Kitty Genovese is dead.
Stalked, raped, stabbed and left to suffocate in a pool of her own blood in the wee hours of a cold New York night.
Arriving home after her shift as manager at Ev’s Eleventh Hour Sports Bar, Kitty stepped out of her fire-engine red Fiat and began a short, 100-foot walk from her car to the front door of her apartment. She would never make it.
Records show it was about 3:15 a.m. on that night nearly fifty years ago, when Kitty crossed the parking lot and caught the shadow of a man out of the corner of her eye. Frightened, she began to run. But Winston Moseley, a 29-year-old machine operator who had silently slipped out of bed with his wife an hour earlier, was faster.
Moseley quickly overtook Kitty and, as she ran, he plunged a knife into her back. Twice.
“Oh my God, he stabbed me! Help me!” was her first of many cries for help that morning.
Her shrieks of terror were heard by over a dozen neighbors: people jumped from their beds, apartment lights flicked on, neighbors strained their eyes through cold window panes for the source of the screams. Help would surely soon be on its way.
But strangely, it was not, for most of those looking on couldn’t be bothered to help. Only one was spurred to action, and that was Robert Mozer, who raised his window shouting, “Leave that girl alone!” before going back to bed.
Startled by the shout, the attacker Moseley fled the scene, and Kitty was left to stumble around to the back of her building—only to find the door locked. It was there that she crumbled to the ground, wounded, but not mortally so.
Of all the people who had heard the screams and witnessed the first attack, no one came to Kitty’s aid. In fact, no one even called the police. Each of them calmly went back to their books, television programs or comfortable beds, believing at best, that someone else would help, at worst, that it wasn’t their problem.
Thirty minutes later, Moseley returned to finish the job.
Defensive wounds on Kitty’s hands indicated that she fought bravely for her life as she was again stabbed, then raped and left for dead. Kitty Genovese was 28 years old.
On that night, a horrific crime was committed, one for which Winston Moseley remains incarcerated to this day. But Moseley’s crimes weren’t the only one’s committed on that cold March morning—in fact one might argue they weren’t even the worst.
While it’s true that Winston Moseley chased Kitty, and yes, Winston Moseley stabbed Kitty, and yes, Winston Moseley raped Kitty, it wasn’t Winston Moseley who killed Kitty.
It was us.
Several times Kitty screamed for help; several times lights in adjacent apartments came on; several times neighbors peered through their windows at the scene, and yet, nobody acted. According to the New York Times article on the tragedy, the first call into the police wasn’t until 3:50 a.m.—over half an hour after the attack began.
If just one of the witnesses would have acted with courage and determination, Kitty Genovese would very likely be with us today.
So what happened? Why did so many choose to do nothing and allow this poor girl to die a lonely death on a cold New York sidewalk? Was it cold-heartedness? Was it fear? Was it a once in a lifetime fluke?
Sadly no, on every count.
The culprit is something called the Bystander Effect, the Genovese Syndrome or, more technically, Diffusion of Responsibility. It describes a phenomenon where individuals fail to come to the aid of a person in jeopardy when they are in the presence of other witnesses. And the more witnesses, the less likely people are to come to the victim’s aid.
There are all sorts of theories as to why this is so:
Some people fail to act because nobody is watching, making the personal consequence of doing nothing appear less than the act of doing something.
Some people fail to act because nobody else is acting and thus think to themselves, “Why should I?”
Some people fail to act because they believe that with so many others witnessing the same thing, surely someone else will come to the victim’s aid.
But no matter the reasoning, the phenomenon is as unnecessary as it is abhorrent.
Kitty Genovese was murdered, not by Winston Moseley, but by a crowd of apathetic bystanders who chose to ignore her cries for help.
But why are we talking of this tragedy nearly half a century after it occurred?
Simple. Because it’s happening again. Right here, right now—and you are a part of it.
For years, I’ve been working around the clock to get help to our troops and veterans who are fighting a desperate battle against post-traumatic stress. Although it’s not commonly known, hundreds of thousands have returned from their service with lives devastated by the mental and emotional toll of war.
The truth is that an epidemic of psychological wounds has ravaged our military and veteran populations with mind-numbing consequences: legions of families have disintegrated, untold careers have been ruined and thousands upon thousands of mothers have lost their sons and daughters to suicide.
Yet despite this clear and present cry for help; despite hundreds of thousands of pleas through emails, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, blog posts and media interviews, and most of all, despite a quick and easy means for each of us to gift life-changing help to our warriors in need, but a sliver of those who have been invited to help have lifted so much as a finger.
