By John Conroy
In mid-December 1970, psychologists John Darley and C. Daniel Batson conducted an experiment inspired by the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the biblical parable, thieves beat and rob a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, leaving him naked and half dead by the side of the road. A priest passes by and crosses the road rather than help the wounded traveler, and a Levite, a religious functionary, does the same. Then a Samaritan–in those days a religious outcast–comes upon the scene, applies balm and bandages to the victim’s wounds, loads him on a donkey, brings him to an inn, nurses him through the night, and the following morning leaves money with the innkeeper for the traveler’s continued care.
Darley and Batson thought that the tale was based on some notions of human behavior worth testing. They reasoned that the priest and the Levite were probably preoccupied with religious thoughts as they traveled down the road, and given their high social standing might have been in a bit of a hurry to get to their next appointments. The two psychologists speculated that the Samaritan was probably thinking about more mundane matters at the moment of ethical decision and, as someone who occupied a low rung of the social ladder, might not have had so demanding a schedule as those of the priest and the Levite. In an article published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1973, Darley and Batson wrote, “The parable implies that people who encounter a situation possibly calling for a helping response while thinking religious and ethical thoughts will be no more likely to offer aid than persons thinking about something else . . . [and] persons encountering a possible helping situation when they are in a hurry will be less likely to offer aid than persons not in a hurry.”
To test those hypotheses, Darley and Batson gathered a sample of 40 students from the Princeton Theological Seminary. In individual sessions, half the students were given a copy of the parable of the Good Samaritan and told they would be required to deliver a sermon on the subject in a few minutes. The other half were told they would be talking extemporaneously about employment prospects for seminary students. All subjects were told to report to an office in another building to deliver their talks; some were told that they should hurry because people were waiting for them, while others were led to believe that they had slightly more time to report to the test site.
On the way to the test site, each student passed a poorly dressed figure slumped in a doorway, head down, eyes closed, not moving, a man described by the two psychologists as an ambiguous figure, possibly in need of help, possibly drunk, possibly dangerous–a situation not unlike the one that occurred on the road to Jericho, except that in this case the ambiguous figure was clothed. As the subject passed, the man coughed twice and groaned.
Sixty percent of the seminarians walked on without offering help. A seminarian thinking about the parable was no more likely to stop than one given a less lofty topic, and on several occasions a seminarian going to talk on the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the man. Only 10 percent of those who were told to rush to the test site offered help, while 63 percent of those who thought they had a few minutes to spare offered aid. In examining psychological tests given to their subjects, Darley and Batson found no personality characteristics that predicted helping behavior; the only factor that seemed to predict helping behavior was degree of hurry.
The psychologists were drawn to conclude that as the speed of daily life increases, ethics becomes a luxury.
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What if it wasn’t a single seminarian walking past a man slumped in a doorway, but instead a whole city walking past more than 50 men who say they were tortured, some of them languishing in jail for crimes they may not have committed, a good number of them scheduled to be executed? It seems a fair question to pose here, in this city, because there is no doubt that such a situation exists. The legal community knows about it, members of the media know about it, government officials are aware of it, and probably you, the reader, are at least vaguely aware of it as well. Yet virtually all of us walk on, untroubled, ignoring the situation.
The long list of alleged torture victims was compiled in the course of the investigation of Jon Burge, the Chicago police commander who was expelled from the force in February 1993 after members of the Police Board became convinced that he had physically abused suspects in the Area Two police station.
The Police Board had been moved to hold hearings after receiving two reports from the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. In one report, OPS investigator Francine Sanders concluded that while interrogating Andrew Wilson, a man who had killed two policemen, Burge applied electric shock and burned Wilson’s face, chest, and thigh by holding him against a hot radiator. In the second report, OPS investigator Michael Goldston concluded that Burge and other detectives at Area Two had engaged in “systematic” abuse, including “planned torture,” for at least 13 years. Goldston listed the names of 50 alleged victims, grouped them by techniques applied (electroshock, suffocation, hanging by handcuffs, etc), listed the names of detectives that had surfaced in connection with the victims’ complaints, and concluded that “particular command members were aware of the systematic abuse and perpetuated it either by actively participating in same or failing to take any action to bring it to an end.” Goldston’s list included victims who had been abused and then released without charge, among them a postal worker with no arrest record who was handcuffed to a windowsill for 14 hours, who was denied access to a toilet for that entire time, and who ultimately had to relieve herself in an ashtray in the presence of a male prisoner who was handcuffed to the same window. Defense lawyers and other researchers have since gathered data on additional victims, some who allege they were tortured at Area Two and others who claim to have been abused at Area Three after Commander Burge was transferred there. A list compiled by Flint Taylor, John Stainthorp, and Jeff Haas, attorneys with the People’s Law Office who represented Andrew Wilson, contains the names of 59 men and women who, over the course of 18 years, have alleged that they were tortured or beaten or otherwise physically abused.
Although the city fought hard to keep the Goldston report secret, a federal judge ordered that it be made public, and the investigator’s revelations–reported in some detail by local journalists–have now been publicly known for several years. The Police Board–made up of five lawyers, a community activist, and three business executives (one a former policeman), all appointed by Mayor Daley–held lengthy hearings into the matter that received steady media coverage. On February 11, 1993, the board announced that it had voted overwhelmingly to fire Commander Burge and to give 15-month suspensions without pay to two other Area Two detectives. Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez clearly had no dispute with the decision, as he announced that the suspended detectives would receive an additional punishment from him; he demoted them to patrolmen. (That demotion was later overturned by a labor arbitrator who ruled that the city’s contract with the Fraternal Order of Police allowed only one punishment for an infraction.)
The Police Board’s announcement received prominent media coverage. The Sun-Times, for example, turned over its front page to a large color photograph of Burge and the headline “Cop Loses Job Over Torture.” At various times the story has been mentioned in the national press. Last year a documentary on the affair was carried by public television stations around the country, and Burge’s subsequent failure to win reinstatement by court order has received additional attention in the local media. In short, Burge’s fall from grace has been well publicized and is known at some level by millions of people in the Chicago area and around the country. That torture was administered by certain Area Two policemen is not a wild claim made by some lunatic and radical fringe; it is a fact known to well-established, well-meaning, and well-off members of the community.
But there is something strangely absent here, namely the victims of Burge and his fellow detectives. Andrew Wilson, the gunman and murderer whose civil suit brought the torture revelations out in the plain light of day, has received a fair amount of attention and some significant benefit from recognition of his treatment. (Because the Illinois Supreme Court suspected that his confession to the murders of police officers William Fahey and Richard O’Brien had been taken by force, Wilson was awarded a new trial, a trial at which he was convicted without mention of his confession. The chief benefit to Wilson of the second trial was that the jury sentenced him to life in prison; the jury in the first trial had given him the death penalty.)
