Content note: this post discusses murder, suicide, homophobia and police
38 people witnessed Kitty Genovese being murdered and did nothing, so the story goes. It’s a complete fiction, but that’s how the story goes.
64 years ago today, a genius took his life. Alan Turing was subjected to two years of state-sanctioned torture before he was driven to his death.
On the face of it, there seems to be little connection between Alan Turing and Kitty Genovese, but it’s there, buried in their histories. It’s a thread which still vibrates in queer generational memory, and even though we may not have ever been told the untold stories of Kitty Genovese and Alan Turing, we feel it, because we’ve felt this before so many other times.
It’s entirely possible that if the police weren’t so terrible to LGBT people, Alan Turing and Kitty Genovese would not have died in the ways that they did.
Let’s do Kitty first, because I’m a women-first kind of girl.
Kitty Genovese was a lesbian. At the time of her murder and the trial of her killer, the authorities made the decision to keep that fact out of the media, refer to her girlfriend, Mary Ann Zlelonko, as her “friend”. Just gals being pals. Of course, that’s not what the police thought of Mary Ann, they didn’t think of her as a platonic friend. She was their first suspect. She went to identify Kitty’s body, and they arrested her and subjected her to crass questions about their sex life.
The inspector on the case said, “One of the most common motives for murder is jealousy. It’s also our experience that homosexual romances produce more jealousy by far than ‘straight’ romances. More jealousy means more chance for violence. Women, in fact, can be more possessive towards their lovers than men.”
But let’s rewind to the night of Kitty’s murder. We have already established that 38 people didn’t witness the crime and 38 people didn’t do nothing. In fact, there were only two people who likely knew what was happening to Kitty. One of them, yep, fits that story of the people who didn’t give a flying fart about the murder. Joseph Fink sat at his doorman position and watched for a while, before going to bed.
The other witness is a more interesting case. Karl Ross was a friend of Kitty’s, a gay man and a drunk. He dithered a lot about calling the police, and spent much of the night chatting to a friend about whether he should. He did, in the end, but it was far too late. Could he have called off calling the police because he was gay? We don’t know, but what we do know is that relations between police and the LGBT community weren’t exactly healthy.
One witness to the night says that his father called the police early in the attack, but that the police did not come. And Kitty herself had been a victim of police harassment. That picture of her face at the top of this blog, the picture you have seen countless times? That was a mugshot, from a time she had been arrested.
Incidentally, Kitty may never have been murdered had the police done their goddamn jobs in the first place: Kitty’s murderer had previously killed a black woman, and the police never solved that case, probably never even bothered to investigate it.
The myth of Kitty is powerful, and the media, in the pockets of the authority, did a damn fine job of muddying the waters, when in truth what we have as a story demonstrating reified distrust of police.
So what about Alan Turing? We all know the story. Bletchley Park, then got charged for being gay, chemically castrated and eventually took his life. Yada yada. Did you ever ask how he was arrested?
In January 1952, Alan was the victim of a burglary. He did what you’re told you should do and contacted the police. His lover said he may have known who burgled the house, so Alan volunteered that information to the police investigating the crime. Again, exactly like we’re all told we should do.
The police arrested Alan and his lover and they were charged with gross indecency. I can’t find any record of them nicking the burglar.
You know the rest of the story.
These two people were both victims of the police in their ways, and both stories answer the questions as to why LGBT people don’t want to call the police, and why the relationship is strained at best.
When you ask why many of us queers don’t want the police anywhere near Pride, it goes beyond Stonewall. There’s these stories, horrific tragedies, and similar tales of police indifference and interference appear regularly to this day. Take Stephen Port, who was able to murder four gay men due to a lazy police investigation. This was within the last five years.
The police have never been our friends. As much as they are institutionally racist, they are institutionally homophobic and transphobic. It is galling to see demands that they march alongside us, when they have, at best, let so many of us die.
Remember Alan Turing. Remember Kitty Genovese. Remember the stories the authorities didn’t want you to hear. And remember why we prefer to help each other than call for help.
And remember: no police at Pride.