50 Years After Kitty Genovese, Inhumans On A Bus

The title describes the public transit riders who watched this disturbing scene unfold on a Philadelphia bus, and did nothing:

2014 is the 50th anniversary of the infamous Kitty Genovese case, and dueling books on the incident either recount the accepted version that 38 people in an apartment building heard the 28 year-old woman’s screams as she was being stabbed to death but “didn’t want to be involved” and let her die, or adopt the revisionist theory that the apathy of bystanders was unfairly and inaccurately hyped by the news media. The incident on the Philadelphia bus tells me that the revisionists have a burden of proof that will be hard to meet. There was plenty of evidence already, like here, or here, or here, or here, or more recently here, that Kitty Genovese might not fare any better today.

Did no one on the bus see a young woman who might have been dying of a drug overdoes? Was there no one present who had been raised to care about his or her fellow human beings, strangers or not? How many Philadelphians who cheer Hillary Clinton’s collectivist “it takes a village to raise a child” philosophy couldn’t bother to take action as they saw a young child in the care of an irresponsible mother, when living by Hillary’s hook title  required more than lip service and polite applause? Not one hero? Not one citizen who sees a possible tragedy unfolding and takes the initiative to mitigate or stop it?

When the drug legalization rationalizers get through opening our society to unfettered addictions of every kind, buses will have many similar scenes, and, presumably, even more apathy. Americans are being slowly conditioned to regard caring for others in danger or peril as a government job, not a basic, mandatory duty of belonging to the species.

What heartless, soul-dead, useless, ethically-inert individual made this video, for example? Was he thinking about its potential for viral internet fame? He certainly wasn’t thinking about the child, or the Golden Rule, or his obligations as a citizen. I want to know this Philadelphians name, so we can have a book-end to the Kitty Genovese memorial collection of citizen abdication of the duty to care, to give a damn, to stop something bad from happening that is within our power to stop. How many riders were texting, or had headphones on, or were playing Candy Crush…or were too drunk or stoned to function themselves?

I will say this without hesitation: I would have intervened. Talked to the mother, talked to the child, spoken to the driver. That shouldn’t make me special; that should make me normal. If, in the not-too-distant future, ethics-free hell that is slowly being engineered for us, every single American is like those bus passengers, and only one lonely, half-mad hermit, living in a shack in Wyoming and making rustic furniture still believes in the human duty to intervene and take action when strangers are in danger, he will still be the normal one.

The rest, like the Philadelphia bus passengers, will be aberrations and mutations of the human imperative to help one another and do good, rather than just make speeches about it. Or perhaps none of them drew their red lines at child neglect taking place right in front of their faces.

From the mother nodding off, to her fellow Americans who didn’t care enough to pay attention, to the self-absorbed cell-phone amateur reporter, that bus is a microcosm of what American society could become.

If it hasn’t become so already.


Pointer: Huffington Post

Source: CBS


67 thoughts on “50 Years After Kitty Genovese, Inhumans On A Bus

  1. I actually just read an article from the “revisionist” POV regarding Kitty Genovese. It basically said that the “38 witnesses” actually referred to 38 interviews in the evidence notebook, some of which were of people that had already been interviewed, so the number would have been lower. Of those, some were the interviews of when she’d last been seen, or had seen her in the street but not seen the attack.

    So (at least in the version I read) the point wasn’t that people won’t ignore someone in distress, it’s that the common knowledge account of 38 people munching popcorn and watching someone be murdered is a huge exaggeration. Out of a smaller number of people, some of them didn’t have any cause to think something was wrong and others saw or heard something but didn’t think it was as bad as it was. Some number likely did just ignore the obvious attack, though, and studies based on that idea have shown that some people ignore obvious causes of action.

    With regards to your claim that you would have intervened, let me start by saying I feel the same way. But it’s fascinating to note that taken as individuals the vast majority of the population claims (and appears to honestly believe) that they would take action, fix a problem, and do the right thing- but most people don’t, when situations actually arise. I’m not saying you wouldn’t, but I wonder how many people on that bus would have swore with full sincerity that they would help someone in that condition.

    • See the various posts on that argument with the Sandusky case and Mike McQueary. Like this one…and this one. I agree—intervening is great in theory, but lost of things can stop you. I say this about the bus scene because both my wife and I have intervened in child neglect and abuse scenes in public before (and also failed to act)), and because this scene went on for soooo long.

      • Right. Like I said, that wasn’t me calling out your assertion that you’d help, it was just an observation tied to the article I read about Genovese, that everyone believes they would step in but most don’t, just like the vast majority of people believe they are above average drivers.