But what of the 58 other claims made thus far and the uncounted others that haven’t surfaced? Why is there no chorus calling for justice for Madison Hobley, for instance?
Hobley, 35, a resident of Pontiac’s death row, was sent to prison after a jury found him guilty of arson and seven counts of murder. The jury believed that Hobley had set fire to an apartment building on January 6, 1987. Hobley’s wife, his 15-month-old son, and five other people died in the flames. According to Hobley’s current attorney, Jon Stromsta of the law firm Ross & Hardies, Hobley had attended college and had never been in any serious trouble with the law, unlike the vast majority of the people now on death row. While the typical defendant in death penalty cases produces four or five character witnesses, Hobley produced 27. Family members testified that he had supported his mother and sisters from a young age after his father left the house. Former high school teachers testified that he was a good student who never caused problems in class. His former coaches said he was a fine athlete who acted as a team player. At the time he was arrested he held a job setting up medical equipment in the homes of the elderly, and coworkers testified that he was popular with them and with those he served. He had no gang affiliation, unlike the vast majority of the inmates at Cook County Jail, where he was housed during his trial. He gave the guards no trouble, he regularly attended Bible study classes, and a Presbyterian pastor testified that he seemed to have sincere and genuine religious beliefs, that he was not carrying out a masquerade to win favor with the court.
There were two factors working against Hobley at his trial. The first was that he had slept with a woman who was not his wife, which he readily admitted to police officers who interviewed him immediately after the fire. When asked if he had any suspicions about who might be the culprit, Hobley suggested the other woman. That admission of infidelity later fueled prosecutors’ arguments that he had a motive for setting the fire himself: Hobley set the fire because he wanted to be with the other woman and could not stand the idea that his wife and son would be with some other man. This does not seem particularly logical, given that Hobley not only called attention to the liaison, he suggested that the other woman might be the arsonist. If she was the arsonist, then the woman he was allegedly in love with would end up in prison for a long time, and if she wasn’t, it would take a very forgiving woman to overlook the accusation. Hobley had left his wife for a time, but they had reconciled and were living together at the time of the fire. He testified that he heard a smoke alarm, got out of bed clad only in his briefs, pulled on some gym shorts and a T-shirt belonging to his wife, and went out of the apartment and down the hall to investigate. Once down the hall, he turned around to see a fireball coming up behind him. He ran out of the building, shoeless and coatless, and in the next few minutes lost his wife, his only child, and everything he owned. If he is a cold-blooded arsonist, he seems to have been either very poorly prepared or very unconcerned about his comfort on that winter night (a pair of shoes, even slippers, would not have raised any eyebrows). When all was said and done, however, the jury bought the prosecution’s theory about the crime.
The second factor working against Hobley was that he was arrested and interviewed by Area Two Violent Crimes detectives Robert Dwyer, James Lotito, and Daniel McWeeney. (All three officers declined to be interviewed, as did the other detectives mentioned below, with the exception of Charles Grunhard, who is dead.) At his trial Hobley testified that he was denied access to an attorney and that he never made any confession though he was suffocated with a typewriter cover, poked in the throat (Dwyer allegedly applied his thumbs to Hobley’s Adam’s apple), punched in the ribs and chest, and kicked in the groin and the shins. In court and in an interview with an OPS investigator Hobley also claimed that his handcuffs were applied extremely tightly, causing great pain in his wrists, that Dwyer called him a “skinny little nigger,” and that Lotito also made racial remarks, including one comment about blacks favoring pork chops.
The day after he allegedly received that treatment, photographs showed scrapes on his wrists and a bruise on his chest. At trial Dwyer testified that the wrist wounds were self-inflicted, caused by Hobley pulling on his handcuffs. He was never asked to explain Hobley’s chest bruise, but Hobley’s attorneys presented no proof that Hobley had sustained the injury at the police station and not in the day or two before his arrival.
Dwyer denied that any mistreatment had occurred and said that Hobley had willingly confessed, yet Dwyer seems to have been extraordinarily casual about that confession. The police were investigating a heinous crime (the murder of seven people, including a 15-month-old baby), yet he didn’t bother to save the notes indicating that Hobley had made an admission of guilt. Dwyer testified that he took notes as Hobley confessed but that the notes got wet and so he threw them away. Lotito’s notes, on the other hand, do exist, but at trial Lotito admitted that these notes do not indicate that Hobley confessed. In fact they show that he denied committing the crime.
And so there is no contemporaneous record of a confession–no notes taken by detectives, no handwritten admission of guilt from a penitent suspect, no statement typed by detectives and signed by Hobley, no formal transcription typed by a court reporter and witnessed by an assistant state’s attorney. All we have is the word of the policemen involved.
And any serious student of the Area Two cases would put little faith in the word of Dwyer, Lotito, McWeeney, and a small group of their immediate colleagues. Under oath, those detectives have told tales that appear to be contradicted by physical evidence. Consider these other Area Two cases:
The Case of Phillip Adkins
Detective Lotito participated in the arrest of Phillip Adkins on June 7, 1984. Adkins had taken part in a gas station robbery during which his brother pistol-whipped an off-duty policeman. Police arrested Adkins at his girlfriend’s apartment and picked up a pair of shorts that he had worn during the robbery. In a complaint filed with the Office of Professional Standards and in a civil suit filed in federal court, Adkins claimed that Area Two Detectives Lotito, Peter Dignan, and Ronald Boffo took him to a vacant railroad viaduct, where they beat him with nightsticks and flashlights. According to the suit he suffered multiple trauma, abrasions, and bruises to his neck, chest, head, shoulder, abdomen, back, groin, thighs, and legs. He was treated first at Roseland Hospital’s emergency room, then transferred to the trauma ward at Cook County Hospital. According to John Stainthorp, the People’s Law Office attorney who filed the civil suit, Adkins was beaten so badly that he involuntarily urinated and defecated on himself, which actually helped prove his case against the police: the detectives removed his trousers, because they couldn’t stand the smell, and then took him to Area Two, where a television news cameraman filmed his arrival wearing a pair of shorts. The police report, however, showed that when he was arrested he was wearing jeans. The detectives denied any mistreatment and Adkins was convicted, but the city settled out of court, paying Adkins $25,000.
