Kitty Genovese and Popular Narratives

A recent news story casts into question the popular narrative about Kitty Genovese.

We’ve all heard the story: Ms. Genovese was stabbed multiple times and slowly bled to death in the street, while 38 witnesses did nothing. It’s a shocking narrative with real sticking power, and often used to discuss issues from bystander effects to the decline of public virtue.

According to the recent news account, though, the popular narrative about Genovese is wrong. There were a handful of witnesses, not 38; while one witness callously ignored the attack, another called the police right away. The actual story as told in the article implicates human indifference, yes, but also serious police failings.

And perhaps most fascinating of all, the whole saga may illustrate something about the human tendency to overcommit to shocking narratives. At least, that’s my read so far.

Shocking discovery: The Kitty Genovese narrative is all wrong. News at 10.

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