The Lululemon murder and the “bystander effect”

People of a certain age–mine–will remember the story of Kitty Genovese who was stabbed to death near her New York City apartment in 1964 while 38 of her neighbors allegedly watched and did nothing. The recent “Lululemon murder” in the Washington D. C. suburb of Bethesda has once again raised the question of how bystanders (in this case two employees of an adjoining store) could hear cries for help and do nothing.

Jenna Johnson of The Washington Post writes:

In case after case, witnesses to crimes have frozen in place. Their gut may signal that something is wrong, but they do nothing. Maybe they do not act because no one around them is doing so. Maybe they assume that someone else will respond. Maybe they’re stopped by a concern for their own safety….

Think back to the last time you sensed that someone might need help — maybe it was a heated argument next door, a stumbling drunk, a questionable Facebook post, the sound of a crash, a scream, a murmur, a frightened look on someone’s face. If you didn’t take action, why not?

Many people walk away from these situations. Very few are confronted with the outcome.

These stories call to mind the parable of the Good Samaritan. Why aren’t more people willing to get involved?

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