The Case of Stanley Howard
Detectives Lotito, Dwyer, McWeeney, and Boffo and Sergeant John Byrne participated in the interrogation of Stanley Howard in November 1984, approximately three years before the arrest of Madison Hobley. Hobley and Howard had no connection to each other (Howard has a lengthy felony record, Hobley had none), yet their separate statements to OPS investigators contain remarkably similar accusations against Area Two detectives. Both men say that they were choked, beaten about their midsection, suffocated with a typewriter cover, and kicked in the legs, and that their handcuffs were applied so as to cut into their wrists. In his OPS complaint and in his amended petition for postconviction relief, Howard says he was beaten about the face and suffered a bloody nose, and that at one point Detective Lotito was told by Sergeant Byrne to “lay off the head.” Area Two detectives denied that any brutality took place and say that Howard confessed voluntarily to murder, a crime for which he now sits on death row.
Howard, however, has medical evidence that appears to back up his story. When the police arrived to arrest him, he fled. As he was running, he bumped into a fence and injured his hip. After he was caught, he complained of his injury, was taken to Roseland Community Hospital for X rays, and was then released into the custody of the police. According to his amended petition for postconviction relief, Howard was interrogated by Area Two detectives over the course of three days, then was sent to Cook County Jail, where a physician’s assistant recorded new injuries, wounds that the attending physician at Roseland has sworn were not present when he examined Howard three days earlier. Howard’s attorneys argue that the only logical explanation is that the injuries were suffered while Howard was in the custody of detectives at Area Two.
The Case of Aaron Patterson
The People’s Law Office has compiled a chart cross-referencing claims of torture at Area Two. The chart, submitted in Cook County Circuit Court in Aaron Patterson’s petition for postconviction relief, is an attempt to illustrate patterns in the torture allegations and the repeated involvement of certain policemen. Detective McWeeney’s name appears nine different times starting in February 1982.
What stands out about McWeeney, however, is not his use of violence. Stanley Howard, for example, claimed that McWeeney interrogated him at length yet never laid a hand on him. Two other men arrested by Area Two detectives accuse McWeeney of playing the role of “good cop,” the bystander who can hold off the brutes and make things go easier if the suspect will only open up and confess to him.
One of those men is Melvin Jones, who was arrested on February 5, 1982. In a 1982 hearing in Cook County Criminal Court and in a deposition he gave in 1989 in the case of Andrew Wilson v. City of Chicago, Jon Burge, et al, Jones swore that Burge gave him the electroshock treatment and that after Burge left the room, McWeeney entered. In the deposition Jones said that McWeeney told him Burge could be “a real asshole.” Not long thereafter, Burge allegedly reentered the room, cocked his gun, pointed it at Jones’s head, and threatened to pull the trigger. Jones claims that Detective McWeeney interceded, telling Burge, his commanding officer, to back off and get out of the interview room. On the witness stand and in his deposition, Jones claimed that McWeeney then said that he had a brother who worked in Springfield who could make things go lightly for Jones if he confessed, and that he might as well cooperate because two other detectives were going to plant evidence to convict him.
Aaron Patterson also portrays McWeeney in the “good cop” role. Patterson, like Madison Hobley, is scheduled to be executed, and like Hobley, may well be innocent of the crime that put him on death row. Patterson was arrested on April 30, 1986, and was eventually convicted of the murders of Rafaela and Vincent Sanchez, identified in police documents as dealers in stolen property. In his petition for postconviction relief Patterson claims that he was taken to an interview room at Area Two where detectives beat him and suffocated him twice with a typewriter cover. The petition goes on to charge that after the second suffocation Detective McWeeney entered the room, claimed he had not been involved in the prior brutality, and urged Patterson to cooperate lest the other detectives “do something serious” to him. A statement was drawn up by the police, allegedly based on Patterson’s oral statements, but he refused to sign it. No physical evidence linked Patterson to the crime scene: fingerprints lifted there did not match Patterson’s, no footprints matched his, and no eyewitness placed him there.
While left alone in one of the interview rooms at Area Two, Patterson found a paper clip on the floor and scratched messages into a steel bench and the door frame stating that the police had “suffocated me with plastic,” that he’d been slapped, and that he’d been denied a phone call, a lawyer, and contact with his father. Though Patterson is a gang member with three convictions for attempted murder, his father is a Chicago policeman. Weeks later, an investigator for the public defender’s office photographed the messages, but Circuit Court judges Arthur Cieslik and John Morrissey refused to allow the photographs or testimony about the etchings into court when Patterson contested the alleged confession and when he later went to trial.
The Case of Gregory Banks
Gregory Banks was arrested on October 28, 1983, and interrogated by Detective Charles Grunhard and the aforementioned Detective Dignan (see the Phillip Adkins case) and Sergeant Byrne (accused in the Stanley Howard case). In a hearing on a motion to suppress his confession, Banks testified that the three officers put a gun in his mouth and threatened to blow his head off, beat him with a flashlight, kicked him about the ankle and stomach, and said “We have something for niggers” and then put a plastic bag over his head, suffocating him twice, before he agreed to give a statement confessing to involvement in a murder. The statement was taken by Detective Dwyer and an assistant state’s attorney in the 31st hour of Banks’s interrogation.
When Dignan took the witness stand at that same hearing, he testified that Banks had tried to escape from the police after he had been taken to the crime scene. Dignan went on to say that he had wrestled Banks down a flight of stairs, and that afterward Banks’s handcuffs may have been applied too tightly. In regard to Banks’s specific charges of torture, Dignan said that he couldn’t recall anyone making such unusual accusations against him or Byrne before.
Banks’s attorneys countered by introducing evidence that 13 months before Banks’s arrest a suspect named Lee Holmes had accused Byrne and Dignan of precisely the same treatment–beating with a flashlight and suffocation with a plastic bag. That evidence didn’t sway the judge, however, who eventually ruled that Banks’s confession had not been tainted by physical abuse and that Holmes’s accusations could not be presented to a trial jury because they were more than a year old and therefore too remote to be admissible as evidence of the modus operandi of Dignan and Byrne.
Dignan’s recall of the alleged escape attempt grew dramatically as time passed. In his initial arrest and interrogation reports, no escape is mentioned. At the pretrial hearing Dignan remembered that trip down the stairs, and he testified that Banks had elbowed him in the face while trying to get away and that he had punched Banks twice. At the trial Dignan told two stories: when questioned by prosecutors he said he had never struck the defendant, but on cross-examination he recalled a full-fledged fistfight, with the detective delivering six or seven punches after receiving several from Banks.
The pattern of Banks’s injuries, however, seemed to contradict the escape-and-fistfight tale. Dr. Walter Romine, the Cermak Hospital physician who examined Banks when he arrived at Cook County Jail, presented the only medical evidence heard at the trial. He said that Banks had lacerations on his wrists consistent with handcuff injuries; multiple scrapes and scratches over his chest and abdomen; bruises, swelling, discoloration, and a lump on his left side; swelling and discoloration below each buttock; scratches on one ankle; and bruises on both legs. The injuries, Romine said, were consistent with having been beaten with a blunt object and not consistent with a fall down a flight of stairs, because there were no injuries to the prominent bony areas of the pelvis, spine, and skull.
