In March of 1964 in Queens New York, 28-year-old Catherine “Kitty” Genovese lost her life in a brutal murder. Though it was tragic to have such a vibrant young woman lose her life in this way, sadly, there were many such murders that year in America. What made this one so unique? All you have to do is type "kitty" into Google Search and one of the first results suggested by it will be this tale of Kitty Geneovese. Not Kitty Cat or Kitty anything else, but just Kitty Genovese.
Returning late at night from her job, Kitty was attacked and stabbed twice. She cried out for help in the night. Lights in people's windows went on and off again. She stumbled to her door and slumped over, again crying for help; "I'm dying, I'm dying." But nobody came to her aid, and her attacker, whose name I won't repeat as it should fade from the records of history, returned to continue his assault. He raped her and stabbed her again. Kitty died in the arms of her neighbor Greta Schwartz. Mrs. Schwartz was the only neighbor to come to Kitty's aid out of what police reported as 37 neighbors — 37 witnesses to this brutal rape and murder who did nothing.
What would you do? If you were to see some poor soul, let's say, taken from their home, brutally beaten down, robbed and humiliated by a gang of thugs whose only thought was to increase their own pleasure and personal gain, what would you do? Would you look away, draw the curtains and hope someone else would do the right thing?
This terrible event came to mind as I began to hear story after tragic story of people losing their jobs, their homes, and in many cases, their dignity. People who did everything right, worked hard and played by the rules to make a life for themselves and their families just as Kitty had. In 2008 some 44 years after Ms. Genovese lost her life, a relatively small group of Americans, many of whom worked for Investment Banks on Wall Street, conspired with ratings agencies and lenders to accumulate massive amounts of wealth by gambling with the pensions and savings of hard-working Americans.
They, like the man who attacked Kitty, saw something they wanted and thought nothing of the consequences of their actions. They thought nothing of the harm they would do when their ponzi scheme — essentially a fraudulent house of cards — came crashing down on the heads of pensioners. Pensioners like teachers, firemen, and policemen who entrusted their retirement savings to what they thought were regulated professionals, woke up to see their savings wiped out. Now some two years later many of these same victims are being blamed for the crimes against them by people like Wisconsin's Governor Scott Walker and New Jersey's Governor Chris Cristie.
These heartless individuals who hold positions of public trust tell our neighbors looking on that, "Yes, well you've been beaten down and mugged but it's your own fault!" Then, while we are down and bleeding at our own doorsteps crying out for help and justice they announce deep cuts to our teachers, schools and public services for the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Cut after cut after cut, they act cruelly and without remorse. Then as if to hold their hand over their victims' mouths to muffle the cries, they pass laws in the middle of the night to silence the members of Labor Unions, slashing their right to protect themselves against a much larger assailant.
In the face of this massive and terrible crime against all of our neighbors, who will speak up for the wounded American Worker? Who will step up to help us like the brave Gretta Schwartz did on that cold night in Queens New York?
Joseph Segal is a passionate advocate for progressive issues, and with his extensive background in web development is using Facebook and Twitter to produce tools to help people move from online activism to local civic engagement. We're thrilled to have his contributions at The Winning Words Project. See his full bio and contact information, here.