same as the Trevon Martin case, in which, all these people found fault with the actions of Mr. Zimmerman even though only two people were involved.

 

 

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