To the small minority who have acted: I am inspired, I am grateful and I say thank you on behalf of all of our warriors for whom you have made hope and happiness again a possibility. I am proud to stand with you in the name of healing and wholeness in the world. But I also say that collectively, we can do better. A small minority is simply not good enough.
Forty-nine years ago, Kitty Genovese was killed as a handful of apathetic neighbors stood by and did nothing to help—even though saving her life involved but a simple matter of picking up the phone.
“It’s not my problem . . .” or “somebody else will help . . .” or “I don’t want to get involved . . .” they thought.
Today, nineteen of America’s troops and veterans take their own lives each and every day as millions of Americans stand by and do nothing to help—even though saving their lives involves but a simple matter of making a small contribution and encouraging friends to do the same.
“It’s not my problem . . .” or “somebody else will help . . .” or “I don’t want to get involved . . .” we think.
But here’s the thing: it is our problem, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing and we must get involved.
We must save Kitty Genovese.
You see, saving Kitty Genovese isn’t about Kitty Genovese—it’s about all of us.
Kitty Genovese is Marine Private Jonathan Schulze who hung himself after reporting to the Veterans Administration he was feeling suicidal and was told to call back.
Kitty Genovese is Army Specialist Jesse Charles Huff who shot himself in the head after leaving a V.A. hospital without getting the treatment he needed.
Kitty Genovese is Army Private First Class William Hamilton who stepped in front of a freight train after requesting admittance into the Palo Alto Veterans Hospital and being turned away.
Saving Kitty Genovese is about saving you and me, our mothers and fathers, our sisters and brothers, our children, our cousins and friends. It’s about saving all of us, each and every one, when we find ourselves in our darkest hours.
Saving Kitty Genovese is about forging the kind of world we truly wish to live in. And here’s the good news—we get to choose what kind of world that is.
Right now, one of our troops and veterans is sitting on the edge of their bed feeling hopeless, helpless, alone and uncared for.
Right now, one of our returning warriors needs to feel they matter, needs a way to move forward and to leave behind the mental and emotional scars derived from serving our country, from serving you.
Right now, someone’s brother or sister or father or mother is contemplating ending it all, with a gun or an electrical cord or a bottle of pills, because they can’t get the help they so desperately need.
And right now, with the cries for help loud and clear, we get to choose what kind of world we wish to live in.
It’s sad, but too often it seems that we have forgotten why we are truly here in this life. And the truth is that it’s not for ourselves, but for one another. In fact, it is the spirit of community and our allegiance to those around us that has allowed each and every one of us to enjoy a life of relative ease and opportunity in this world. This isn’t a lofty ideal, it’s the plain and simple truth and perhaps there is no better example of this than in our armed forces.
Ask any one of the brave men and women of our military what it was that allowed them to survive in combat and they will tell you; it wasn’t looking out for themselves, it was looking out for each other. And in fact, when we look closer it is clear that it wasn’t looking out for themselves that put them in harm’s way in the first place. It was looking out for us.
And it’s now our turn to return the favor.
This is the ideal—a commitment to the welfare of those around us—that will set us on a course of happiness, opportunity and well-being for all. For you, for me and for all the Kitty Genoveses of the world.
So this then is a call for us all to stand up, to lock arms and to do our duty—not as citizens, but as a human beings—and act.
As we hear the call for help from the brave men and women of our armed forces, don’t look to your left, don’t look to your right. Instead, look in the mirror. You are the one. It is you who we are all waiting for. It is you who must act.
You are the one with the power to choose what you stand for; what kind of example you set for your children, brothers, sisters and friends; what kind of world in which you wish to live.
I’m choosing to stand for Kitty Genovese. I’m choosing to stand for our troops and veterans. I’m choosing to stand for us all.
I hope you will stand with me.
Eric Walrabenstein is a former U.S. Army Infantry Officer and nationally-recognized teacher of yoga and mind/body health. He is the founder of Yoga Pura in Phoenix, Arizona and the creator of the BOOTSTRAP Armed Forces Stress-management Program, a free home-based program that combines modern stress-management principles with proven yoga techniques to help our returning warriors heal from post-traumatic stress and other psychological wounds. Troops and veterans can request free help at: www.bootstrapUSA.com. Eric can be reached at [email protected]
Editor: Thaddeus Haas
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