Kitty Genovese debunking?

I thought I ran across a thread on the dope (can’t find it) about Kitty Genovese. The gist of it was that the story as typically told is not true. That multiple neighbors did NOT hear screams and just blow them off. Did Cecil or someone cover this? I seem to remember that the story was traced back to the original article and then debunked. Anyone recall the thread?

This may be the thread you mean.

I killed the last thread - apologies if history repeats itself.

I recently taught an ethics class. The textbook uses the Kitty Genovese story throughout the book as an example - and now that the story has been debunked, I contacted the author.

Sadly, the author had passed away a few years ago, but his wife was still keeping correspondence in his absence and was quite interested to hear this news. She has informed the publisher and in the next edition, the new editor has decided to do some major editing of the book.

At the author’s wife’s suggestion, I told the students about the new light on the subject and we were able to use the information to discuss the ethics of journalism.

My wife just got a new job at a private school, and one of the classes she’s teaching is on “street law”, i.e. legal situations you run into in everyday life. One of the first few lessons she planned was using the Kitty Genovese case. When I heard this, I mentioned that I was sure the typical “jaded New Yorker” version was debunked and that it did not happen the way the article suggested (or the way that most have heard). She is now extremely annoyed that I didn’t wait until after she taught the class. She apparently has too much to prep without having to redo lessons.


I’m relieved to hear that the original infamous tale is not true, but … how do we know for sure what to believe? Is there any reason I should choose to believe a Wikipedia article written years later over a NYT article written at the time?

Funny this should come up now. The other day I was walking down the street with my 9 year old when we passed an unconscious man sprawled out on the edge of the road (somewhat projecting into the street; a speeding careless driver could easily have injured or killed him, although since it was a rarely traversed residential street in broad daylight that was an unlikely scenario). He did not appear visibly injured, and he was definitely breathing.

It was hard to know what to do – there were no people around, our car was a 10-minute walk away, and for all I knew the guy would attack me in a drunken rage if I shook his shoulder to see if he was all right. I shouted “Sir? Sir??? Are you okay?” and got no response, but I didn’t touch him. With my son present, I was reluctant to do anything that might endanger or at least tramautize him. (Alone, my fearlessness tends to border on insanity; I once chased someone down the street who was in the middle of hot-wiring my car.)

In the event, I walked to a nearby convenience store and called the police; they said they would send a patrol car to check it out.

So I have no idea if I saved the life of someone in a diabetic coma, or just got some unlucky guy a night in the drunk tank. But I think I probably did the right thing – would others have taken a different approach?

I’m a bit late seeing this thread, but yes, CairoCarol, you did right. AFAIK, you were under no legal obligation to help him out, no matter where you are, but morally you should, especially since it only cost you a couple of minutes of your time.

And it’s a good example for your kid.

About a year ago I went to a large movie theater multiplex to pick up some advance tickets for a movie and noticed a man lying in the middle of the parking lot, apparently unconscious. This was in the middle of a hot summer afternoon in Houston, when the parking lot blacktop is extremely hot to the touch. I was alone, and the guy was probably 100 yards or more from the nearest person, so I went over to him and the situation became dangerous, I would be in trouble. I ran inside the theater and alerted the off-duty police officer they always have working security there, and he went to check on the guy. It turned out he had gotten high and passed out in the parking lot, but the cop was able to wake him up. The guy could have died from the heat if a car didn’t run over him. When the cop came back inside, he said I did the right thing by coming to get him and letting him handle it.

Your wife has a problem and I think you did her a service in alerting her. It’s quite likely that one of her students will challenge her on the Genovese story and her credibility will suffer. She needs to address this somehow, before presenting this lesson. It’s unreasonable for her to be angry with you.

It’s not just a Wikipedia article. If you follow this link from the other thread you’ll come to a well-researched debunking of the NYT’s reporting of the original story.

While I do agree teachers should not perpetuate urban legends, I don’t know if I’d phrase it that strongly. I don’t believe many people under the age of 30, who do not live in Kew Gardens, NY themselves, are even aware of the legend.

I live in Kew Gardens and commute daily at the LIRR station where the incident occurred. I have yet to meet a new arrival to NYC who knew of the story. I didn’t even know about it until I was well above high school age, and my mom grew up 3 blocks away (her best friend lived in the building, in fact).

I’m 30. I didn’t know her name, but I always heard references to the story when I was growing up.

I once taught vocation subjects, it was my experience that young people frequently check facts and challenge the teacher if they find a discrepancy.
If you’re going to present yourself as an authority, you’d better be sure of your facts. Young people may not have heard of the Genovese case, but it only takes a few keystrokes on a computer to check it out.

Well, you do have a point. I’m sure another, equally scandalous but true case can be found to demonstrate the legal point, which (I presume) is that there exists no common-law duty to aid a stranger in American law.

I was thinking, if her lesson plan was so dependant on the Genovese case and she doesn’t have time to rewrite it, she could explain that she had discovered the exaggerations after the fact and present it as a hypothetical, at least until she has time to find a more appropriate, real life, case.

I too thought that she should be aware, and not perpetuate urban legends. Providing factual information, fighting ignorance and all that. I think that she’s just a little stressed about the amount of prep work required this year. She’s at a new private school and needs a lot more prep work done than was neccessary at the last (smaller) school. She just said that she wished she had found out AFTER the lesson, and could provide a correction later, instead of feeling obligated to use her rapidly depleting reserve of time to redo an entire lesson plan. But I agree that providing opportunity for students to correct YOU is detrimental to your authority/credibility.

Excellent idea. Thanks!

I’m a 31 year-old native Californian, and I’ve known about Kitty Genovese since at least my mid-twenties, possibly longer. She gets a lot of pop-culture references. I’ve seen her mentioned in comic books and songs on the radio. It’s not something I’d expect just anyone to know, but it’s hardly an item of hermetic secret knowledge, either.

The Kitty Genovese story was a crucial plot component of Alan Moore’s iconic comic book series Watchmen, and served as a major influence in the rise of its most memorable character, the violent vigilante Rorschach. With a Watchmen movie coming in March 2009 (apparently a pretty close adaptation), I wonder if the incident will be mentioned as in the original comic, or cut out of the script.

Kitty Genovese is also mentioned in the opening of either “Dogma” or “The Boondock Saints.” I can’t remember which right now, but they both open with a mass in a Catholic Church, and the priest mentions Kitty Genovese in his homily.

I’m 23 and I’ve been aware of this whole case since I was at least 16 – I think we read about it in civics class in high school.

Boondock Saints, which I know because I just watched it last week. (Pretty damn cool, by the way!)

“Boondock Saints” is one of my favorite movies, and I can’t even explain why, since I’m not usually a fan of vigilante justice, f-bombs falling from the sky like rain, and the Mafia. Maybe it’s the casual nudity and the Irish accents. Hmm. Yep, that’s probably it.