If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, "But we knew nothing about this," does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done? Proverbs 24:10-12
Kitty Genovese was returning home from work in Queens, New York at 3:20 a.m. While walking to the door of her apartment building she noticed a man at the other end of the parking lot, so she turned away. The man came after Kitty and attacked her with a knife. Kitty, age, 28, cried out, "Oh, my God, he stabbed me. Please help me! Please help me!" Her screams woke people up in the surrounding apartments. Lights came on, windows opened, and one man even yelled, "Let that girl alone!"
The assailant left and the windows closed and lights went out. But then the attacker returned and stabbed Kitty again. When she screamed, "I’m dying! I’m dying!" the lights came back on and the assailant left the scene. Kitty managed to make it into her apartment building where she collapsed on the floor at the foot of her stairs. Yet again the assailant returned, and this time he succeeded in killing the young woman.
There were three separate attacks Kitty Genovese over a thirty-five minute period. Scores of neighbors heard her screams and at least thirty actually witnessed one of the attacks. Yet other than one man yelling at the murderer during the first assault, not one witness intervened against the attacker, came to her aid, or even called the police. Only after the third attack were police summoned, and when they arrived Kitty had already died.
"If you falter in times of trouble, how small is your strength! Rescue those being led away to death; hold back, or defend, those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive your denial?"
In commenting on the evil perpetrated against Kitty Genovese, Cornelius Plantinga says, "To shut one’s eyes to an injustice, to look the other way, to pretend ignorance of evil - to do these things is to connive. We generally think of connivance as a case of active conspiracy, but it needn’t be and often isn’t." (Not the Way it is Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, p.182-84). Abstaining from actively harming others doesn’t mean we are necessarily free from guilt in any injury they receive. We implicate ourselves by our refusal to come to their aid, to defend them and, at the least, to speak out in their behalf.
When asked why they didn’t help the screaming woman below their apartment windows, neighbors of Kitty offered such excuses as they didn’t want to get involved, they were too tired, or they didn’t know why. "Does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?"
"Those in a position to help in difficult, dangerous circumstances are tempted to deny reality ... Some people think that any potential danger to self or family frees them from moral obligation to do good. This view, in thought and deed, entails the moral and spiritual collapse of a society. It stands under the judgment of the One who sees through human self-deception and denial of reality." (Raymond C. Van Leeuwen, Proverbs in New Interpreter’s Bible, 5:214)The man who walks the path of godly righteousness can not content himself with the thought that he has not actively harmed others. Wilfully turning a blind eye to abuse, murder, gossip, slander, character assassination or any other evil perpetrated against innocent people is to connive in their harm as surely as the ones actively engaged in the violence. To seek the righteousness of God means we cry out for justice, rebuke the evil, and offer assistance to the hurt and injured. Doing so may mean we place ourselves in harms way. But it may also mean we will never be more like Jesus than when we do.