THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A City and Nation of Bystanders

How could any American, any human, stand by as another is brutally raped? How could other Americans join in, jeer, take photos and videos with their cell phones as a 15 year old girl has man after man crawl on top of her drunken body, as she's held down to a bench in an alley, just 200 feet away from where her homecoming was going on? How could up to 20 people ignore this over two hours, two of the longest hours this girl would ever live, either walking past, or popping in to take a look or even a quickie? What was she thinking as man after man used her, abused her, as others ignored her, as two hours passed?

It's a scene right out of a movie like Jodie Foster's The Accused or The Brave One except it's real, a scene that played out Saturday, October 24, 2009 in an alley outside a high school in the town of Richmond, CA, a town of about 120,000 just outside of San Francisco. That's right, not in the backwoods of Podunkia, USA, not in a nation that doesn't value women, but in Richmond, a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) ride away from one of the most liberal cities in the world.

So far, four people have been arrested for rape, for assault, robbery and sexual assault with a foreign object. Up to 10 are said to have raped her, according to police and up to two dozen, yup, 24 people are said to have watched or happened upon the rape. And those that read the story wonder how? How could this happen here, in this country?

It's bystander syndrome, according to Drew Carberry, a director with the National Crime Prevention Council in Arlington, VA; the Genovese Effect. That's right, this phenomenon is so common it has a name.

"When people happen upon a scene, a crime, a horrific event, the norm become the norm, if that makes sense," he commented on my syndicated radio show Wednesday, October 28, 2009.

If a group of people are watching the event, it almost becomes acceptable for no one to do anything, if no one is doing anything. Inaction leads to more inaction in larger groups. A person passes a bad wreck on the freeway and sees everybody looking at it, and then don't call it in because they figure somebody else has. It's the same thing, they assume somebody else is taking care of it. ...

There's also the fear of getting involved. Many see things like this as somebody else's problem, in fact, the more people observing, the more people are apt to think it's up to somebody else to do something, that they don't need to act. There's also fear of retaliation, of what the involvement will entail and their overall feelings about the victim, the crime or the circumstance. ...

Before we called it 'Bystander Syndrome' it was, and is, known as 'Genovese Syndrome. Kitty Genovese was killed while many people watched, up to 60 that we know about. She was on the street in 1964 in New York when she was attacked, raped and then killed. When those in her building that heard the attack and/or saw the attack were interviewed in the New York Times, most simply said 'They didn't want to get involved.' Genovese's death rattled the community, the inaction more than the death in most cases, and Genovese Syndrome was named.

There's another name for that action, or inaction: cowardice. Only a coward would sit by and do nothing when someone is in trouble. And this rape, this crime, and Kitty Genovese's and others draws a frightening parallel to society as a whole. As many try to figure out how this could happen in Richmond, CA, others will wonder how this could happen in The United States of America.

America has been raped, pillaged and beaten so severely it's in the intensive care unit and may not recover. War criminals paraded around as the leaders of the country and extorted the nation, beat the nation in to compliance using terror, fear and verbal abuse unimpeded. A large group sat and sits inactive, like the group of spectators at the rape, doing nothing while the crimes against the American people continue and go unpunished.

533 people sit and do nothing while each year 45,000 Americans die, actually die, cease to exist, stop breathing, often after suffering for a long period of time, and the 433 members of Congress and 100 members of the Senate do nothing that will really help them immediately. Any help is delayed until 2013 and that help won't be to help the nation, or those truly needing the assistance needs. It is acceptable to this group of spectators to let over 100,000 Americans die over the years that they do nothing, debate, contemplate or refuse to act at all. They turn away to their chambers as real people, not numbers, but 45,000 real people die each year and those 533 people could end it and don't.

533 people sat and watched as American after American was, and is, marched off to the untold terror of war for no clear reason, no clear gain, with no clear plan. 4671 of them died as those 533 sat by and not only did nothing; in fact, they facilitated, paid for, cleared the way for more killing and death. Another 1493 died as these 533 turned their eyes on a new prize, a new battle a new war (both figures on Iraq and Afghanistan found at iCasualties.com).

