New York assaults reveal cultural sickness

And I am reminded on this Holy Day of the sad story of Kitty Genovese. As you all may remember, a long time ago, almost 30 years ago, this poor soul cried out for help, time and time again, but no person answered her calls. Though many saw, no one so much as called the police. They all just watched as Kitty was being stabbed to death in broad daylight. They all watched as her assailants walked away. Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most. And that is the indifference of good men.”
Thus begins the story of the MacManus brothers, the main characters in “The Boondock Saints,” who do what the rest of us would like to sometimes do in real life: enact lethal consequences against the criminal and lowlife elements of society. The monsignor’s homily sets the tone for the entire film. No longer apathetic men, the MacManus brothers realize since no one will take a stand against evil, they must do it themselves, and they end up killing various mobsters, hit men and other various “streetwalking scum” in their neighborhood.
The monsignor’s homily came to mind when I heard about the attacks against women in New York’s Central Park a month ago. More than 60 men groped, stripped and robbed at least 44 women and girls. About 900 of New York’s finest were in the park at the time, and even though the police have the uncanny ability to locate and kill innocent, unarmed black men in a fusillade of bullets, they somehow didn’t notice a crazed mob assaulting more than 40 women.
My dismay isn’t with the police. Their incompetence is no longer a shock, it’s more a matter of record. When I watch the shaky videos from that day, I wonder about all those people in the background — not taking part in the assaults but not doing anything to prevent them either. What, if anything, was going through their heads as they watched women emerge from the crowd, doused in beer and water, their clothes torn and fear on their faces? What does it say about our society, not only that the attacks happened at all, but that people were there who allowed it to happen? The mentality that allowed Kitty Genovese to be killed in 1964 is alive and well as we move into the new century.
The apathy of these people is a symptom of a wider sickness in our society. We now live in a time when it is no longer favorable to stand up for what you believe in. Peer pressure, societal norms and self-censorship all play a role in the bandwagon mentality that many of us have adopted. Instead of taking the more difficult route of standing up for what you believe in, our culture has adopted the mentality that it is more important, and rewarding, to go with the flow.
To cultivate beliefs, whether they be religious, ideological or social, is something that requires a substantial amount of information, as well as the time to actually sit down and think about it. The sound bites the mass media inundate us with, the loss of basic critical thinking skills and the demands of our fast-paced society are not creating an environment that is conducive to forming strong beliefs.
Instead, our beliefs take the form of a building that is still being constructed: a solid frame, but nothing substantive happening inside.
Even our willingness to stand for the few beliefs we have falls to the wayside in our generation of instant gratification. When it’s a choice between standing up for what you believe in or doing something that is “practical” or feels good, that feel-good practicality always wins out. From politicians to your next door neighbor, people are always willing to compromise. It’s the simplest way to deal with things. Why hold on to some half-forgotten ideal or archaic belief system when it’s just simpler to go with the flow? “No one else has any standards, why should I?”
The worst part of all is that most people don’t even recognize that they capitulate. The mentality of “do as everyone else does” has thoroughly permeated our society. Everyone from mass media to our friends tell us we should do what they do and say what they say.
Uniqueness is being drowned as individuals willingly conform, not only in action, but in thought as well. People seem to believe that if you stand up for what you believe in, you must be blunt, rude, arrogant or odd to do so. That is ironic considering our culture has become so desensitized to violence, yet remains hypersensitive to those who take a stand. Our culture seems to insinuate there is something wrong with holding strong beliefs.
Part of this is because being ridiculously sensitive to others is now the norm. Everything we say must be shrouded in terms of political correctness, multiculturalism and gender neutrality. This is killing real discourse. Discussions must be coded and decoded so when everyone leaves the table, they still feel good about themselves. So why take a real stand on something, if you can’t even speak about it freely and frankly?
So what does this all mean for the Central Park attacks? Though there were many factors that led to them, a culture no longer bound to stand for what it believes in was surely one of them. It’s impossible to say what would have happened if some of the onlookers had tried to stop the mob from assaulting the women. But what we do know is while more than 40 women lost their dignity to a crazed crowd, our culture and our society sat aside and did nothing.

Jende A. Huang writes editorials and welcomes comments at [email protected]