In the 1960s, moving to Forest Hills in Queens was a step up the social ladder. It was a community where the most serious crimes were stone throwing and beer drinking by mischievous boys. That was until the brutal murder of Catherine “Kitty” Genovese on March 13, 1964.
When The New York Times reported that 38 witnesses heard or saw parts of the attack but didn’t call the police, the Genovese murder exploded from a minimally reported murder investigation into a phenomenon that generated a groundswell of psychological research. The case drew national headlines and has been cited in more than 1,000 books and articles.
Four decades later, the Genovese murder conjured enough emotion and curiosity to fill Room 109 of McMahon Hall on March 9 for a public forum titled “Remembering Catherine ‘Kitty’ Genovese 40 Years Later.”
The nine panelists, including Jim Rasenberger, a freelance reporter for The New York Times, retired prosecutor Charles E. Skoller, Esq., who tried the Genovese case, and Curtis Sliwa, the founder and president of the Guardian Angels, discussed the impact of the crime on the field of psychology, the prosecution of the case and how society has changed as a result.
Panelist Charles E. Skoller, Esq., shared details about the capture of Kitty Genovese’s killer, Winston Moseley, who was arrested in an unrelated burglary case before being tied to the Genovese murder. Moseley is currently serving a life sentence.
Photo: Bruce Gilbert
Skoller described the attack and its witnesses, but dispelled the myth perpetuated by the press that people peeked out their windows, watching the crime as if it were theater. Although there were a few who did catch glimpses of the attack, many witnesses heard more than they saw, some mistaking it for a lover’s quarrel.
“I am not acquitting anyone of their moral responsibility. It is still horrifyingly hard to understand and forgive,” he said. “I’ve always believed that had someone called [the police]…Kitty would have survived.”
At the time, many people believed that apathy kept witnesses from calling the police. However, Harold Takooshian, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Fordham, said that the explanation is far more complicated than that. Based on his own psychological studies about this case and bystander behavior in general, he said that the more people who witness a crime, the higher the likelihood that none of them will call the police because they assume that someone else will. He also noted that in a city wrought with crime, the public suffers from “urban overload,” where people don’t even notice that a crime is being committed.
Lynn Chancer, Ph.D., an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Fordham, said there is a still “a large and, unfortunately, worrisome rate of violence against women” today that can be mitigated by teaching young children that sexist behavior and pop culture images that inappropriately portray women are unacceptable.
“We have to look more closely and more deeply at…what kinds of expectations we create for young men,” she said, “how we are teaching them, or not teaching them, to treat women with respect and to treat each other with respect.”
Panelists Joyce Stephen, the commander of the community affairs division of the New York City Police Department, and John Jay Sociology Professor Andrew Karmen discussed some of the improvements that have been made to the criminal justice system to help victims, such as neighborhood watch groups, victims assistance programs and Crimestoppers, which allows people to phone in anonymous tips.
“[The police] can’t do it alone,” Stephen said. “There have to be citizens out there who are willing to support us as we support them.”
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