  2. I can’t tell if that person is drug addled or has a “development handicap”. For that reason, my cultural sensitivity training says that it’s not nice to notice those with developmental disabilities and treat them like they aren’t normal. So everyone I see that looks abnormal, I treat as normal…even if they are abnormal and in need of assistance.

    • I’ve fallen victim to that conundrum myself. Fortunately I don’t have to have much cultural sensitivity in my job, so I don’t worry about it too much. The few times I’ve gotten a dirty look for offering a hand to someone who seemed to need one I just figure they must be genuinely unhappy and bitter people, which is karmic punishment enough.

      • Plus, it’s not your obligation to worry if someone takes offense by the question “is everything ok?” If they are good decent people with severe narcolepsy, they’ll shrug it off with a lighthearted laugh and a “thank you”. If not, well screw them, you still did the right thing whether or not they want to be friendly about it.

      • No shit Sherlock. However, I still wouldn’t be able to have a proper opinion on their condition without an extensive intrusion. The far likely result of “Is everything okay?” is a non-response, to which further probing and confrontation is required. You must be ready to deal with a confrontation if you are going to create the possibility for it. Otherwise, it’s irresponsible to provoke it.

        • Gosh, if the answer was so blatantly obvious to your self-titled “no shit Sherlock” situation, why did you imply it was some sort of supposed conundrum?

          Who cares what the far likely result of a “is everything ok” question turns out to be. I know you are intelligent enough to carry on a normal conversation with someone. Which is what I alluded to when I stated — “There’s ways to work into the situation without an abrupt “Is there something wrong with you?”” Simply talking to someone like a rational and polite human being, which I know you are capable of on occasion, is easy enough to determine whether or not they are DYING before your eyes… in Which Case DO SOMETHING.

          If not, keep talking…

          However lowly you wish to rate your ability to perceive other issues with the person, I guarantee you are intelligent enough to figure out if there is something seriously out of the ordinary with someone or if they just have unfortunate disabilities.

          Either way, you can glean enough information from someone to determine if they are incapable of taking care of themselves or their child sitting right next to them, all while being quite polite and reasonable… an added benefit if it turns out nothing is seriously amiss.

          If they choose to up the ante on the aggressive side of the interaction, that’s their issue, not yours, and generally implies you were in the right to determine if they are a threat to their child or those around you.

          However, the implication laid out in your initial post on this thread is that people’s gut reaction is lash out violently. Otherwise, I’m not sure what your concern is.

          Hm. Guess it wasn’t so “no shit Sherlock” after all…

    • So I have two questions then. Not trying to be offensive with either, jut curious, since you have the experience.

      1- If you were having an episode and behaving in this manner, would a child in your care be safe?

      2- If the answer is yes and you could still focus enough to keep the child out of danger, how would you react to a concerned person asking you about your condition or otherwise attempting to make sure the child was OK?

    • Is that directed at Jack’s and my questions to brooking? Because I, at least, am genuinely curious. Would he/she go out alone with a child? Would that be safe for the child? Would it seem offensive if someone assumed the child was in danger and spoke up? I’m very curious about those, becuase I haven’t had the experience of a condition like narcolepsy that could cause that sort of episode.

  3. The poster of the video noted in an update within the description of the video that several people tried to help her, and a few called the police. Presumably that was before or after the video was shot.

  4. … the Kitty Genovese memorial collection of citizen abdication of the duty to care, to give a damn, to stop something bad from happening that is within our power to stop … the human duty to intervene and take action when strangers are in danger … the human imperative to help one another and do good …


    You have just crossed over a border. Incidentally, this is one rather crucial point of difference between Protestant and Roman Catholic teaching. To my (Protestant) view, these are things we ought to do, but they are not a duty, something we must do; by not doing them we pass up on an opportunity to help others and to “edify” ourselves (build up our moral worth), but that is part and parcel of why they fall to the responsibility of an informed conscience and are not duties, as a matter of free will, since a duty would make any actions of that sort unedifying (Protestants are also likely not to admit the Roman Catholic concept of “works of supererogation”, i.e. works above and beyond the call of duty).

    Interestingly, this is a second order disagreement between Roman Catholics and Protestants, in which there isn’t even agreement about understanding the subject matter in dispute. I once had a Roman Catholic tell me to my face (well, on the internet) that the 38th Article of Faith of the Church of England was describing a duty to the poor in its use of the word “ought”, that “ought” was a synonym for “must” – even though that would make that article a contradiction in terms, taken as a whole.

    Anyone who adheres to the thinking in my third paragraph is almost certain to take my second paragraph as meaningless quibbling, arguing about a distinction without a difference. Yet it has divided millions over the ages.

