SAJU: Empathy is still of great importance


Opinions Column: Pride, Not Prejudice


There should be something deep inside of a human being that causes one to stand for a belief — an indescribable emotion that makes one's chest cave in at the thought of injustice or the desire to fight the unfinished battles of those who came before. Something that reminds us of our humanity as well as our responsibility to society 

That something is empathy.  

Empathy is the ability to feel and be sensitive to the needs and experiences of other people. It is the cornerstone of the human experience. Only by offering sympathy to those around us can we begin to understand ourselves and our purpose. When someone is empathetic, they are often compelled to assist those who are in need. This basic principle is the foundation of a good samaritan. Good samaritans help the elderly cross the street and run back into burning buildings to save strangers. They see something wrong and take action to fix the problem. 

But what happens when people turn a blind eye to the suffering of others? What occurs when people stop caring about each other on a basic human level? When people exercise apathy over empathy? 

Apathy, a lack of interest and enthusiasm to the welfare of another is a nauseating idea. The idea that someone could watch another suffer and not feel the desire to alleviate that suffering, even by a little bit, is unacceptable. When people stop caring about each other, society falls apart.  A discourse of the negative effects of apathy on society cannot take place without first discussing what happened to Catherine (Kitty) Genovese. At 28, Genovese was an extremely hard worker. She often worked double shifts at her bar-managing job to one day save up for her own Italian restaurant. But her dream never came true because, in 1964, Genovese was brutally raped and killed by Winston Moseley, who left her to die near her apartment in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y. Her death was horrific. It left a shadow on the streets of New York and a scar on the minds of the American people. Thirty-seven witnesses heard her screams and pleas for help, but no one picked up the phone to call the police. Thirty-eight witnesses did eventually call, but only after one called a friend asking for advice about what to do. But by that time, it was already too late. Genovese had been killed, and her murderer fled the scene. If someone had chosen to pick up the phone and call the police, her name would be on a restaurant instead of in a murder case. 

While these events occurred half a century ago, and much research has gone into studying the “bystander effect” and “the diffusion of responsibility," we must constantly remind ourselves of and teach the next generation about empathy. If we do not emphasize the importance of empathy, nothing will stop someone from looking directly at a crime and ignoring it. The case of bad samaritan David Cash Jr., which took place in 1997, shows us that the problem of apathy is still a central issue. When Cash saw his best friend Jeremy Strohmeyer corner 7-year-old Sherrice Iverson in a Nevada casino women’s restroom, Cash did nothing but tap Strohmeyer on the head. Cash left the bathroom to take a walk, condoning Iverson’s death. In an interview with "60 Minutes", Cash stated that he needed to leave the situation because he did not want to take any responsibility for Strohmeyer’s actions. Cash was only thinking about himself, and he showed little remorse for abandoning his responsibility to protect an innocent child. 

When his friend exited the bathroom after approximately 30 minutes (the time with which Cash did not alert any of the security guards in the casino) and confessed to both the molestation and the murder, both men simply continued with their night. Strohmeyer was sentenced to life in prison without parole, but Cash did not face any charges. Cash’s actions sparked controversy about good samaritan laws, and if such laws should be put in place to penalize those who turn a blind eye to a cruel situation. In 1999, the Sherrice Iverson Good Samaritan Law, authored by Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, made it a crime to witness the sexual assault of a minor without notifying the police. Failure to comply is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and one year in jail. 

The murder of Iverson shocked the residents of California like the death of Genovese appalled the people of New York. People are horrified over the murders and disgusted over the inaction of the bystanders. If we do not promote empathy over apathy in our nation, nothing will push people to protect each other and stand against injustice. We must act. 

We must care. 

Neha Saju is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student planning on majoring in political science and history and minoring in English. Her column, "Pride, Not Prejudice," runs on alternate Mondays.

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