Saturday, July 2, 2011

It’s All about Social Responsibility-The Case of Kitty Genovese

Catherine "Kitty" Genovese 
(Doesn’t She Resemble Jackie Kennedy in this Photo?)

By Donna R. Gore, M.A.

What motivates us to assist versus “looking the other way?” LadyJustice believes it depends upon a person’s moral character and the circumstances of the specific situation. All of us are not “doers” or “social workers in disguise” by nature. If everyone had the same moral fiber and true sense of right and wrong, we would have far less criminals… and perhaps this blogger would not be doing the vastly rewarding task of writing here and now!

A young working class woman arriving home late (3:15 a.m.) from her job as a bar manager who just happened to be a lesbian (when it wasn’t “popular” or talked about)…. ‘A stalker and murderer Winston Moseley, who left and came back to finish the job by fatally stabbing and raping Kitty…

Those of us who are baby boomers recall, at least vaguely, the horrific killing of Catherine (Kitty) Genovese in Kew Gardens-Queens, New York in 1964. This murder was portrayed as if “the world stood by and watched and spectators” and no one meaningfully came to her aid in a manner that could have saved her life.

Why is this, you ask? Well, many thoughts come to mind… Having been in NYC numerous times, it has had a past reputation of crime running rampant. The big bad city, larger than life… Queens was an area in which many were living on the edge in the 60’s, as in all urban cities, barely making it financially, but these residents are part of what makes the New York mystique tick. There is a fascination with the city’s “personality.” (Bloggers, refer to Diane Fanning’s recent description)

Another Example….
An Analogy of More Urban Deterioration and the Birth of “Lipstick on a Pig”

Urban deterioration reminds Ladyjustice of the setting of the 1951 adaptation of the 1947 play “Streetcar Named Desire” starring Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter as Stanley and Stella Kowalski. He dominates Stella in every way and is physically and emotionally abusive. Stella tolerates his primal behavior which is part of what attracted her in the first place; the arrival of Blanche (Vivian Leigh) upsets her sister's and brother-in-law's system of mutual dependence. Stella's concern for her sister's well-being emboldens Blanche to “hold court in the Kowalski apartment”, infuriating Stanley and leading to conflict in his relationship with his wife. Their final confrontation is rape by Stanley which results in Blanche's nervous breakdown. Devastated with her sister's fate, Stella weeps and rejects Stanley's intention to comfort her and pushes him away. Stella runs out to see Blanche off, but is too late, as the car Blanche left in has already gone. As he cries her name once more ("Stella! Hey, Stella!") Stella, Stella indeed! This scene is a precursor for what we now identify as “domestic violence “that surely took place in the environs of 1964 Queens, New York. Domestic Violence is a “polite somewhat clinical name” for battering, akin to “putting lipstick on a pig.” Whether it was the 1940, 50’s or 60’s domestic violence was “kept indoors for the good of all.” Kitty was one of many to come…

However, what makes the Kitty Genovese case so intriguing to LadyJustice, is the fact that she is a member of the same community, and the fact that Kitty’s sexual orientation was “kept under wraps behind closeted doors” for years! Stonewall, the historical benchmark of “enough is enough” regarding gay oppression and discrimination, did not occur until June, 1969, some 5 years later.

On March 13, 2004, the unbelievable events are recounted during a brief NPR radio interview by Kitty’s former partner, Mary Ann Zielonko. ( Link: Weekend Edition Saturday.) Ms. Zienloko, distraught to this day, talks about Kitty’s personality, their first meeting, the circumstances of her death and Mary Ann’s sadness and utter disillusionment with “society” in their Kew Gardens, Queens neighborhood.

Could it be that Kitty’s last words, “I’m dying, I’m dying… Someone help me.” was just part of the “usual banter of tenement living in just another urban neighborhood”, as Kitty desperately struggled from one end of the building to another during the 30 minute attack? Some have raised questions about her continued ability to scream when her attacker punctured her lungs. ( Before we tackle the “Bystander Effect,” let’s discuss some of the other facts…)

More Reported Facts.. The Good, Bad and the Ugly:

Bad: There is considerable dispute as to how many actually ignored Kitty’s pleas. The March 27, 2004 New York Times article quoted 38 neighbors or persons heard screams and did nothing. Prosecutors and police determined that it was more like one dozen , with one person actually reporting the event . One neighbor supposed yelled, “Let that girl alone;”