    • What you’re saying sounds something like I say here from time to time, that NOT doing the best thing isn’t the same as doing a bad thing (ie, not doing a good work that you could do may be passing up a chance to do something good but isn’t bad in and of itself). That may be the case in the general sense of “helping others-” otherwise every dollar you didn’t put in a beggar’s cup and every hour you watched TV instead of working at a soup kitchen would be acts of wrongdoing, as you were passing up the chance to help another. The key, in the Genovese case and this one, is Immediate danger. If I see a woman attacked on the street, ignoring it is no longer passing up the chance to do good, it is actively participating in an evil act thorugh omission. The same applies to letting a drunk climb behind the wheel of a car, or ignoring a child in danger.

      • I’ve written about here, and the issue is exemplary ethics over ethics. Helping someone when it requires nothing more than caring and no other trade-offs or sacrifices is not exemplary, just because most people fail in their ethical duties, and not doing so is unethical. The law can’t force people to be ethical in all things, and thus the fictional law that got the Seinfeld cast locked up at the end of the series—a Good Samaritan law that required rendering aid—is impractical and an infringement on autonomy. People have a right to be apathetic, self-centered slugs. But it isn’t ethical.

  5. Speaking about a higher duty to others, sounds frightfully sanctimonious.
    The mother was high — I’ve seen it many times before. Her children probably know it as well. What would you do, call child protective services and have the children taken from her? How would the children react to that happening? And then what? The children remain in child protective custody? Unable to go to school. What if there are no other family members available? What if there is no father at home? You are so sure you know what is right when you no NOTHING about the circumstances of these people? What absolute presumption! Comparing this to the Genovese case is absurd.

    • How can you say what you would do in this situation Jack? In truth, you would never be a bus passenger in one of Philadelphia’s worst crime/drug neighborhoods. That awful scene you posted happens every day on that bus line — and most likely other passengers on that bus: (1) were high themselves; (2) tried to help in similar situations before and were told to back off by the parent; (3) suffer from PTSD just living in those neighborhoods. Actually, this list goes on and on.

      Moreover, anyone who works with disadvantaged children will tell you that foster care often makes the child WORSE off — especially in an overwhelmed system like Philadelphia.

      And, of course, I help strangers in need. But in my world, that tends to consist of people falling, a flat tire, a medical emergency, etc. I don’t live in a poor, drug-infested community where I have to worry that my help will actually make things worse. Or that the person I’m trying to help will attack me.

      If I were on that bus, I would have asked if I could help. If I were told to back off, I truly don’t know what I would do. I’d probably inform the bus driver.

      • And that’s exactly what anyone should do. The question of whether or not the child would be removed from the mother and put in foster care—that’s not on the radar, and not within your, or my, range of options to consider. The kid is in peril NOW, and some benign intervention is mandatory.

        “That person will attack me” is a rationalization. That can be applied to all interaction with strangers. She might, but then, so might anyone. It’s not an excuse unless she’s foaming at the mouth or carrying a machete. THAT woman wasn’t capable of attacking anyone.

        • My ethics alarms are louder from the video-maker’s publishing of the video, than from any problem the woman might have had or been creating. That poor kid WAS in big danger, though, it seems.

          If I was the video-maker, or if I was the guy sitting where the video-maker sat, I am sure that I would have put away any thought of making a video like that, and just tried to pass the time by making conversation with the kid. I doubt that I would have taken any initiative to communicate directly with the lady, no matter where I sat. If I saw that I was exiting the vehicle before the lady and kid did, I would probably say something to the driver on the way out, like, “Kid with pink coat is with an adult who is in la-la land. It doesn’t look like the kid is safe. Please keep an eye them any way you can.”

          If somehow the kid and lady managed to start exiting the vehicle before my intended stop, I might – MIGHT – get out with them, just to follow and observe. It would depend on the neighborhood, frankly, along with other factors that I could only weigh and decide upon if I was actually there.

        • It isn’t a rationalization. The mother was there and was doing nothing. I have to assume that she is insane or high. An insane or high person could attack me. The daughter was out of it but not the mom. I especially wouldn’t risk it if I had my toddlers with me. Options in that scenario are what I outlined above plus calling 911. Those still are forms of help — and I’m not certain I could do more in any event. I’m not a trained medical professional.

          Also, there is the problem that I could punch the mother and just take her daughter to the hospital myself. That was the problem for me when I did guardian ad litem work — the only solution I ever saw was punching/strangling the parent (there never was more than one) and taking the child home with me. Sadly, the courts always expected me to come up with better solutions.

