Kitty Genovese was murdered on yesterday's date 50 years ago. Many of us who are old enough to remember it, do. But why do we remember it? And what was, or was made out to be, the meaning of that event?
I now hand off to Nicholas Lemann, A Call for Help. Among the fascinating details I didn't know:
Aside from the guilty reflections it inspired, the Genovese case had some tangible consequences. It helped in the push to establish 911 as an easy-to-remember national police emergency number; in 1964, the most reliable way to call the police in New York was to use the specific telephone number of each precinct, and caller response wasn’t always a high priority. Two psychologists, Bibb Latané and John Darley, created a new realm of research into what came to be called the bystander effect, the main finding of which is that your likelihood of intervening in a Genovese-like incident increases if you believe that there are very few other bystanders. The effect has stood up through repeated experiments. In 1977, Winston Moseley, engaged in a periodic attempt to be granted parole, had the chutzpah to argue in a Times Op-Ed piece that his misdeed had wound up making the world a better place: “The crime was tragic, but it did serve society, urging it as it did to come to the aid of its members in distress or danger.”