It was a long time ago when the New York
City neighbours of Kitty Genovese, 28, ignored the sight and sound of her rape
and fatal stabbing on the streets of Queens’ Kew Gardens.
In fact, it was nearly 40 years ago, March
1964, when a man stalked and assaulted her three times in 30 minutes, fleeing
when lights winked on in adjoining homes, renewing his attack when they winked
Police later established that 38 people had
either witnessed the attack or heard Ms Genovese scream. No one intervened;
just one woman called the police, at the urging of someone else, and only after
the attacker had fled, by which time it was too late to save the woman.
The incident became a sort of benchmark for
an increasingly urbanised, increasingly impersonal society, a metaphor for
isolation, fear and, some analysts said, moral decay.
Now, apparently, the legacy has come home
to roost, if, at this point on a lesser scale – thankfully so – that does not
involve assault and murder.
It does involve wholesale theft, however,
from a storefront set on one of the busiest streets in the Cayman Islands,
Crewe Road. Cayman Contractors, housed in a bright red building between Kings
Sports Centre and Grand Harbour, was robbed during the course of three hours
late on Sunday night, 16 June, between about 10pm and 1am.
Owner Mark Hennings says he has heard
personal reports from at least three people – and knows of others who witnessed
the event – about the small pickup truck, its crew of at least three, the 32
air-conditioning systems they stole and the multiple trips they made, unloading
their haul elsewhere, then returning for more – until the job was finished.
No one bothered to call the police. No one
bothered to call Mr. Hennings – in the contracting business for 20 years and
known to a multitude of people. No one, it seems, lifted a finger.
In New York, post-event reports revealed
some of the reasons no one raised an alarm about the assault on Ms Genovese –
and they resonate eerily with Mr. Hennings’s experience.
In both cases, someone said he “didn’t want
to get involved”. Another told Genovese investigators “I was tired. I went back
to bed.” Others, Mr. Hennings said, told him they preferred to “mind their own
business”, that they “didn’t want to risk anything”.
None of these justifications are remotely
acceptable. What risk ensues from making a call – on a cellphone from a passing
Police have long sought the public’s
assistance in stopping crime, quite justifiably observing that officers are not
– and can never be – ubiquitous. Among the more cynical responses has been that
law enforcement is the RCIPS’s job, not anyone else’s, an answer that falls not
short of being both myopic and arrogant.
A public frustrated by crime, corruption
and even a perception – right or wrong – of spotty, sometimes-selective
enforcement, has little basis for complaint when people do not “want to get
involved”, and will not make a telephone call, particularly in an intimate and
Mr. Hennings’s frustration is readily
understood, and his industry’s persistent calls to legislators are substantive,
asking for legislation and regulations to deal with
This does not excuse the public nor
mitigate its role, however. In the wake of Ms Genovese’s death 39 years ago,
psychologists coined the term “Genovese syndrome” to explain why people
hesitate to act in an emergency if others are present. Not even that term,
however, explains why Mark Hennings should have lost $20,000 and tons of
equipment – and why an increasingly bold set of thieves should be on the
streets, thinking about their next job.