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Kitty Genovese

Today is the 50th anniversary of the murder of Kitty Genovese.

If you don't know the story, Wikipedia has a pretty good explanation here: Murder of Kitty Genovese. The murder took place in the neighborhood that was pretty much next door to the one I grew up in, and years before I was born. But a few years ago, as I was writing an article about Spider-Man for the book Webslinger, my half-brother took me over to the murder site. Genovese's murder looms large in history and the culture, and it seemed to me it would have loomed large for a the teenage Peter Parker as well.

We took a few pictures of the murder site, and I contemplated solemnly what it all meant.

May she rest in peace.

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Here is what I wrote about the murder:

On a more somber note, there is one event that would have had major impact on Peter Parker’s young life. Interestingly enough, it didn’t take place in Forest Hills, but rather in Kew Gardens, the previously mentioned neighborhood next door. Early in the morning of March 13, 1964, a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Kitty Genovese was returning home from her job as a bar manager in Hollis to her apartment in Kew Gardens. She parked her car in the train station parking lot and was walking back to her place when she was attacked by a man named Winston Moseley. Moseley was driven off by shouts from some of the neighbors, but over a half-hour period he returned twice and finally murdered her. Despite her shouts, and the fact that her struggles woke people in the neighborhood, no one called the police until it was too late.

At first, the murder was just another story buried away in the news, but A.M. Rosenthal, who at the time was the New York Times Metropolitan Editor, assigned reporter Marty Gansberg to investigate deeper. The article Gansberg wrote, “Thirty-Eight Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police,” appeared in the March 27, 1964 New York Times and triggered a national discussion.

The thrust of the article is contained within the misleading title. Gansberg presented Genovese’s neighbors as a group of “respectable, law-abiding citizens” whose apathy and desire not to get involved contributed to her murder. While it is true that some of Genovese’s neighbors ignored her screams throughout her half-hour ordeal, the fact is that when Genovese first screamed, lights went on in a nearby building and a man shouted to Moseley to leave Genovese alone. When Moseley ran away, apparently most of the neighbors believed that was the end of it.

Many years later others analyzed both the attacks and the sociology of the neighborhood, and presented reasons other than apathy behind the seemingly callous behavior of Genovese’s neighbors. But at the time Gansberg’s article was published, people took it at face value that thirty-eight New Yorkers had witnessed a murder from their safe apartments and done nothing to intervene. Peter was still in the early stages of his career as Spider-Man in 1964, and still feeling his way as a hero. His own apathy had contributed to the death of his uncle Ben, leading Peter to the oft-cited belief that with great power there must also come great responsibility. One can easily imagine Peter reacting to the shocking news of this notorious murder, one that took place practically in his own backyard, by rededicating himself to his heroics.
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August 2014

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