Everyone has heard her story, even if they can’t recall her name. Over 33 minutes in the early hours of March 13, 1964 in the middle-class enclave of New York City’s Kew Gardens, 28-year-old Kitty Genovese was repeatedly stabbed and sexually brutalized while more than three dozen witnesses did nothing. When asked why they didn’t call the police, most of the “witnesses” uttered variations on “I didn’t want to get involved.”
Over the subsequent five decades, the murder has become a gruesome parable of urban life. Kids moving to cities receive stern warnings about the heartless apathy of urbanites. “Law & Order’’ repeatedly found inspiration in her horrible death. The “bystander effect” haunts cities, the product of a Kitty Genovese-inspired precinct of social psychology, fed by a flood of books and articles. Genovese, to paraphrase an attorney who teaches the case, is one of the few Americans made famous solely by the last half hour of her life.