“He Was The Guy Who Let It Go On.”
The Murder of Kitty Genovese
On March 13th, 1964, Kitty Genovese was murdered as she was coming home from having worked a night shift at a bar. Around 2:30 in the morning Kitty Genovese was going home to her apartment, she was seen at a stoplight by Winston Moseley. Mosely had been driving around for hours, with a hunting knife in his pocket, scanning for a victim. Kitty arrived home and parked in the apartment building parking lot, in an alley just a few feet from the front door to her building. Kitty saw Mosely with the hunting knife and tried to run to the front door of the building, but Mosely caught up with her and stabbed her twice in the back. One of Genovese’s neighbors was wakened by the struggle occurring and called out “Leave that girl alone!”. When Kitty screamed “Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” Moseley fled back to his car. Kitty, not having suffered fatal wounds yet, tried to reach the building’s entrance. Once inside, she collapsed in the vestibule near the stairway. Moseley returned a few minutes later and found Kitty, nearly unconscious, in a hallway at the back of the building. Not visible to neighbors or anyone on the street, Moseley repeatedly stabbed Kitty Genovese, raped her, and stole her money.
Two weeks later, a Times article, written by Martin Gansberg, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police,” told how thirty-eight people saw or heard the attack failed to act and just stood by as Kitty Genovese was stabbed thirteen times. Kitty’s neighbors were asked why they did not at least call the police, some answered “I didn’t want to get involved”; “Frankly, we were afraid”; and even “I was tired. I went back to bed.” Kitty’s tragedy is the haunting image of this terrified young woman, as she watched her neighbors ignore her desperate screams. The haunting thought of a terrified Kitty Genovese, her neighbors ignoring her desperate screams for help caused a nationwide discussion about public apathy and bystander intervention. Kitty’s unanswered cries for help brought about important changes: the 911 emergency phone service, victim services, rape prevention, and community self-help groups, Good Samaritan and duty-to-aid legislation, anti-stalking programs and, research in behavioral science.
The Bystander Effect
The terms ‘bystander effect’, or ‘bystander apathy’ refers to a social psychology phenomenon that describes how people are less likely to offer help to a victim when others are present. Some people may not even offer minimal help in a dangerous situation because of the presence of others. Researchers Latané & Darley cited ‘pluralistic ignorance’ as a factor in the Bystander Effect. Pluralistic ignorance occurs when a person disagrees with what is happening but believes that everyone else agrees with it and as a result, follows along.
The Murder of George Floyd
Other police officers were present when Police Officer Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd. Pluralistic ignorance on the part of the other officers who should have known better and acted in a humanitarian way contributed to Geroge Floyd’s murder. Curbside witnesses to Floyd’s murder did what little they could to help by shouting at Chauvin to stop, filming the scene, calling police headquarters, and begging the other officers to intervene. The apathetic bystanders were Chauvin’s fellow police officers.
Witness Donald Williams said of officer Tou Thao,
“He was the dictator,” controlling what happened along the curb. He was the guy that let it go on”Donald Williams
Kitty Genovese died because her neighbors would not act. George Floyd died because police officers would not act. The unwillingness of those police officers to upset the status quo by stopping Chauvin not only contributed to the death of Floyd but also contributed to the creation of a toxic police department culture. Thao and two other officers will be tried on charges of aiding and abetting later this year.
Thanks and a tip of the hat to https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wandbild_Portrait_George_Floyd_von_Eme_Street_Art_im_Mauerpark_(Berlin).jpg for the image.