Nearly 47 years ago, in the wee hours of the March 13, 1964, morning,
Kitty Genovese, a 29-year old lesbian arrived home from her bar-tending
job. She was in the courtyard of her Queens' apartment, and she was
stabbed to death. Supposedly 38 of her apartment neighbors heard her
cries, her tortured screams, and saw the carnage . . . and did nothing!
The fact of the doing nothing was even given a name by the bewildered
social scientists who were snagged by the question "How." The colloquial
name chosen was the "Genovese syndrome," but more coldly, more
clinically, "diffusion of responsibility."
The sorrow of it all.
This morning the details of a gang-rape of an 11-year old girl in a
ramshackle neighborhood, just outside Houston, is leaving everyone to
once again wonder, "How?" The utter horror of what we'd like to think
should be an unspeakable, unimaginable crime against us all occurred
shortly before Thanksgiving, last year. At least 18 young men were
physically "intimately" involved, but not the least sufficiently
emotionally involved that their consciences prevented them, from
recording the attack on their cell-phones . . . and passing the visual
and audio record among their associates in the Cleveland, Texas school.
One wonders . . . what? What, like . . . "oh yeah, that's really neat"?
"You and at least 17 others . . . to an 11-year old girl . . . and you
want to show it to me"? In the hopes of . . . what?
The sorrow of it all.
The linkage. It's a series of dots, separated by years . . . and we have
learned nothing. We feel nothing. After the propagation of a lie and
the foolish expenditure of billions, billions that could have built
hospitals . . . or schools, and the actual toll in human life lost and
misery borne exceeded 59,000, all recorded on a V-shaped granite wall,
and less than 40 years later . . . another lie, and more lives snuffed .
. . and more billions that could have built hospitals . . . or schools.
We're still sending the sons and daughters of our neighbors to a peril
and a task we ourselves have not the decency or the courage to either
engage or to stand to refute.
The sorrow of it all. We feel nothing. Nothing.
In 1929 the market crashed, the consequence of a private enterprise
system that had been permitted to run wholly unrestrained by the merest
of regulations. That tripping to the precipice was followed by an
economic nightmare that lasted 12 years, until a vicious attack upon us
by the Empire of Japan violently shook us out of one horror and into
another. Then, again, once again, in 1987, a financial system, left to
its own corrupt freewheeling ways, crashed; the S and L crisis. Billions
and billions of average American's life savings ran like a river of
blood down the drain. It was on the backs of the average American
taxpayer to bail the institutions; $124 BILLION!
Again, the sorrow . . .. And we feel nothing.
And in the fall of 2008 . . . another crash; provoked entirely by a
conscience-free private enterprise system, robbed millions and millions
of Americans of every tangible asset they had, and of every hope they
were clinging to. What is our national response to what ought to be rage
visited upon the perpetrators of the calamity? Attack on those who had
nothing whatsoever to do with it . . . primarily because . . . they're
close, because we can, and because they're relatively powerless to ward
off our attacks. The "greedy," "bottom-feeding" teachers and police and
firefighters and other government employees; that's what they're being
called. We do that, call them the names and place all the blame on them .
. . because we can, and because they can't defend themselves. How proud
we all must feel.
Yesterday afternoon I attended a performance of the Palm Springs
Follies. What a joy-filled, delightful afternoon. The performance was
concluded by the most rousing of patriotic tunes; "Yankee Doodle Dandy,"
"This Land is Your Land," "God Bless America." And the last of all:
"The Star Spangled Banner." I strongly suspect that I was the only one
who did not stand. I remained seated. That's because I refuse to support
what is at best an outrageous, obscene lie: we are not any longer the
"land of the free" or the "home of the brave." It's all a lie we tell
ourselves, while we watch unconcerned the horrors being visited on our
neighbors. At best we've become embarrassingly cowardly. And I won't
Perhaps the real truth is that the place where we live was never really
the "home of the brave." Perhaps that's the truth. Nonetheless, until
rather recently, the brave among us could shame the greater part of the
population into becoming brave. Now . . . we're just a collection of
folks who are content to stand around . . . No! We don't even stand
around, we turn away from the sight, pretending we don't see that which
is impossible to miss, exactly as did the neighbors of Kitty Genovese.
The sorrow. Just who the hell are we? What have we become? The sorrow . . . and the shame.