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If you’ve ever taken a intro psychology class or New York City history class, you know the story of Kitty Genovese. It’s often used as the quintessential example of the “bystander effect.” The prevailing narrative comes from the 1964 New York Times report, which found that there were 38 bystanders to her murder in Queens and nobody acted to help. While this narrative changed laws across the United States, the accuracy of the article has since been questioned by the newspaper itself, which revisited the story in 2004. Kitty’s younger brother Bill Genovese, who volunteered to fight in Vietnam in reaction to what happened to his family, would then begin a quest to find out more about what actually happened that night in Kew Gardens.

Filmmaker James Solomon, who had been interested in writing a morality play about the murder, asked to document Bill’s endeavor. The documentary film The Witness premieres tonight on PBS at 10 PM, part of Independent Lens, an Emmy Award-winning weekly documentary series. Above is the trailer to the documentary, with some clips provided below.

According to the PBS press release,

The Witness follows a brother’s search for the truth. In the process, he unravels a myth that transformed his life, condemned a city, and defined an era. In his decade-long investigation, Bill confronts those closest to the crime, including the surviving witnesses to Kitty’s death as well as journalists Mike Wallace, Gabe Pressman, and A.M. Rosenthal, The New York Times editor who wrote the initial coverage of the murder that launched the legend.

The documentary is also more than timely, as the relationship between the media and government institutions enters a new era of negotiation. Lois Vossen, Independent Lens executive producer says, “At a time when there is a renewed focus on the responsibility of the press and public institutions to ask tough questions to distinguish myth from truth, The Witness shows the consequences when we don’t. James’ documentary reminds us how ambiguous events get reshaped into narratives to fit our collective and individual needs in the absence of the whole truth.”

The Witness premieres tonight on PBS at 10 PM, but will also show on other times this week. Check local listings.

Read more about the Kitty Genovese story in our previous column. Check out more notorious crime scenes in NYC.

 Kew Gardens, Kitty Genovese, PBS, queens

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