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January 24, 2011

Bystanders That Do Nothing: Apathetic or Innocent?

When I was in grade five I remember my teacher telling us a story about a young woman that was stabbed to death while her neighbors heard or saw some of the struggle. Yesterday her killer Winston Moseley was denied parole and the story that I could not believe was true, reminded me of how apathetic humans can be.

The story has been revised over the years and the revisions make it less dramatic for some. I still feel that the events that lead to Kitty Genovese’s death are a commentary to the sad state of the human race. So a young woman is making her way home from an evening of working at a bar and a man attacks her right outside of her apartment. The original newspaper report said that as many as 38 witnesses were aware that Genovese was being attacked. Later on the story would change and the number would be narrowed down to just a few people, none of which saw the entire incident. Well, that does not make me feel any better because Kitty Genovese was killed over a span of time that allowed her killer to head off to his car for ten minutes after stabbing her a few times and come back to kill and rape her. If anyone even thought there was something going on, why wouldn’t they at least call the cops?

I crave information so after reading up on the account of the Genovese murder, I searched for other murders and attacks where victims were killed while others watched. I am sad to say that I found many instances. A man raped a woman in an apartment hallway and residents peeked through their doors and simply turned around when they stumbled upon the crime scene. The entire rape was caught on a surveillance video so it is easy to track down witnesses. A young woman was killed in a gas station during an altercation and patrons of the gas station stepped over her body to get out of the building. One bystander decided that it would be nice to snap a picture with his cell phone before he left.

I am no hero or fool. I know that as a small woman I can not generally break up fights or physically defend others when they are in harm’s way. However, I am quick to call the police when something seems like a dangerous situation. Sometimes I am told that I panic too much and that I should not react so quickly but I think that it is better to overreact than to not react at all. Last November I heard a shuffle in the hallway of the complex I used to live in. I peeked through the peep hole in my door and saw a young woman and man wrestling with one another. There was a mention of stabbing and “blowing your head off” so I called the cops. I take such threats seriously and even though if any of that happened I would have been safe in my apartment, I would never be able to forgive myself if I just walked away from the door and went on watching television. That night, the couple cleared out fast, before the cops could come. When the police arrived I talked to them, giving descriptions and a full account of the situation. Back then I admit I felt a little bit silly about calling the cops. But a few weeks ago when I found out that the guy, my old neighbor, had been shot by his girlfriend, I realized that those shots could have been fired the night I heard the fight in the hallway.

The moral of the story is that we have a responsibility. I did not stop my former neighbor from getting hurt eventually but I was going to do all I could to prevent injuries to those two strangers while I was around. We should not put ourselves in harm’s way but to care if a fellow human being is in trouble seems only human to me. If there is a way to help without getting hurt, even if it is just calling the police, would you do it? Or would you plug your ears, close your eyes and say that it is none of your business?

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