30 January 2012

Kitty Genovese: A Hate Crime?

Tonight, on my way home from work, I rode through Kew Gardens.  George Gershwin lived there; Paul Simon and Jerry Springer were born and raised there.  However, the name of someone who lived there for only a year or so will be associated with the neighborhood for a long, long time.

It's something I don't normally think about.  However, today, the name of Kitty Genovese popped into my head.  If you have lived in New York for any amount of time, or are a researcher of social phenomena, you've probably heard the name.

She was a bar manager who was coming home from work shortly after 3 am on 13 March 1964.  She parked her red Fiat in the lot by the Long Island Rail Road station, even though the railroad discouraged it.  Her apartment was about 100 yards from that lot, and the neighborhood was quiet and considered safe.

That illusion of tranquility was shattered in the wee hours of that morning, when Winston Mosley raped and repeatedly stabbed her.  When people in nearby apartments turned on their lights to see what was going on, he leapt into his car and drove off.  About half an hour later, he returned to a staggering Genovese to stab her again.  

Police arrived two minutes after receiving the first call about the incident, only to find Genovese's lifeless body.

After his arrest, Mosley said he simply wanted to kill a woman and confessed to killing others.  To this day, he has expressed no remorse for his deed.  Not surprisingly, he was denied parole at his most recent hearing in November.  His next hearing is next year; even though he will be 77 years old in March, I don't think anybody wants to be responsible for releasing him.

It's not surprising that the details of the event are in dispute.  After all, the weather was cold and, which meant that windows were shut.  Also, at that hour, most people were still sleeping.  Some said they believed the screams, which they didn't hear distinctly, were from a lover's quarrel or a nearby bar that was known for its rowdy patrons.  Others may have thought they were awakening from a bad dream.  Plus, the crime happened in two stages, as it were.  And, after the first time Moseley attacked her, she staggered into a door a couple of buildings down from where she'd been attacked.

Then, of course, there were some people who simply "didn't want to get involved" and others who were afraid.  The article I linked, published two weeks after the attacks, said thirty-eight people witnessed the crime.  Almost nobody believes that now, in part for the reasons I mentioned in my previous paragraph.

However, there is one fact that was known to Kitty's neighbors but was not reported in any media accounts of the crime.  She was a lesbian.  In fact, many  people in the neighborhood knew her partner, with whom she shared her apartment. 

I only learned of these things tonight.  I'd had my suspicions (Yes, trans people have "gaydar," too!), but never gave them very much thought. I wasn't thinking about it even as I typed her name into a Google search box when I got home.  However, some of the search results mentioned her sexuality, and one even mentioned her partner's name.

Mosley said he enjoyed killing women.  None of the sources I found mentions the sexual orientations of the other women he killed, and none seem to imply that he killed them or Genovese because of their sexual orientation, or the way he may have perceived it.  However, even if he didn't choose Genovese as a victim because she was a lesbian, I wonder whether her sexuality motivated him to attack her as fiercely as he did, and to return and attack her a second time.  After all, as we've seen--and I've mentioned in some previous posts--murders of LGBT people (especially trans people) are some of the most gruesome in the annals of crime.  

Voltaire wrote, "To the living we owe respect; to the dead, only the truth."  Perhaps we will never know the whole truth about Kitty Genovese's murder.  But any aspect of it that comes to light needs to be examined scrupulously. Would you want any less if she'd been one of your loved ones?