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Baguio @109, hapiberdey

Baguio, the land of my birth and yours celebrated its 109th Charter Day on Sept.1. Aptly, the call to unity and spirit of the famous quote by John F. Kennedy “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather ask what you can do for your country” comes into our midst. Yet an air of indifference seems to soar in this Ka-fagway borders.

Former Sen. Rene Saguisag who is my classmate at the Sandiganbayan canteen and who remains a fierce litigator despite the cane, age, and loss of his beloved Dulce says that in Psychology classes, this story is standard fare.

In one of my Psychology classes, our professor narrated about an incident in a tenement building where in its courtyard was somebody being raped. The woman was screaming, asking for help. Alarmed, residents went out and all of them witnessed the incident, but nobody helped. We were all wondering, why didn’t anyone help? The teacher said that in Psychology, if you were the only one witnessing the rape, you would have felt compelled to intervene. Your sense of responsibility would have been overwhelming. If you’re two, somehow the res-ponsibility gets divided into two. When it’s a thousand, the motivating force (to help) is not that strong.” May I add that when it becomes millions, then nobody would seem to care.

Another case of indifference is the rape and murder of a bar manager in New York City in 1964. Catherine Susan “Kitty” Genovese, 28, an American bar manager was killed outside her apartment building in Kew Gardens, in the NY Queens borough. The culprit, Winston Moseley, then 29, was arrested days later. He was found guilty and sentenced to death but this was reduced to a life term. He died in prison at age 81.

Two weeks after printing the 1964 article on the attack, the New York Times published a longer report that conveyed indifference from neighbors, saying 37 or 38 witnesses saw or heard the attack but did not call the police. The incident prompted inquiries into what became known as the “bystander effect” or Genovese Syndrome. Some researchers have questioned this version of events.

In 2015, Kitty’s younger brother, Bill, said that the cops were indeed summoned twice but did not respond; they believed it was a domestic dispute. Bill’s 2015 film “The Witness” showed an interview with Sophia Farrar who was around Kitty’s age; she said in the film that she ran down when she heard Kitty’s screams and held her as she lay dying.

Kitty lived in a Brooklyn neighborhood populated mainly by families of Italian descent. She arrived home at about 3 a.m. and parked her car about 100 feet from her apartment’s door. As she walked toward her apartment, Moseley, armed with a hunting knife, attacked. She ran; he ran after and overtook her and stabbed her twice in the back. She screamed. Robert Mozer, a neighbor, shouted, “Let that girl alone!” He ran away.

Witnesses saw him enter his car, drive away and return 10 minutes later. He found Kitty, barely conscious. He stabbed her several more times before raping her, stealing $49 from her and run away again. The attacks spanned approximately half an hour.

The public view of the story crystallized the quote “I didn’t want to get involved.” Reports attributed the quote to nearly all of the 38 who supposedly witnessed the attack. In one book, the author “asked behavioral scientists to explain why people do or do not help a victim; sadly, he found none could offer an evidence-based answer. How ironic that this same question was answered separately by a non-scientist.

When the killer was apprehended and asked how he dared attack a woman in front of so many witnesses, Moseley calmly replied, “I knew they wouldn’t do anything, people never do.”

The indifference prompted research into diffusion of responsibility and the bystander effect, showing that contrary to common expectations, larger numbers of bystanders decrease the likelihood that someone will step forward and help a victim. Kitty’s case became a classic feature in Social Psychology textbooks.

A 2004 New York Times piece published on the 40th anniversary of the crime raised numerous questions about claims in its original article.

After Moseley’s death last year, it called its second story “flawed” grossly exaggerating the number of witnesses and what they had perceived. In popular culture, the story of the witnesses who did nothing is taught in every “Introduction to Psychology” textbook.

At 109, do we have the kind of indifference that they had at Queens? Hapiberdey na lang Baguio... sigh

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