As an undergrad English major at a small liberal arts college, there weren’t very many choices for classes. I do not like Nonfiction. I had no other choice but to take a Nonfiction class in order to graduate in time. I was surprised. While I did not like all the books we read (like Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver), I did fall in love with other books (like A Private History of Awe by Scott Russell Sanders ). Maybe it was the topic, or maybe it was the delivery. Who knows. Since I graduated, I decided to stay away from Nonfiction unless the topic is interesting to me. I read a biography of Charles Schultz because I like the peanuts cartoon. I read The Ramen King and I because the book was free… and turned out to be funny. And recently, I read
I won’t lie to you. I learned about the book from the AE site… sometimes it’s useful for more than lesbian pop culture information. Here’s a link to another review: http://www.afterellen.com/kitty-genoveses-secret-lesbian-history/03/2014/ .
The book is about a murder that shook the country. After reading the review at AE, I decided I would order the book. I felt compelled to read the book, to find out more. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was the fact that Kitty Genovese was an Italian American girl just like me. Maybe because she grew up just outside of Manhattan just like me. Maybe because it turns out she was gay just like me. Maybe because she experienced my greatest fear. This connection I felt with someone dead over 40 years compelled me to buy the book and learn what happened to someone as awesome as myself.
In fact, I’m ashamed to say that I never even heard of the murder or the case involved afterward. In the account, Cook describes how the Genovese murder impacted the nation and how it is still taught in social psychology classes. But I never took a social psychology class. I never learned why my grandparents never trusted the cops. I never learned how 9-1-1 in New York is only as old as my mother. I never learned how neighborhood watch groups came to be. I never learned. But Cook does a good job of opening eyes.
He sets the scene. Cook describes what it was like in the ’60s. The important events and people in that decade which began to change our nation (Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, the Beatles, the Stonewall Riots, etc). I didn’t care about this stuff when I took a 1960s class, and I don’t really care now. But Cook delivered it in such a way that these things mattered. Not because they are just facts from a textbook. They are events and people that influenced a person… Kitty… and other human beings.
Cook uncovers details which were apparently hidden back in the ’60s, such as Kitty being in love with a woman. He uncovers the fact that reports were exaggerated in newspapers. The witnesses are numbered 38. That number is still held today in texts. The reason this murder is important is because the 38 witnesses did absolutely NOTHING to help Kitty. At least that’s what the reports say. Cook tells a different story. One where Kitty did not die alone and she did not die without help.
But… if those reports weren’t embellished a little, would her murder have changed the country? City streets wouldn’t be as lit as they are now. People wouldn’t be held accountable for not helping out their fellow neighbor. 9-1-1 would not exist in the New York Area. And so many people would not be aware of the dangers outside, even in a place you may feel super safe.
Everyone has the same fear; something lurking in the shadows is going to jump out at you and you will die a violent lonely death. I think it is magnified even more for women because rape is already a constant fear. But no matter, what would you have done if you were Kitty? She fought off her assailant and tried to escape and yelled for help. Who would be this brave? I’m not sure how I would react if I were Kitty. And I hope I never find out.
Winston Moseley. The murderer. The serial rapist. Cook gives a description of what life was like for him… almost making him someone we could sympathize with… but I cannot sympathize with someone who harms others. I’m not that righteous. He attacked Kitty because he was on a hunt that night, and she happened to be the only woman out at 3 a.m. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is unfortunate, because Kitty was someone that touched the lives she encountered.
But if that was true, how could her neighbors not run out and chase Moseley away? I just don’t understand. I asked my brother what he would do. He said he would not endanger himself. Okay, that’s something I could understand a little bit… if the person being attacked is a stranger. But what about calling the cops? They don’t get to the scene quickly… I know that personally. But it’s something you can do. If someone was being attacked outside my window, I would hope that I would call the cops first. Then grab my pepper-spray and a weapon and chase the goomba away.
I would hope.
I don’t know what I would do, though. None of us do. Not until something happens. The few times I’ve encountered a scary situation I start to shake. I do what I need to, but I shake. What if that is enough, next time, to put my actions at a stand still?
What would you do (or hope you would do) in Kitty’s position or in the neighbors’ position?