    • And then what? And then how would the child’s life be worse? You know nothing either. Presuming that interference would be just as bad as leaving it alone is also an assumption, and less defensible. Doing nothing might be the worst thing that could happen to the child. Showing compassion and trying to help has the virtue of not leaving the child to cope alone, or becoming the victim of someone with worse intent.

    • “Sanctimonious” and “moralizing” are banned here, my friend. Theay are the calling cards of the ethical relativists who think everyone can make up their own right and wrong as they please. The topic is ethics, and the approach is looking at conduct and accepting or rejecting it. If you find that “sanctimonious,” go back into your cave. I said that caring and intervening when a crisis was within you power to avert or mitigate is an ethical duty, and it is.

      Asking the mother if she is all right, alerting the bus driver, and delivering the couple into the hands of authorities if necessary isn’t sentencing any child to foster care, and if that is the result, it is not the interveners fault or responsibility. If the child gets hit by car because her wacked-out mother drags her into the street, that IS the failing bystander’s responsibility.
      THIS—“You are so sure you know what is right when you no NOTHING about the circumstances of these people?”—is the absurd statement. You know enough. You know the mother, sick or drugged, is incapable at that moment of caring for her child, and needs help. You know that beyond a shadow of a doubt. The rest is rationalization, an excuse to do nothing.

  6. As emphasis: Of all the people on the bus, the video taper person is the MOST wrong.

    Hell, even on a long-shot, and I MEAN A LONG SHOT: the others can say “we didn’t notice”…. did I mention on a LONG LONG LONG LONG LONG shot, they can say that.

    Video-person – nope… you saw something was wrong. And worse case scenario, you may be the husband/boyfriend of the video-tapee… which exponentially would make you a terrible person.

    I can’t decide if guy who walked by and patted her back is 2nd worst guy for definitely noticing and doing nothing but a back pat OR 3rd Least-worse bus rider for noticing and trying something (1st least worst bus rider is the little girl because she tried several times to help mommy within her power and position, 2nd least worst is the bus driver who arguably doesn’t know what is going on).

    • I mean, I can honestly say that in my more bus-riding days I usually was either buried in a book or staring out the window with headphones in, so if someone was having a quiet sort of problem I may not have noticed. That’s assuming she was on a relatively different part of the bus, though.

    • “…guy who walked by and patted her back…”

      I can’t hold that guy culpable for anything. He is merely passing by in the aisle, and is fulfilling his own obligations to behave safely and courteously, by finding a seat as soon as possible. He is only getting the lady’s attention enough to continue on his rightful path. His pat on the lady’s back is perhaps the simplest, gentlest, most efficient way he can say “Excuse me, please” to assert his right-of-way without words.

      It seems obvious that the driver is not paying attention, or is like Jack says (uncaring). I would expect a competent driver to be on the lookout for passengers who obstruct the aisle, and to at least say something.

      I watched a 2nd, then a 3rd time. What is the lady in the window seat next to Ms. Sleepy doing?? She seems to be having a nice chat with herself. Or with her hands. Or with a phone that isn’t working(?). Or praying. Or weeping. Or something. I don’t think the video should have been made, but since there it is, I can’t resist entertaining myself according to what I see, or think I see.

  7. FYI — I just watched this again. The girl in pink was the daughter? I thought the redhead was the daughter. This is going to make me throw up.

      • And that’s what breaks my heart when I watch this video – these are the memories this child will have of her mother. She’s not old enough to understand that other’s should have intervened. She simply tried to rescue the situation in the best way she knew how.

        In the end, the child was the only one who tried to intervene.

  8. Re: The Tim-Tex spat.

    Can someone please explain it to me, because I don’t understand it at all. I just read it twice.

    I’m not even sure I understand the comment that sparked it. Surely, Tim, you weren’t saying that when someone seems to be in some kind of health-related distress and a child is involved, your default reaction is “I don’t know enough to intervene, and won’t lest I insult someone”? The costs of being seen as a meddler and those of allowing someone to come to harm seem vastly out of proportion. It’s like the blind man who objects to being helped across the street. OK, fine, he’s insulted. That’s no reason never to offer help again.

  9. The Brooklyn Syndrome is still alive and well. It’s not only the result of the political conditioning so rampant in the inner cities, but the mental conditioning that the dwellers of such an unnatural environment absorb as their means for coping with it. This latter has contributed to the advancement of the former. The politics, however, were deliberate- not a social adjustment. I’d suggest that as long as people crowd themselves together like sardines and become necessarily dependent on faceless entities instead of family and neighbors in their daily lives, the Syndrome will remain with us and un-American politicians will continue to take advantage of it.

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