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.
I remember when this all happened--it scared the hell out of me!!ReplyDelete
The murder alone wasn't bad enough--A.M. Rosenthal had to write in the Times that all those people watched and did nothing. That made it so much more terrifying.Delete
I remember hearing about this back in the day, but was unaware of the real facts surrounding it. Puts it a in perspective, though the result was still tragic.ReplyDelete
It provided some comfort to her family to know that she wasn't alone when she died.Delete
I saw this on Netflix streaming but I am not sure if I can watch it. Also read an article about Bill Genovese and this documentary.ReplyDelete
I guess because of my age when I heard/read about this it I have remembered it all these years. It really hit me hard.
If I do watch it it will have to be on a day I feel better and no headache.
In one part of the documentary he has an actress re-create Kitty's screams in the exact spot where she was attacked. That might upset you, especially if you don't feel well.Delete
I did know about Kitty and the original story. Haven't seen the documentary but I do recall reading something to the effect that the whole thing did not go down as first reported, ie, everyone heard and did nothing. I'm glad someone was with Kitty in those last moments.ReplyDelete
Eventually the New York Times reported that their article probably wasn't correct. Bill Genovese interviewed A.M. Rosenthal who still insists it's true. He knew a good story when he saw it. What a horrible thing to invent. The people in that neighborhood were offended, and rightfully so.Delete
I've heard her story before, but I'm glad to get the other side from your quick summation of the documentary. I lived in NYC. It's loud and you do hear strange things on the street at all hours of the day. I can totally see how this went down. Still sad.ReplyDelete
In Jacksonville I hear strange things all the time. I often go to the living room window or the backdoor to see if something is wrong. If strangers come around, Franklin is quick to inform me.Delete
In psychology class in college, we were told that there was an ironic effect...the more people at a scene, the less likely one will step-up and help. That was the theory. The professor set up a situation where a blind lady in our class hooked her backpack on her seat and was struggling to get loose. The theory would contend that our class of 30 would hesitate to help, but a guy (my husband, actually) hopped right up and freed her.ReplyDelete
The professor sighed and said the test never worked- she thought it was a WV thing, where it's just in the culture to stop and help your neighbor.
Maybe all of us are better people than we give ourselves credit?
Good for your husband. I've seen a number of group situations where someone needed help and no one hesitated to provide it. It's not just a WV thing.Delete
Yes, I remember reading about that famous case. Interesting that new details are finally coming forward.ReplyDelete
Bill Genovese has researched it for years, to the apparent consternation of his siblings, who wanted to let it go and not think about it.Delete
In recent years, I've read enough about the case to know that the usual story was slightly askew, shall we say. Still a fascinating tale, in a depressing way.ReplyDelete
Thanks for the spotlight on The Witness.
You're welcome. It is sad, but I'm grateful to learn that her neighbors cared.Delete
I do not know Miss Kitty, but she was lovely. I'll have to see if Phil is familiar with her story. He loves documentaries, so it shouldn't be hard to talk him into watching this one.ReplyDelete
If Phillie's Done Hooters likes docs, then I hope he'll think this one is outstanding. We learned about Kitty Genovese in school, with the teacher shouting, AND NO ONE WOULD HELP HER! You were wrong, Mrs. Waldoch, and that wasn't the only time.Delete
I just watched this last night! Quite a different story than the press made it out to be back then. Still horrible, but people did not watch what was happening and deliberately turn away like they said. Well, maybe one or two might have, I suppose. Makes sense why the police slipped information to the press since they didn't respond to the phone calls. Was an excellent documentary--and not done with as much bias as I am spewing right now--LOL! :)ReplyDelete
I was impressed by Bill Genovese's ability to allow the story to tell itself. He didn't attack A.M. Rosenthal or the police.Delete
I was also impressed by the non-biased manner of the entire documentary. They just let people be themselves more or less and got as much information as they could after so many years. Even his own family only knew the false information that was reported in the paper and not much else. Was worth watching this one! :)Delete
I do remember hearing that story after it happened. I would have been 13 at the time so I didn't think too much about the story other than having the knowledge of it since it was in the news at the time and even then I was kind of a news junkie.ReplyDelete
We still hear such stories except now there are all sorts of bystanders taking cell phone videos of what is happening. I guess it's more important to some to record the incident rather than stop it.
Tossing It Out
Sometimes incidents can't be stopped, especially if they involve the police, as they so often seem to do now. Is it really that so many police officers are vicious, or do we have a focus on it that's sort of a fad, as in "let's pick on the police"? Perhaps some people are deterred from nefarious activities when they know they're being recorded--I hope.Delete
I am absolutely going to watch this.ReplyDelete
I hope you like it--absolutely.Delete
I was young when it happened, but the memory is there. I lived a few hours south of NYC, but it seemed far away. People talked about it for quite a while and it may have had an impact on many. Maybe things changed a little for the better.ReplyDelete
Her family had moved to Connecticut because they thought NYC was dangerous. Her parents were unhappy that Kitty stayed in the city.Delete
Never heard the name Kitty GenoveseReplyDelete
The story probably didn't spread to Australia.Delete
This is heartbreaking. It does make me think...a lot of people are scared to get involved.ReplyDelete
Yes, but I've also seen a lot of people behave with great bravery. The neighbor who found out that Kitty was hurt and rushed to her refused to wait for her husband, who wanted to go with her. She didn't know if the attacker was gone, but she went anyway.Delete
I vaguely remembered the story but didn't realize a lot of the facts as you clarified them. I will definitely be getting on Netflix to watch the documentary. What an interesting story. I am relieved to hear that 38 people weren't hanging out the window watching it happen and doing nothing.ReplyDelete
I find the video interesting as how the people in a group ignored the smoke coming under the door. I wonder if the passage of time would alter the results. Today wouldn't young people say "What the f***?"
My son is 36 and my daughter is 30. I can't imagine either one of them watching smoke pour into a room and not saying, WTF. They're older than undergraduate college students, but they were the same at 26 and 20 or 16 and 10. Neither one of them could ignore a person in need any more than they could ignore an injustice.Delete
I remember hearing about this story and there was even a TV movie about this.it horrified me so, now that this info is coming out that it was not indifference but other things, I actually feel a bit relieved. If people would have truly known I bet they would have helped. It is sad that some people never want to get involved.ReplyDelete
I know some people who say, Don't tell me (about a problem). I don't want to know.Delete
I don't know that name. But what a terrible thing! I think most people would help, but like you said, a lot of them probably thought it was a drunken brawl.ReplyDelete
Plus, after the initial attack and the sound of her screams, she went behind a building where she couldn't be seen. Perhaps it was an attempt to hide from her attacker, or she might not have known what she was doing. He returned to attack her again.Delete
This sounds interesting. I'll have to watch it. It seems that when there are a group of people, each one thinks that 'someone else' will step in and handle it.ReplyDelete
That's not always true, though.Delete
There have been so many different stories. The one I heard is that she was being raped, and shouting "rape" but nobody responded. Whatever the circumstances - ugh.ReplyDelete
Be warm, safe, and well. I'll msg you again soon.
The attack on Kitty Genovese was horrible, but people did respond.Delete
People watched and did nothing. So typical.ReplyDelete
But it's not true.Delete