March 14 marks one of those anniversaries that people don't like to remember. It reminds us of the terrible things that can and do happen when people turn away from those in distress. It raises the troubling question, "What would I have done?"
It was 25 years ago, in the pre-dawn darkness of March 14, 1964, that a young woman, Kitty Genovese, was stabbed to death in front of her apartment building in New York City. The story made headlines across the country when it was discovered that at least 38 persons in the building heard the victim's screams for help and none came to her aid. One finally called police.The nation was shocked by the excuses of those 38 people, variations of. "I didn't want to get involved." It was particularly gruesome since the attacker fled when lights in the building went on in response to the screams. But when no one appeared, he returned to finish the murder.
Winston Mosely, the man later convicted of the murder, was arrested in connection with another crime, but confessed the Genovese killing and another slaying as well. He was condemned to die in the electric chair, but his sentence was later commuted to life in prison. He remains behind bars after 25 years. All attempts to win parole have been denied.
The questions raised by the Genovese case still haunt the nation. It has led to a whole area of psychological study - the "Genovese syndrome - dealing with the reaction of bystanders in crisis situations.
Since that night, there have been many other examples reported of people turning the other way instead of helping someone in desperate trouble. The "I don't want to get involved" response is not new.
But if society is to be something more than a jungle, then people must become involved. To help ought to be an immediate and automatic reaction. To cringe and hide or turn away not only rips the fabric of trust and decency that holds society together, but it can also poison the soul of the one who abandons his fellow man.
Kitty Genovese paid a terrible price for the fear and indifference of her neighbors. This anniversary is a good time to ask ourselves: What kind of a neighbor would I have been? And even more important: What kind of a neighbor am I now?