533 people sat by as a leader terrorized a nation with false information and the manipulation of events for personal and professional gain. 533 people sit by as Americans are beaten or killed, denied benefits or discriminated against simply because of who or what they are.
And worse, 307 million others sat, and sit, by as their livelihood, their honor, dignity, their country and their culture is raped and ravaged, as their neighbors fall ill or fall in to poverty, as others are told they don't belong, as their institutions crumble.

George W. Bush is a war criminal, and no one drops a dime on him. Still. Dick Cheney a criminal, and no one turns him in, reports the crimes, punishes him. Congress lets Americans die each day from lack of health care and the only urgency they show is a half-assed plan that may help some four years down the line.

Let's face it, most Americans, especially those in power, have Bystander's syndrome, Genovese effect. Most have been bystanders in their country's fall. And why not, it's not a crime to ignore harsh truths, horrifying situations.

"It is a crime to not report a crime happening to a child," Carberry explained. "The law states in California that if you see something happening, know of something illegal happening, to someone under the age of 14 and do not report it, it's a crime," he added. "However, the girl was 15, so in this case, simply not calling the police, unfortunately, is not a crime."
Not a crime to see a crime and not report it, unless it can be proven that your actions or inactions in some way contributed to or incited someone to commit the crime? Turning a blind eye isn't illegal be it a crime in the alley against a young innocent girl or crimes being committed in the halls of Congress, White House or Wall Street?

A host on KGO Radio San Francisco, Bernie Ward, downloaded and looked at images of underage girls, nude and in "provocative" positions and then emailed them to one person. He downloaded them in one day, emailed them another. Three days of debauchery, total, as stated in court records. He's in jail in Texas for seven years as part of a plea bargain, they wanted him to get 17 years. He never took the photos. He never touched a teenager, ever. He downloaded photos from a site, and emailed a few. Disgusting, yes. But he will serve more time in jail than the student quoted by the AP on Tuesday, October 27, 2009, identified only as "Rubio" who said to the AP that some "dudes" came up to him in the courtyard of the school, told him there was a girl naked in the alley and said if he wanted to "get some" he should go back. He didn't, but he didn't call anyone. He could have ended the rape an hour into it, an hour, instead of the two, and he didn't. He knew a girl was being raped, was told so, did nothing, and he won't see the inside of a cell. No one that saw, looked, and then didn't want to get involved will see the inside of a cell.

As of now, the war criminals that destroyed America and the current bunch that sit and do nothing as we sink further, as we die, will not only not be punished but will prosper. And those that sit by and watch, the millions of Americans that did and do nothing about the Iraq War, that do nothing about Afghanistan, that do nothing about 45,000 annual deaths from lack of health care, the same people that sat by as AIDS ravaged the gay community in the 1980s, the same country that does nothing as tens of thousands are slaughtered in its name or as a select few make billions while Americans starve or lose their homes to banks and corporate criminals...the only punishment for their inactivity, for our inactivity, is having to live in the country that apathy creates.

The rape in Richmond, CA, and the fact that 20 or more watched it and did nothing isn't an aberration, it's now the norm. Sitting by and watching as Americans are harmed, or die, isn't unusual, it's business as usual for Congress, the Senate, the President and most of We, the People.

Americans have bystander's syndrome, Genovese effect, not just on the streets of New York or Richmond, CA, but it would appear in every nook and cranny, in every area of American life. People afraid to get involved, afraid to speak up, frustrated that it won't matter, people that condone inaction because they don't approve of the person or thing being attacked have become the norm, while those that try and stop the harm, stop the devastation, stop the violence are few and far between.

A 15 year old girl will have to grow up and know that while she lay being raped and beaten, robbed and degraded beyond belief over two dozen watched and did nothing, or even participated. A nation will have to go on knowing that while it lay injured, broke, sick, confused, afraid, millions sat by and did nothing, participated or even prospered. And if it keeps up, will watch as 533 people, and 300 million others watch doing little or nothing and when it all finally crumbles and falls apart will ask themselves "Why?"

The "Why?" is simple: because people today, en masse, won't do the right thing, won't get involved, won't say Stop! This is Wrong! Wait! Do Something Now! Because no one is demanding immediate action, because everyone believes someone else will, or is, taking care of it, and in doing so, will be bystanders to the fall of one of the greatest nations in history.

To Hear Karel's segment on this, hear more podcasts, read more Huffington Post columns or watch videos of these discussions go to RadioKRL.com .