Bad: The original police report quoted the sole call as “A woman was beat up, but got up and was staggering around.” Spectators and police obviously interpreted it as “a family argument or drunken brawl;”

Ugly: Winston Moseley, the confessed killer, also confessed to two other murders and many other attacks;

Ugly: Winston Moseley underwent a psychiatrist evaluation which suggested that he was a necrophile (enjoys sex with a dead body). In fact, Kitty lay dying in her hallway after his subsequent attacks and, as a final act, he raped her;

Ugly: Winston Moseley’s admitted motive was, “To kill a woman…. As they are easier and don’t fight back;”

Good: Kitty’s murder led to reforms in the New York Police Department telephone reporting system in addition to introducing the concept of “neighborhood watches.”

Bad: A June 1967 Supreme Court ruling stated that Moseley should have had the opportunity to offer a “medical insanity” plea despite the initial ruling of legal sanity at trial. As a result of the initial death sentence, (which produced applause and cheers in the courtroom) was reduced to the indeterminate sentence of life in prison.

(Ladyjustice comment- More tax dollars wasted and justice misplaced!)

Ugly: Moseley’s track record – After Kitty’s murder, Moseley was being transported to a hospital for surgery when he reportedly overpowered a guard, located a bat , held five others hostage and raped a women in front of her husband…. In addition he was involved with the 1971 Attica Prison riots; A New York Daily News article reported that Moseley “blamed his parental upbringing” for his rapes.

Just Incredible and Ironic: A Court TV Library story indicated that Winston Moseley actually obtained a B. A. in Sociology in prison in the late 1970’s!

Good: After her death, Kitty Genovese unknowingly changed the course of social psychology and created the “Bystander effect”postulated by social psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley that “contrary to common expectations, large numbers of bystanders decrease the likelihood that someone will step forward and assist.” Ladyjustice interprets this as “passing the buck” because, according to the theory, they feel uncomfortable and uncertain how to help. “Others have it covered. No reason to get involved.”

Since the initial research on the Bystander Effect, the “American Psychologist “ publication surmised in 2007 that this occurrence “is more of a parable than fact,” due to the inaccuracies of the initial reports. However, the story appears to be too enticing to otherwise bored students and thus continues to be included in social psychology texts and lectures.

Jessica Max Stein, writer for a GBLTQ publication called the Bilerico Project ( compared a recent April 2011 “modern day attack” in Baltimore, Maryland of Crissy Lee Polis at a McDonald’s to the Kitty Genovese case.

Crissy Lee was attacked “because she was a member of the community” and videoed via cell phone as others watched. Stein asked the same questions as Ladyjustice regarding the possible motives and the role of homophobia in each instance, Stein further reports on psychologists blaming “technology” as the “mind numbing effect”- the advent of TV in the 1960’s and all forms of social media currently.

Final “Bad Fact”

Winston Moseley has been denied parole 13 times in the past… His next parole hearing is scheduled for November, 2011. Ladyjustice asks that all New Yorkers and “the rest of the world” protest yet again!

Acts to “the Good”

“Soldiering On”

Published: May 06, 2001

To the Editor of the New York Times

Re ''Sidewalk Soldiers'' (April 15): We are New York's oldest incorporated block association. Formed in 1966 after the murder of Kitty Genovese in Queens (as neighbors watched from their windows), our group began by creating a three-block ''security corridor'' from Riverside Drive to Amsterdam Avenue. From stoops, window sills and fire escapes, neighbors watched out. We were also the first block association to plant our own trees.

New issues crop up all the time. In the 1980's a building on our block was proposed as the site of a pilot project for homeless mothers with children and senior citizens. We created a community advisory board, which helped guide the project to become fully integrated into the community.

Our numbers are smaller but we are no less active and committed to our block and our community than we were when we began.


President, West 83rd Street Association

And Finally from LadyJustice…

Kitty Genovese is buried in a family grave at Lakeview Cemetery in New Canaan, Connecticut. Ladyjustice will have to visit before heading to San Diego…

Visit Donna R. Gore aka "Lady Justice"

1 comment:

  1. Donna, thank you for alerting the public to the fact that Winston Moseley is up for parole again. I didn't realize that until I read your post. Another great post on this subject is at

    You're right; us psychology students have to study this case in depth. It is just one example we're given of how people assume that someone else has called the police or that someone else is more qualified to intervene. Or of why people just won't get involved. This is a topic frequently showcased on the ABC show "What Would You Do?"


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