The jury, denied knowledge of other allegations against Dignan and Byrne, convicted Banks. He served six years in prison before the Illinois Appellate Court overturned his conviction. The decision, delivered by Judge Dom Rizzi, excoriated lower-court judges who discounted claims of police brutality: “Trial judges must bear in mind that while we no longer see cases involving the use of the rack and thumbscrew to obtain confessions, we are seeing cases, like the present case, involving punching, kicking and placing a plastic bag over a suspect’s head to obtain confessions. . . . When trial judges do not courageously and forthrightly exercise their responsibility to suppress confessions obtained by such means, they pervert our criminal justice system as much as the few misguided law enforcement officers who obtain confessions in utter disregard of the rights guaranteed to every citizen–including criminal suspects–by our constitution. . . . Those affected are invariably the poorest, the weakest and the least educated, who are not sophisticated enough or do not have the resources to see and ensure that they are not denied the protections afforded by . . . our constitution.”
The Cook County state’s attorney declined to try Banks a second time. In August 1993 the city agreed to pay $92,500 to settle Banks’s civil suit against Dwyer, Dignan, Byrne, Grunhard, Burge, and former police superintendent LeRoy Martin.
The Case of Darrell Cannon
Dignan’s “propensity to fabricate” (as Banks’s lawyer put it in a brief to the appellate court) appears again in the case of Darrell Cannon. Cannon was arrested for murder on November 2, 1983, just five days after Banks’s arrest, and he was interrogated by the same set of Area Two detectives–Byrne (who has retired and is now a criminal defense attorney), Dignan, and Grunhard. At a hearing on a motion to suppress his confession Cannon claimed that they addressed him as “nigger,” beat him with a flashlight, pulled his pants down and applied a cattle prod to his testicles, and hung him by his handcuffs, and that Detective Dignan had placed a shotgun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. At that hearing Detective Dignan denied he had a shotgun. Cannon was ultimately convicted and was sent to the penitentiary in Pontiac, where he noticed that whenever a correctional officer checked out a shotgun or rifle from the prison armory he had to sign a log indicating that he had the weapon. Cannon wondered if the Chicago police maintained a similar log, and for his civil suit alleging torture at Area Two, he subpoenaed the Area Two logbook. That log indicated that Dignan was indeed in possession of a shotgun when Cannon was arrested. In August 1987 Dignan was deposed for Cannon’s civil suit; armed with a photocopy of the logbook entry, Cannon’s attorney asked the detective if he had a shotgun at the time of the arrest. This time Dignan said he had, and he told in great detail how he had checked it out, how he had used it during the arrest (without any mention of sticking it in Cannon’s mouth), and how he had checked it back into the Area Two arsenal.
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At the time that Dignan was giving that deposition, Cannon seemed to be a lone voice in the wilderness. His court-appointed attorney, E. Paul Lanphier, was unaware that there was a significant number of other victims who could tell similar stories. As Cannon’s trial date approached, Lanphier wrote pessimistically to his client. “I should point out to you,” Lanphier said, “that the likelihood of success in this case is almost nonexistance [sic]. The matter boils down to a question of witness creditability [sic] and with your conviction record, it is highly unlikely that a Jury will accept your version of the facts over and above the version of the Defendants.”
When the city offered a $3,000 out-of-court settlement, Lanphier advised Cannon to take it, though Cannon’s share would come to only $1,278.27 after legal fees were deducted. Cannon seethed, but on May 2, 1988, he agreed to the minuscule amount. Just three weeks later the city settled the case of Phillip Adkins, the suspect who said his soiled trousers had been removed by “interrogating” detectives, by issuing a check for $25,000. Five years later the city wrote a check for $92,000 to settle the lawsuit of Gregory Banks. Banks had been arrested five days before Cannon.
Gathered together, the Area Two cases make for repetitive reading. There have been scores of detectives who have worked at Area Two Violent Crimes in the last 20 years, yet the allegations of torture have been made against a core group of about 15 men, with other detectives appearing in single performances. Those making the allegations are not members of one family or street gang or neighborhood who might unite in some sort of conspiracy. Furthermore, the allegations are not the common language of suspects. If they were, there would be similar allegations and similar patterns in areas One, Three, Four, Five, and Six. If the torture charges were somehow being fabricated, surely McWeeney would be regularly labeled as an enthusiastic participant, as he is so often present during some portion of the arrest or interrogation; instead he appears fairly consistently as a bystander. There is even corroboration from within Area Two that the abuse was systematic and the victims were telling the truth. Shortly after the start of Andrew Wilson’s civil trial in 1989, anonymous letters in Police Department envelopes began arriving at the offices of Wilson’s attorneys alleging that Commander Burge was the leader of a group of brutal “asskickers,” that the electrical devices were his, and that the devices had been in use for many years. (The letters were included in court filings during the course of the civil suit.) The anonymous writer obviously knew a lot about the inside operations of Area Two Violent Crimes, and he or she blew the case wide open, as the letters referred Wilson’s attorneys to a man who had been tortured with electrical devices shortly before the same thing was done to Andrew Wilson, and that man led the attorneys to others, and those men to others, and so on.
So given all of this evidence, not to mention the OPS reports and the conclusions drawn by the reasonable men and women who are members of the Police Board, why do we fail to see Hobley and Patterson and the other victims as men in need of help? At least ten of the Area Two victims face the death penalty. At least nine others are serving life sentences. Furthermore, most of the detectives involved in these cases are still on the job. Why do we not recognize this situation as an emergency?
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In part, our seeming lack of concern is the result of a certain faith that we live in a society with reasonably just institutions. We trust that the media and various community groups will act as our eyes, pointing out unjust situations, and that the courts and various other governmental bodies will then respond as our heart, correcting whatever needs to be corrected. Psychologists who study social responsibility have noted that most humans have a certain trust that “experts” will sort things out. Furthermore, if those experts do not sort something out we believe there is some good reason, that they know more than we do. We carry this faith despite ample evidence that these “experts” have often failed us in the past.
The press and electronic media–this paper and writer included–who might have raised public pressure by repeatedly exposing the abuse and the small group of abusing detectives, have treated the Area Two cases as the story of an errant commander. Once that commander–Jon Burge–was dealt with, the story was seemingly finished.
