Why Neighborhood Associations?
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
February 9, 2006

When I was growing up here in the 1950's this community was steeped in innocence. At the Model Market where I sacked groceries, people often came to the store and not only left their car doors unlocked, some left their keys in the ignition. And, their cars were still there when they finished shopping! Deadbolts were unusual and many citizens in my neighborhood left the front door to their houses unlocked even at night or when they went away on vacation!

Then came the Interstate Highway Act and highways that conveniently took us quickly from one place to others that were long distances away with very few red lights. Air-conditioning not just water coolers, became common along with televisions. Both contributed to the demise of the front porch as a social institution which knit many neighbors together as friends and family. The entry of computers, a large array of cable TV stations and the internet among others, further ensconced us inside our homes.

It was around this time in 1964 that our entire country was treated to a social "gut-check" on one neighborhood's dare I say our entire country's sensibility and concern for our neighbors by the Kitty Genovese story. An ordinary 28 year-old working girl living in Queens, New York was returning from work at a local bar at 3:15 a.m. As she parked just 20 feet from her apartment door an attacker began stabbing her. At 5'1" and 105 pounds, Kitty was not much difficulty to take down by her attacker.

A shocker in the Kitty Genovese story is that there were no less that 38 neighbors who heard or observed a killer stab her 17 times, then finally rape and kill Kitty Genovese at the apartment complex. But the real shocker is that over the next thirty minutes of the ordeal only one of them finally did anything to help her! Karl Ross made the call to police but only after he called a friend to ask him what he should do!

The neighborhood where Kitty's murder took place was generally middle class where houses in 1964 typically sold for $30,000 to $50,000. It resembled a small village in the suburbs rather than a city neighborhood. Mostly white, working class, not the kind of place where one would think a person could be murdered without anyone offering even a smidgen of assistance.

Over 40 years later, Kitty Genovese has become synonymous with a dark side of an urban, suburban or exurban character that, for many people, represents a harsh and disturbing reality of life. In essence, the 37 witnesses felt no responsibility to act because there were so many witnesses. Each one felt that the other witness would do something. Social psychology research supports the notion that Kitty Genovese would have had a better chance of survival if she had been attacked in the presence of just one witness.

What neighborhood associations have attempted to work for is a place where neighbors can get to know each other. With knowing our neighbors as a foundation, a more secure home environment can be had. With more concern, opportunities as well as indicators of neighborhood decline can be addressed:

May we know and care for our neighbors. And, may the neighborhood always reflect the highest caliber of safety, security and well-being for each of us.

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