Today in Fact, 13 March

Mido Macia and the “bystander effect”. It was cold early morning today in New York in 1964. Kitty Genovese was on her way home from work when she was brutally attacked by Winston Mosely, a necrophiliac. Her cries for help were ignored by neighbours until one shouted out a window for Mosely to leave that girl alone. Mosely left but returned ten minutes later to rob, kill and rape her. Only some time later did someone call the police. Kitty died on the way to hospital. She was 28 years old. Mosely was arrested a week later and sentenced to death for the murder but it was later commuted to life imprisonment.
The lack of reaction to the attack from Kitty’s neighbours watching the scene prompted social psychologists to research the diffusion of responsibility and what became known as “the bystander effect”.
The bystander effect suggests that contrary to common expectations, larger numbers of bystanders decrease the likelihood that someone will step forward and help a victim. The reasons include the fact that onlookers see that others are not helping either, that onlookers believe others will know better how to help, and that onlookers feel uncertain about helping while others are watching. The Kitty Genovese case became a classic feature of social psychology textbooks.
Perhaps calling it the bystander effect is too grand a thing. Perhaps they simply did not want to get involved in a “domestic dispute” played-out on the street at 3 am on a freezing cold March morning?
It was a hot day in Daveyton, east of Johannesburg on the 27 February 2013 when 9 police officers arrested and subdued Mido Macia, a Mozambican who had parked his taxi on the wrong side of the road. They were watched and filmed by dozens of bystanders as they manacled him to the back of a police van and dragged him for half a kilometre through the streets of the township. He was later found dead in the local police cells. Macia came to South Africa with his parents 17 years before his death. He had a child and was also legal guardian of the three children of his late brother. He was described by the chair of the Benoni Taxi Association as “a very humble guy”.
The crowd did nothing to stop Macia being dragged to his death. Some can even be seen egging the police on. Was Macia’s death, apart from being police brutality, also another example of the bystander effect?
Douglas Racionzer (you can find a full archive of these fascinating deckos at history at http://serendipiday.blogspot.com/)