Amnesty International issued a report expressing concern about the Area Two brutality in December 1990. The report had little effect, and the organization, stretched by human rights violators around the globe, has not chosen to revisit the case. The Illinois Coalition Against the Death Penalty strives to help those on death row, but they have limited resources and many clients, not to mention an unpopular position in a nation that loves the death penalty. Seth Donnelly, until recently the director of the organization, met Aaron Patterson in the course of working for the coalition and felt obligated to establish a defense committee for him. The defense committee’s entire operating budget would buy about two hours time from a downtown law firm.
In August 1989 Citizens Alert, a police accountability group, put together a coalition of more than 50 community organizations (ranging from Clergy and Laity Concerned to Queer Nation) to pressure the Police Department to pay attention to the charges against Commander Burge. Citizens Alert coordinator Mary Powers and her colleagues wore themselves out with their multiyear effort, and after Burge was dismissed they focused their energy on complaints filed by individual citizens who came to them for help and on building a national coalition of police accountability groups, all the while assuming that justice would be done in the Area Two cases without additional pressure from the public. In a recent interview, a reflective Powers characterized that assumption as “foolish,” adding that the governmental agencies involved “are never going to do anything unless the public is banging at the door demanding action.”
In 1991 various progressive Chicago aldermen expressed concern about the allegations made against Commander Burge, but none has said anything since. An independent investigating commission might have been established–something similar to the famous Knapp Commission, which explored police corruption in New York–but nothing of the sort was ever seriously discussed. The Area Two revelations did prompt some legislative action–a bill, signed by Governor Jim Edgar in 1992, not to aid victims but to shield perpetrators. The legislation established a five-year statute of limitations on administrative proceedings for police brutality. Commander Burge was brought up on disciplinary charges nine years after he tortured Andrew Wilson, and the supporters of the bill felt that was unfair.
The General Assembly’s sense of fairness has not yet extended to the likes of Madison Hobley, virtuous though he seems to be, perhaps because Stanley Howard, convicted rapist and kidnapper, lurks right behind him. It appears to be a package deal–you can’t argue that Hobley was tortured and then overlook the claims of Howard or Darrell Cannon, a gang member who has a previous murder conviction, or Aaron Patterson, with his lengthy felony record.
Someone unfamiliar with local politics might expect that an ambitious prosecutor, accustomed to working with witnesses who don’t sell easily to a jury, would have waded into the fray, trying to bring charges against the perpetrators. The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, however, has historically mounted few prosecutions of police officers for assaulting suspects. In 1992 the Tribune reported that the state’s attorney had prosecuted only two such cases in the previous decade, and ranking prosecutors in the office can cite no cases since. Although critics of State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley claim that as a former Chicago policeman he shows no enthusiasm for prosecuting brutality cases, the problem may in fact lie in the Police Department’s Office of Professional Standards. Andy Knott, O’Malley’s press officer, points out that if OPS does not refer a case to the state’s attorney’s office, prosecutors will be unlikely to know that a crime of assault has been committed. OPS received 7,700 complaints of excessive force between January 1, 1993, and October 30, 1995, but according to Knott it has forwarded no more than five cases in recent years, “none of them prosecutable.”
In an interview in October 1994, David Fogel, who was chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards from 1984 to 1990, said that he never bothered going to the state’s attorney with the cases against the Area Two detectives because he considered that avenue hopeless. He went instead to the U.S. attorney’s office, where he met with then assistant U.S. attorney Andrea Zopp. For Zopp, however, Fogel came too late. In a recent interview Zopp said that her memory of the specifics of the Area Two file has faded in the intervening years, but she recalls that she reviewed the file thoroughly, that her hands were tied by the five-year statute of limitations applied to civil rights violations, and that she decided there was no way to bring charges at that time. Fogel, as well as People’s Law Office attorney Flint Taylor, contends that a conspiracy charge might have been possible. If, for example, the perpetrators could be found to have recently covered up their role in the torture, then perhaps it could be argued that the conspiracy was ongoing and that the last act of the conspiracy fell within the statute of limitations. Zopp, who is now first assistant in the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney, agrees that that approach is sound in theory, but given what she recalls of the available evidence and witnesses, she says that mounting a conspiracy prosecution would have been “a stretch” of the law.
Fogel says that when he realized the U.S. attorney would not prosecute, he ordered OPS investigators Sanders and Goldston to embark on their separate studies. Fogel resigned before those reports were complete. Gayle Shines, who succeeded Fogel, stood firmly behind the Goldston and Sanders reports, praising them as “masterful,” and in late 1992, at the request of Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez, she began a review of the cases mentioned in Goldston’s report. Today, three years after the superintendent’s request, Goldston cases remain open and no charges have been sustained against anyone in the Area Two gang. In a recent tape-recorded interview, Shines attributed the delay to the fact that obtaining old court records and reviewing them takes some time. (Defense lawyers, however, indicate that most transcripts are available in weeks, and only on rare occasions do they take even a few months.) Shines later added that interviewing witnesses is also time-consuming, but given that many of the complainants are in prison, making them eminently available, and that many of the policemen are still on duty, making them seemingly available, it is hard to imagine why it would take three years to track the witnesses down and interview them. One Area Two victim, for example, reports that he was reinterviewed in 1993, that copies of all of the legal documents pertaining to his case are in his possession, and that his case still remains open.
Shines could not recall having referred any cases to the U.S. attorney’s office for prosecution, and she declined to say whether she has referred any to the state’s attorney’s office in recent years. She did say she could not name a single case that she had referred to the state’s attorney that he had then prosecuted.
It is not clear, however, that even an enthusiastic and successful prosecution of the entire Burge gang by OPS or state or federal prosecutors would make much difference to Hobley and the other victims. Successful prosecutions would leave the victims better able to argue that their confessions had been forcibly attained, but there would be no guarantee that a judge would listen. In societies where torture has been systematic, the judiciary has almost always been far more likely to side with the torturers than with the victims, and that has been the case here.
One explanation for those judicial sympathies is that it is not easy to put together a strong case against a torturer, as torture usually occurs in closed rooms and often leaves no physical marks on the victim. Commander Burge, for example, would probably be on the force today had he not moved the clips on his electrical device from Andrew Wilson’s fingertips to his earlobes. When photographs were taken of Wilson after his arrival at Cook County Jail his fingers showed no marks, but his ears were marked by a pattern of scabs so distinctive that he appeared to have been bitten by a miniature alligator.
