March 13, 2008

March 13 | Kitty Genovese

July 7, 1935 - March 13, 1964: Age 28

Kitty Genovese's mother was worried about safety. She and her family lived in Brooklyn but, in 1954, after she witnessed a murder, she decided to move the family to Connecticut.

Kitty, 19 at the time, decided to stay. For nine years she lived and worked in the New York area, eventually getting a job as a bar manager in Queens, where she shared an apartment with a friend.

In the early morning of March 13, 1964 she drove home from work at about 3:15am, parking 30 metres (100 feet) from her apartment door. A man ran toward her and stabbed her twice in the back. She screamed, but it was a cold night and people had their windows shut. Several neighbours heard, but only one responded, shouting out the window, "Let that girl alone!", and the man ran away. Genovese made her way toward her apartment, seriously injured, but now out of view of the upstairs windows around her.

Some people called the police but the matter was not given high priority. One man reported that a woman was "beat up, but got up and was staggering around." The attacker got in his car and drove away, but returned ten minutes later and began to search the area, eventually finding Genovese lying in a hallway at the back of the building. He stabbed her several more times, raped her, stole her money, and left her dying in the hallway. The time from the initial attack to the end of the second attack was about half an hour.

A few minutes later another witness called police. Police finally arrived and Genovese was put in an ambulance. She died on the way to the hospital. Her attacker was later arrested on unrelated charges, and confessed to her murder. He told the authorities that he had gotten up at about 2am with an impulse "to kill a woman". He left his wife sleeping at home and drove around looking for a victim.

He was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was reduced to 20 to life. He was not a model prisoner. In 1968 he shoved a soup can up his rectum in order to be transported for surgery; during the transport he overpowered the guard and took five hostages, raping one of them before he was recaptured. He also participated in the Attica Prison riots in 1971. He has been denied parole 12 times, and will be eligible again this month.

The police investigation after the attach revealed that approximately a dozen people had heard or observed portions of the attack, although none were aware of the entire incident. Only one was aware she had been stabbed in the first attack, and only one was aware of the second attack. Many weren't aware at all, thinking they had heard or seen a lover's tiff or drunken brawl. One man turned up his radio so he wouldn't have to hear her screams. Another, an immigrant, said she didn't call because her English wasn't good enough. One said, "I didn't want to get involved" — a phrase that was reported in the New York Times and became synonymous with New York's crime problems.

A great deal of psychological literature has subsequently appeared referring to the "Genovese syndrome", also known as the bystander effect: a psychological phenomenon in which someone is less likely to intervene in an emergency when other people are present and able to help, than when he or she is alone. In other words, solitary individuals will typically intervene, but the more people present, the less likely help will be given. Psychologists advise that, when help is needed with a crowd present, you look someone directly in the eye and give them a direct request ("You, call the police!") rather than making a general plea ("Someone please call the police!").

Sources: Wikipedia, Crime Library

No comments: