N.y. Mugger Just Got A Good Lesson
January 31, 1989|By Mike Royko.
New Yorkers love to debate, argue, quarrel, and-most of all-psychoanalyze themselves and each other.
In what other city would the leading movie critic jump all over Woody Allen for making a movie that was simply funny, rather than using his gifts of insight to tell New Yorkers about their inner selves?
That actually happened. And Woody Allen apparently took the critic seriously and stopped making funny movies. Now he makes dour movies that are viewed only by his fellow neurotics.
What New Yorkers enjoy most, though, are guilt trips. They like experiencing them and, even more, they enjoy sharing the guilt with others.
One of the all-time great New York guilt trips occurred almost 25 years ago when a young woman named Kitty Genovese was murdered on a street in Queens.
More than two dozen people heard her screams, but only one called the cops and none left their homes to help her.
This became known as the ``Genovese Syndrome,`` and more than 1,000 articles and books were written on the case, asking the question: Why didn`t anyone help?
The question was never fully answered. Some of the do-nothings were afraid of getting involved. Others weren`t sure what was happening. A few were callous. But it made New Yorkers feel guilty and many of them said it reflected a national indifference to the suffering of others.
Which was nonsense then and is nonsense now. Every day, all over America, ordinary people help strangers, often at their own risk. What made the Genovese case news, something unusual, was that no one did anything.
Now New Yorkers are wrestling with another ethical and moral issue. Or at least that`s the way it is being presented. A headline in the New York Times described it as: ``A Mugging and a Mob Evoke Debate.``
What happened was that a 67-year-old man got on an elevator in a housing project in Brooklyn.
Also on the elevator was a much younger man, age 24, who drew a knife and demanded the older man`s money.
Before the robbery was completed, the younger man had slashed his victim in the face with the knife.
When the elevator stopped and the slasher got off, his victim began screaming the word: ``Chaptzum.`` In Yiddish, this means ``grab him,`` or something to that effect.
In that particular part of Brooklyn, there live many Hasidic Jews. And when they hear someone yell ``chaptzum,`` they react.
So dozens of them came running out of their homes, shouting ``chaptzum,` and chased the elevator mugger.
They caught him and were apparently zealous in making sure he didn`t get away.
By the time they finished restraining him, he was really restrained. When the cops and medics arrived, he was unconscious and at the hospital the doctors put him on the critical list.
The New York Times, which has a dignified style, didn`t come right out and say it, but it appears that many of those who caught the man gave him one hell of a beating. He was in far worse shape than the old man who was knifed, who had his facial wounds stitched and went right home.
But now there is a debate over whether it was right or wrong for the crowd to take it upon themselves to try to stomp the mugger into the pavement. Most of the Jews who live in that project-at least those quoted in the New York press-say they think that while the crowd might have been overly enthusiastic, what they did was basically just and proper.
However, in the black neighborhood a few blocks away, where the young man lives as an unemployed street person, they think the crowd was unnecessarily brutal.
``It was outrageous,`` one man was quoted. ``Fifty people beating up on one dude.``
And others, of all races and religious persuasions, are chiming in.
I phoned a friend of mine in New York and he said: ``Yes, some people are saying it means we are going to have an outbreak of vigilante behavior, and they are worried. Some of them say that if he wasn`t poor and homeless, he wouldn`t have to steal, that society drove him to it. And slash an old man's face, apparently. Then there are those who say that poverty is no excuse, and he deserved what he got. And you hear some people say they should have caught him, but they shouldn`t have worked him over. So you got all kinds of opinions.``
So once again New York is in a dither, it`s favorite condition. When nobody helped Kitty Genovese, society was callous. When an angry mob jumps a knife-wielding mugger, maybe that`s callous.
That movie critic could be right. Maybe Woody Allen should be New York`s official shrink.
Myself, I take a simplistic view. When somebody pulls a knife on a law-abiding old man, he does so at his own peril.
The fact that he`s still alive makes him a lucky young man. And it means that the crowd either showed some restraint or they all had small fists and feet.
I guarantee that if 50 people from Milwaukee Avenue in Chicago had chased him down, by the time the cops arrived, they wouldn`t have found enough of him to take a fingerprint.