A more common explanation for a judiciary’s sympathies lies in the fact that in societies where torture occurs the tortured class is usually not held in much respect; the victims are rarely the pillars of the community but rather its agitators, its poor, its heretics, and those viewed as a threat to the society at large. Torturers, on the other hand, often represent popular belief. It is not unusual for them to come from the ranks of honored military men who have served their country in time of need. (The officers involved in the Area Two cases are not atypical: Jon Burge was a Vietnam veteran decorated for heroism, and his Police Department personnel file was full of commendations. Peter Dignan, the Area Two detective whose memory seems so fluid, is now a sergeant in Narcotics and was recently honored by the National Association of Police Organizations as “one of the nation’s finest law enforcement heroes.” The award was for Dignan’s role in a drug raid in October 1994, when he risked his life to pull a wounded colleague to safety and then shot the gunman dead.) A judge or jury choosing between an erect and courageous torturer and an unpopular victim often has an easier time identifying with the torturer.
The willing blindness of the local judiciary is well illustrated by the case of Madison Hobley, though the cases of several other Area Two victims could serve equally well. Hobley’s trial attorneys, public defenders Julie Harmon and Jeffrey Howard, tried to get complete access to the Police Department’s brutality records on detectives Dwyer, Lotito, and McWeeney. Judge Christy Berkos denied them that access. It was sheer coincidence that Hobley’s attorneys knew Detective Lotito had been accused of giving defendant Stanley Howard a working over three years earlier. They tried to introduce the accusation in Hobley’s defense, to buttress their client’s claim that he had been tortured by the police, but Judge Berkos refused to allow them to mention the incident. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court accepted the denials of brutality by detectives Dwyer, Lotito, and McWeeney as fact. The high-court judges went on to rule that Judge Berkos had made no mistake in refusing to allow Hobley’s attorneys to introduce the Stanley Howard allegations, arguing that the case against the detective had occurred three years prior to Hobley’s arrest and that this time period made it too remote to be relevant.
Ironically, the case law cited by the Supreme Court in making that decision included People v. Banks, the case (cited above) in which appellate court judge Dom Rizzi denounced lower-court judges for perverting justice in ignoring evidence of torture. Rizzi and his fellow judges had ruled that Banks’s attorneys should have been allowed to introduce evidence that another suspect had been abused by the same Area Two detectives in a similar manner 13 months before their client was arrested. In ruling on Hobley’s appeal, the judges of the Illinois Supreme Court looked at Judge Rizzi’s ruling in the Banks case and did not see a pattern of abuse by Area Two detectives, did not prick up their ears at the coincidence of both Hobley and Banks alleging suffocation in the same police station by detectives from the same unit, did not even seem to notice that Detective Dwyer was involved in both cases. What the Supreme Court saw in the Banks ruling was a 13-month gap between brutality incidents. The Supreme Court decided that a 13-month gap made Banks’s torture allegations relevant, while Hobley’s allegations, separated by 38 months, were “much more remote than in Banks” and could therefore be ignored.
No doubt it would be easier for the judiciary to acknowledge the systematic abuse found by OPS investigator Goldston if more immediate bystanders had stepped forward and testified. It may be that racism has been a factor in the silence of the Area Two detectives who were aware of the brutality but never participated in it. The vast majority of Chicago police detectives are white, and 49 of the 50 victims named by Goldston were black. The police bystanders, however, are perhaps equally likely to be motivated by fear. The police officer who wrote the anonymous letters about “Burge’s asskickers” indicated that his or her great fear was of being “shunned like Officer Laverty.” In 1982, in a case in which a young man named George Jones faced the death penalty, Area Two detective Frank Laverty testified that Jones’s arrest had been the result of mistaken identity. Laverty said he had written a memo stating precisely that and naming the man he thought was the real culprit, and he said the other detectives involved in the case were well aware of the contents of that memo. Laverty’s commanding officer admitted that he had locked the memo in his desk. In the wake of Laverty’s testimony, the judge dismissed the charges against Jones, saying that the other detectives’ behavior in the case “borders on deliberate misconduct.” The Police Department’s Internal Affairs Division subsequently conducted an investigation, not of the detectives whose behavior the judge had excoriated, but of Laverty. In a civil suit that came to trial in 1987, Jones was awarded $801,000 in damages. Laverty, however, fared not so well. He was shunned at Area Two, requested a transfer, and was assigned to police headquarters, where he was given the job of watching police recruits give urine samples.
The Area Two cases illustrate the interdependence of us all. The judiciary might have been less blind if a single policeman had come forward. A policeman might have come forward if pressure had been brought by prosecutors. Prosecutors and politicians might have shown more interest if the media were on the case. The media might have been on the case if the public had demonstrated significant outrage or if individual reporters had felt some kinship with the victims. The end result is that the Area Two victims have been almost entirely dependent upon their attorneys, often public defenders with tremendous caseloads who have no centralized, up-to-date data bank from which they might call up a list of brutality cases involving a particular policeman and who may have no idea of the patterns at Area Two, or who may know of those patterns but be prevented from introducing it into evidence by judges who don’t want to hear it.
The legal community as a whole has been strangely unresponsive. The list put together by Flint Taylor and his colleagues at the People’s Law Office was not the result of 58 phone calls from other defense attorneys, public defenders, and former assistant state’s attorneys, each recalling an Area Two case they had handled in the past. Taylor’s list has grown largely because the victim he was led to by the anonymous police officer knew of two other electric shock victims, and those men knew of still others, and eventually word traveled around various jailhouses that Taylor and his colleagues were trying to document torture at Area Two. The People’s Law Office was then able to track the victims down, locate their lawyers, and pull court records in which some of the men described what they had been through. The legal community, with a few exceptions, was of no help at all and has demonstrated extraordinarily little concern.
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The study of why people fail to respond to emergencies has been of particular interest to social psychologists since that failure was so graphically illustrated by the murder of 28-year-old Kitty Genovese on March 13, 1964, in Queens, New York. The Genovese murder was witnessed by 38 of her neighbors. During the 30 minutes that it took the killer to complete his act, not one of those 38 people called the police or came to the young woman’s aid.
In response to that incident, psychologist John Darley, one of the designers of the Good Samaritan experiment, and his colleague Bibb Latane hypothesized that the greater the number of people who witness an emergency is the less likely it is that anyone will do anything about it. The two psychologists then launched a series of experiments to test their hypothesis.
In one experiment, New York University students were seated alone in a small room, having been told that they were part of a group of students, all in similar rooms, all connected by microphones and headsets. During the course of a discussion about the pressures that students faced, the subjects heard one student–actually a confederate of the experimenters–confess that he was prone to seizures when tense. A few minutes later, subjects heard that same student break down and plead for help. The subjects had been led to believe that no instructor would be monitoring their conversation, so no one hearing the seizure was clearly in charge.
