Monday, March 13, 2006

kitty genovese's 42nd yartzeit: an interesting purim coincidence

42 years ago today, Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered. It became known internationally following coverage in the New York Times:
"For more than half an hour thirty-eight respectable, law-abiding citizens in Queens watched a killer stalk and stab a woman in three separate attacks in Kew Gardens. Twice the sound of their voices and the sudden glow of their bedroom lights interrupted him and frightened him off. Each time he returned, sought her out and stabbed her again. Not one person telephoned the police during the assault; one witness called after the woman was dead."
Of those 38 people, not a single person left the building to help. That is not surprising, the assailant was armed and perhaps people were scared. Everyone of the people who awoke should have called the cops. It is absolutely unacceptable that the police didn't receive 38 calls. The police responded 2 minutes after the witness reported her murder. Had the 5-O been called anytime during the half-hour she would probably be alive today.

this incident, in part, gave rise to a social psychology concept called diffusion of responsibility.
Basically, when there are several people who observe injustice, or even merely inconvenience, than most people presume that others will address it. Perhaps one of the lessons of the purim story is that when disaster looms it is critical for everyone to take personal responsibility for averting it. That sometimes requires accepting personal risk. Let's pray that we learn kitty's lesson, and perhaps esther's lesson and that in the years to come we always help or alert those who can. Kitty's blood is on 38 people's hands in addition to the murderer. Please, let us have the strength to do the right thing even when others won't.


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