Kitty Genovese: It's a name that's become synonymous with apathy and a refusal to help others since twenty-eight-year-old Genovese was murdered in 1964. New York Times metropolitan editor A.M. Rosenthal wrote a well-known article that alleged thirty-eight of her neighbors watched the attack and did nothing to help Kitty Genovese because they didn't want to get involved.
But what if it's not true? What if "Genovese Syndrome" (a.k.a. "The Bystander Effect") is a misnomer?
If you don't want to watch the video, my summary of Genovese Syndrome is that if a number of people are aware of an emergency, they tend to ignore it, while one witness is more likely to take action.
I think I learned about Kitty Genovese when I was in sixth grade. It was horrific! All these people watched while she was stabbed over and over and did nothing. Bill Clinton brought it up when he was president and recited the story as an example . . . of something. That we don't care about each other?
Earlier this week on Netflix Streaming I watched the documentary The Witness (2015), in which Kitty Genovese's youngest brother, Bill Genovese––who was sixteen when Kitty was murdered in New York––examines her case in detail to try to find out what really happened to Kitty.
I don't want to tell you everything that Bill Genovese learns because the documentary is great, so I hope you'll watch it. It's available on DVD, in addition to Netflix Streaming. If you can't get the movie, you can Google it to read a summary online.
What I will tell you is that the story of Kitty Genovese's neighbors is more urban legend than fact. She was attacked in the middle of the night during the month of March, a cold March, while her neighbors slept with their windows closed. They heard screams, but eyewitnesses? One, who shouted at the attacker to "leave that girl alone."
When the others didn't see anything, most went back to bed because they thought it was a drunken brawl.
However, more than one person called the police, who took their time about responding, reportedly because they thought it was a domestic dispute.
When someone realized that Kitty was in the foyer of her apartment building, bleeding, a neighbor who was a particularly close friend of Kitty's rushed to her aid and held her as she died.
Kitty Genovese was not alone in the world. People cared about her. Her family loved her. Her neighbors did not ignore her during her last moments of life.
The Witness is a well-made documentary with evidence to back up its claims. If you've never heard of Kitty Genovese, this is your opportunity to learn her story––and the story of her neighbors.
Infinities of love,
|Kitty Genovese in 1961.|
Her murderer died in prison earlier this year.