In their article on the experiment, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1968, volume 8, number 4) Darley and Latane reproduced a portion of the victim’s speech, the ending of which went as follows: “I–er–if somebody could help me out it would–it would–er–er s-s-sure be–sure be good . . . because–er–there–er–er–a cause I–er–I–uh–I’ve got a-a one of the–er–sei–er–er things coming on and-and-and I could really–er–use some help so if somebody would–er–give me a little h-help–uh–er–er–er–er–er c-could somebody er–er–help, er–uh-uh-uh [choking sounds]. . . . I’m gonna die–er–er–I’m . . . gonna die–er–help–er–er–seizure–er– . . . [chokes, then quiet].”
The experiment was designed so that the subjects believed they could not communicate directly with each other–all believed that their microphones were turned off when it was not their turn to speak. Some subjects believed that they were part of a two-person group, and that therefore they alone had heard the young man’s seizure. Other subjects believed that one other student had heard the victim’s pleas (a three-person group), and still others thought that four other people had listened to the breakdown (a six-person group). The dependent variable was the time elapsed from the start of the victim’s fit until the subject sought help. If six minutes passed after the end of the fit and the subject had not left his or her room, the experimenter entered the room and terminated the session.
Darley and Latane’s theory about bystanders proved to be correct. All of the subjects who thought they alone had heard the victim’s seizure tried to get help, most leaving their rooms before the victim had even finished his speech. Eighty percent of those in the three-person groups sought help, albeit a little more slowly than those in the two-person groups. But only 62 percent of those in the six-person groups left their rooms, and they moved at a considerably slower pace (while 50 percent of the single bystanders had bolted from the room within 45 seconds of the start of the seizure, none of the people in the six-person groups reached the door that quickly). Males and females responded to the emergency with almost exactly the same frequency and speed.
Surprisingly, Darley and Latane did not find that the subjects who stayed in their seats were apathetic or unconcerned; in fact, those who did not respond to the emergency seemed more upset than those who did, often asking the experimenter who entered their rooms if the victim was all right. The two psychologists concluded that nonintervening subjects had not responded because they were mired in a state of indecision and internal conflict: “On the one hand, subjects worried about the guilt and shame they would feel if they did not help the person in distress. On the other hand, they were concerned not to make fools of themselves by overreacting, not to ruin the ongoing experiment by leaving their intercom, and not to destroy the anonymous nature of the situation which the experimenter had earlier stressed as important. . . . Caught between the two negative alternatives of letting the victim continue to suffer or the costs of rushing in to help, the nonresponding bystanders vacillated between them rather than choosing not to respond. This distinction may be academic for the victim, since he got no help in either case, but it is an extremely important one for arriving at an understanding of the causes of bystanders’ failures to help.”
Darley and Latane concluded that individuals are not “noninterveners” because of some flaw in their personalities, but rather because responsibility was diffused. As in the murder of Kitty Genovese, isolated individuals, knowing that others were also aware of the emergency but not knowing how those others were responding, did not attempt to intervene because they did not feel personally responsible.
Darley and Latane wondered if the results would have been different if those individuals were not isolated, if they could talk to other bystanders. A layman might imagine that when a group of strangers are able to talk to each other about an emergency they would be more likely to arrive at a decisive course of action–the old notion that two or three or six heads are better than one. Darley and Latane, however, suspected that the opposite might be true.
To test their beliefs, they established a situation in which varying numbers of male Columbia University students filled out forms in a room that slowly filled with smoke. The students were witnessing a potential emergency that threatened themselves as well as others. It was not a subtle process–many of the subjects noticed the smoke within five seconds of its introduction, and after four minutes subjects were coughing, rubbing their eyes, and attempting to open the window. At six minutes, when the experiment was terminated if no one had bothered to seek help, vision was obscured by the amount of smoke in the room.
In their sample of students, three out of four of those tested alone reported the smoke, but only one out of eight students who were tested in groups of three saw fit to report the emergency.
In their accounts of the experiment, which appeared in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1968, volume 10, number 3) and Psychology Today (December 1968), Darley and Latane wrote that when the subjects who reported the smoke were debriefed after the experiment they often mentioned that they had considered the possibility that the building was on fire. By contrast, those who sat through the six minutes without moving came up with an astonishing variety of alternative explanations for the smoke, none of which mentioned the word fire. Two students from different groups actually suggested that the smoke was a truth gas deployed to induce them to answer the questionnaire accurately. (Darley and Latane reported that the two who offered this explanation did not seem in the least disturbed by it.) In essence, the inactive bystanders were concocting reasons why they should be absolved for their inaction.
The two psychologists concluded that individuals are less likely to engage in socially responsible action if they think other bystanders are present. “If each member of a group of bystanders is aware that other people are also present, he will be less likely to notice the emergency, less likely to decide that it is an emergency, and less likely to act even if he thinks there is an emergency.”
Darley and Latane’s experiments and others inspired by the Genovese murder have led psychologists to conclude that people tend to look to others to define events. Someone who sees something that may be an emergency looks to see if other witnesses are also alarmed. If everyone seems calm or indifferent, the observer often concludes that no emergency is taking place. The group defines the event, and most people follow spoken and unspoken norms of the group and are unwilling to risk the embarrassment of overreacting in public. Furthermore, even if people recognize that they are witnessing an event in which help is called for, they remain unsure as to who is responsible to provide that help–in a group of strangers there is no captain. Responsibility is therefore diffused, and so is the guilt felt by those who do nothing.
So if the public is not enraged that people may have been tortured, no politician is going to feel moved to sound the alarm, particularly if it means taking on the police, a potent political force. If the public and local politicians are not concerned, it is the rare editorial-page writer who will singlehandedly raise a hue and cry. If prosecutors see nothing in the newspapers about torture in police stations, they can feel comfortable in doing nothing. If judges never see a cop prosecuted for brutality, they can comfortably assume that brutality does not exist.
* * *
Social psychologists also explain the passivity of human beings in the face of emergencies by citing the human tendency to believe that there is some order to the universe, that the guilty are punished and the innocent are rewarded. Various studies indicate that most of us are given to “just world thinking,” and that we will rearrange our perception of people and events so that it seems as though everyone gets what they deserve. Upon seeing an innocent person punished, for example, most people will adjust their interpretation of what they have witnessed: the person being punished “must have done something,” must somehow be inferior or dangerous or evil, or must be suffering because some higher cause is being served.
In an experiment conducted by psychologists Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons in 1966, for example, 72 female undergraduates watched a peer receive severe and painful electric shocks when she gave wrong answers to questions put to her. (The “victim” was in league with the experimenters and was not actually shocked.) When the observers could control the fate of the victim so that the shocks stopped and she was compensated, they described her in much more positive terms than observers who believed that they had no control over the experiment and that their colleague was going to continue to suffer. Those who believed the suffering was unstoppable devalued the victim so that they could justify what they had witnessed.
