In his review of two books about the Kitty Genovese murder case (Thirty-Eight Witnesses: The Kitty Genovese Case and Twisted Confessions: The True Story Behind the Kitty Genovese and Barbara Kralik Murder Trials), Harold Takooshian asserts that this was a parable about street crime (you could say the same about Jesus's story of the Good Samaritan) that "served to increase our awareness of public safety" and had an impact that has "reverberated around the world for four decades." The moral responsibility to help others, especially when they are in serious danger, is an established principle in philosophy and religion. We did not need the Genovese murder to become a parable so we could better understand this principle. Was this perhaps more of a parable of human nature, not morality, and the lesson was that people are inherently evil—that is, insensitive to the needs of others?
One clear impact of the event was that it lead to a period of extensive research on "bystander intervention." However, what is the evidence that the critical event or the research had an impact on public behavior or policy? Takooshian concludes, "Yes Kitty, we hear you now and we are not the same because of this." Even if we could assess the change in moral fiber of individuals or society over a 45-year period, surely we also would find a multitude of determining factors. I suspect a street crime in New York City would account for a negligible amount of the variance in that change.
Of course, the initial event was important and the research was interesting, but how can we determine the impact of these things, in the short run, or over a span of decades?
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