The Crime Report
December 1, 2021
Upper Darby borders West Philadelphia. If you have ever driven through Upper Darby, you know it is difficult to tell where West Philly ends and Upper Darby begins. In fact, Upper Darby is home to the 69th Street Station, a hub for the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)—a regional public transport operation that provides regular service for four million people in southeast Pennsylvania.
Just over a month ago, as the “EL” commuter train
was heading toward the 69th Street Station, a shocking crime occurred in the
public area of a train car: a woman was raped. A few days after the
Darby Police Superintendent Timothy Bernhardt charged that other train
passengers who witnessed the assault didn’t intervene.
In a comment that quickly made national headlines,
he said, “I’m appalled by those who did nothing to help this woman.”
Early news reports appeared to corroborate the
charge, suggesting that there were dozens of people who witnessed the
eight-minute assault. While there were not “dozens of people” in the car
at the time, as Bernhardt acknowledged, he nevertheless argued there were
enough that, “collectively, they could have gotten together and done
He added that investigators had received unconfirmed
reports of some passengers recording the attack on their cellphones.
Within a few days of the attack in Upper Darby,
Delaware County District Attorney Jack
Stollsteimer revealed, after a review of security camera footage from the
train car, that the version of the story that had been circulating for days “is
simply not true—it did not happen.”
Flashback to a 60-Year-Old Crime
The hideous nature of the crime and the suggestion
that bystanders just sat and watched brought to mind the infamous 1964 murder of Kitty
In the early hours of March 13, 1964, Kitty
Genovese, a 28-year-old bartender, was stabbed outside her apartment building
in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York.
Genovese was returning home from work at around 2:30
a.m. when she was approached by a man with a knife. Genovese ran toward her
apartment building, and the man grabbed her and stabbed her while she screamed.
A neighbor yelled out the window and the attacker
temporarily fled. Genovese, seriously injured, crawled to the rear of her
apartment building, out of the view of any possible witnesses. Ten minutes
later, her attacker returned, stabbed her again, raped her, and stole her
A couple of weeks later, The New York
Times ran an article with the headline “37
Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call The Police,” alleging that 37 witnesses saw or
heard the attack, and that none of them called the police or came to her aid.
Like the Philadelphia case, that turned out to be
In 2004, after Kitty Genovese had faded from the
memory of most people, the inaccurate and sensationalistic nature of the
reporting of her murder was acknowledged by
But what had taken America more than 40 years to
learn about the rape and murder of Genovese, we learned in only a few days
after the SEPTA subway rape
They were both, at best, an exaggeration—and, at
worst, a flat-out lie.
How could the reports of two crimes separated by
about 115 miles and nearly 60 years get it so wrong?
The Bystander Effect
The New York Times coverage had been
criticized for years for numerous factual errors and for contriving a social
phenomenon to sell papers. The phenomenon, called the Bystander
Effect, attempts to explain why someone witnessing a crime would not
help the victim.
The coverage of the incident by the Times remains
a stain on the media—fodder for those who claim mainstream news is “fake
news.” On the other hand, the source of the SEPTA rape “lie” wasn’t some
cub reporter trying to get a byline or a headline; it was a person entrusted
with the safety and security of the community.
The superintendent of police exaggerated the
circumstances of a crime—attempting to paint a picture of moral bankruptcy in
the very community he swore to protect.
Although DA Stollsteimer methodically
punctured every part of the passive-bystander argument put forward by
the superintendent—including, he said, the claim that some witnesses took
videos of the incident “for their own gratification”— the damage is already
Increasingly, people do not know who to believe or who to trust.
We hear from what is supposed to be a trusted law
enforcement figure that you can’t rely on your neighbors in a neighborhood
riddled with crime, only to learn that the “trusted” figure lied, possibly
to promote some misguided law enforcement agenda.
Mistruths continue to be components of a society in
a perpetual state of suspicion and mistrust.
Editor’s Note: On Nov. 30, the
Associated Press reported that a man accused of raping a woman on a
Philadelphia commuter train was ordered held for trial. The suspect, Fiston
Ngoy, claimed the sexual encounter was consensual.