Two things happened in 1964. In March, Kitty Genovese was stabbed and brutally murdered by a psychopath in Queens, New York. What is horribly significant about this particular murder is that among the 38 reported neighbors who claim they heard Genovese scream, not one alerted the police during the half-hour ordeal. Today, Genovese’s nightmare is better understood within the definition of the bystander effect, which explains the phenomenon of what occurs when individuals, in the presence of other bystanders, fail to offer assistance to people in danger or in an emergency. This diffusion of responsibility occurs as a result of the assumption that if there are other people present and the situation is one that truly warrants help, then the other people would act. Thus, if other people do not act, then the situation is misinterpreted as not an emergency.
“Racial and ethnic identities will always be a part of how we identify ourselves. Until we confront it head-on with empathy and compassion, we will continue to sleep comfortably at night, thinking we are taking steps forward, when we actually do not even understand where the starting point is.”
Months after Genovese’s murder, during the summer of 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which effectively dismantled the encaging and insidious system of Jim Crow laws by making segregation in public accommodations, voting, education, employment, and many other realms of daily life, federally illegal. It is important to note, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated on many occasions during the Civil Rights Movement, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was hardly inevitable. As he said then in response to his critics, human progress came “through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation”. Unequivocally, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the direct result of staggering sacrifices, transcendent vision, and valiant efforts. It remains true today as it did five decades ago; relying on time alone can never heal the prevailing divisions and enduring wounds of our country’s tradition of racism, both in its subtle and overt manifestations. Yet, despite this realization and the substantial progress we have made in the half-century since 1964, many of us, willingly or not, seem content to continue remainin