And the Area Two victims are easily devalued. Many are gang members with extensive police records. Those who are not are tainted by their association with those who are, though that association was established not by anything they did but by what was done to them–“If they were tortured, they must have been guilty because look who else was tortured.”
Psychologists are also quick to point out that helping often conflicts with norms or rules of appropriate behavior. A man escorting a woman to a dark place in a park could seem like a cause for alarm, but it is considered perverse and impolite to follow a couple into the bushes. Speaking out for a man unjustly imprisoned sounds noble in the abstract, but someone who champions the cause of a rapist unjustly imprisoned for murder–the case of Stanley Howard comes to mind–can expect few pats on the back. And yet not speaking out for a Stanley Howard gives the police complete license. The police become God.
* * *
If Hobley and Patterson and the other Area Two victims cannot rely on experts, and if the millions of people who are aware of the torture assume others are in charge and therefore do nothing, and if seminarians thinking about the Good Samaritan can walk past an injured man, what hope is there? Who does help?
One small study of people who helped Jews during the Holocaust (described by Perry London in his article “The Rescuers: Motivational Hypotheses About Christians Who Saved Jews From the Nazis,” from the 1970 book Altruism and Helping Behavior) found evidence that altruistic behavior was related to three personality traits–a spirit of adventurousness, an intense identification with a parent who set a high standard of moral conduct, and a sense of being socially marginal. In London’s small sample, the spirit of adventurousness was perhaps best exemplified by a man whose prewar hobby was to race motorcycles on courses that required driving over narrow boards that spanned deep ditches; once the war began, that same man and his friends got a kick out of putting sugar in the gas tanks of German army vehicles. The identification with a parent with high moral standards was prominent in the case of a Seventh Day Adventist minister from the Netherlands whose father had gone to jail for his beliefs. The minister described himself as mildly anti-Semitic, but during the war he organized a large-scale operation for rescuing Jews, believing simply that it was a Christian’s duty. That minister, who belonged to a religious group with an extremely small number of followers in Holland, was also cited as an example of what the researchers called social marginality–a social separateness, a feeling of being an outsider, that seemed to allow the rescuers to have less fear about losing their attachment to the majority group. One highly effective German rescuer, also part of London’s sample, had been a stutterer as a child and in an interview confessed that he had always felt friendless. The villagers of Le Chambon, who saved thousands of Jews during the war, also had a certain social marginality. They were Huguenots in overwhelmingly Catholic France.
Amherst professor Ervin Staub, perhaps the world’s foremost authority on bystanders, staged his own experiments designed to identify the qualities of those who helped. In one of those experiments, described in “Helping a Distressed Person: Social, Personality, and Stimulus Determinants” (a chapter in the 1974 book Advances in Experimental Social Psychology), male undergraduates filling out a questionnaire became aware of moaning coming from the next room. Some of the students believed they were working on a timed task, while others had been given no directions concerning time. If the student went into the room to discover the source of the noise, he found another male undergraduate complaining that his stomach was “killing him” and that he had run out of pills. If the subject did not investigate the noise, the allegedly ill confederate eventually entered the testing room, mentioned his ailment and his lack of pills, and asked if he could sit on a couch nearby. Some of those who helped were so enthusiastic that they decided not to wait for an elevator but to run down 12 flights of stairs to get to a nearby pharmacy, and one student was so fast that the experimenters didn’t catch up with him until he actually got to the drugstore. Those helpers, however, were a minority. In the sample of 122 students, 73 percent did little or nothing.
Unlike experiments conducted by other psychologists, Staub’s found that personality was strongly related to helping behavior in this particular test. Subjects who valued cleanliness highly were generally less helpful. Staub concluded from this that college students “who endorse cleanliness may be highly conventional, and conventional values seem to be different from concern for others.” Students who ranked the value ambition highly were less willing to interrupt their work on the assigned task for longer periods of time (Staub believed that the more ambitious may have experienced more conflict in determining a course of action). Those whose personality profiles showed a significant prosocial orientation were more likely to help, but only when the circumstances permitted it: those who believed they were working on a timed task were less responsive than those who were unconcerned about the passage of time. Subjects who valued courage highly were more apt to initiate action in response to the moans, those who were taken with adventure and novel experiences seemed more likely to initiate help, and those who valued helpfulness tended to be more responsive when they were asked to fill a prescription.
In his 1989 book The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence Staub argues that helping is infectious, that helpful bystanders, if they are not devalued by the perpetrators and inactive bystanders, break the uniformity of views, affirm the humanity of the victims, and call attention to values disregarded by perpetrators and passive bystanders. Staub points out that the villagers of Le Chambon seem to have had a profound effect on the Vichy police charged with rounding up the Jews–anonymous callers believed to be policemen warned the local pastor of impending raids.
But that infection seems unlikely to spread here in Illinois. Those who rescued Jews during the Holocaust were often personally approached by someone in dire need, and the same can be said of those who helped the student in pain in Staub’s experiment. Hobley, Patterson, Cannon, and other Area Two prisoners are unable to knock on anyone’s door. Staub has determined that if it is easy to escape without helping most people will escape, and there is no man slumped in our path here making escape difficult. Furthermore, millions of us know about these torture victims, which means responsibility is diffused, and as citizens of Illinois we are now accustomed to doing harm to prisoners. The state has executed seven men in recent years, and now the procedure attracts no great notice. In The Roots of Evil, Staub argues that “as the destruction process evolves, harming victims can become “normal’ behavior. Inhibitions against harming or killing diminish.” He goes on to cite studies that indicate that the closer people are to a goal, the stronger is their motivation to reach it and the more difficult it is to give it up. “Combined with personal and societal changes,” Staub says, “this explains why Germans, while losing the war, diverted substantial resources for the continued killing of Jews.”
For Hobley and the other Area Two prisoners on death row, then, there can be little hope. Perhaps a few will get lucky and find themselves or their lawyers in the courtroom of some judge like the appellate court’s Dom Rizzi, who delivered the Banks decision; more likely, however, they will find themselves facing the likes of the judges now serving on the Illinois Supreme Court. In all likelihood, Hobley and the others on death row will be executed with the enthusiastic and uninformed consent of the citizens of Illinois.
Winston Moseley, the man who killed Kitty Genovese 31 years ago, knew that he was being watched by her neighbors. Police asked him how he dared to continue, given the risk that someone would intervene. “I knew they wouldn’t do anything,” he reportedly said. “People never do.”
John Conroy’s E-mail address is email@example.com.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Will Northerner.