Sunday, June 5, 2016

Striking Similarities between the infamous Kitty Genovese Case and the Story of Rick Wershe, Jr.

For the past 62 weeks Informant America has chronicled the epic injustice of the life prison sentence for Richard J. Wershe, Jr., alias, White Boy Rick. Regular readers know this blog has exposed the law enforcement/prosecution lies and half-truths that have cost a man his entire adult life. Wershe was sentenced to life in prison for dealing drugs as a teenager but his biggest sin is that he helped the FBI prosecute drug corruption among politically powerful blacks in Detroit. The Black Caucus has fought back by doing everything possible to keep Wershe in prison until he dies. Wershe is white. Many, including Wershe himself, believe if he was black he would be out of prison by now. It can be argued that his plight makes the case that racism can be black, too.

After this post, Informant America is going to an every-other-week schedule. It is hoped that regular readers and supporters of Rick Wershe will continue to read about this continuing injustice. It is a way to keep his story alive as his fight for freedom continues.

Kitty Genovese - a victim of a murder that shocked the nation and the world (Photo: Witness documentary)

Fifty-two years ago a young woman named Kitty Genovese was brutally murdered in the Kew Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York, one of New York City’s five boroughs or major sections. A psychopathic stalker who liked to rape, then murder women had set his sights on Kitty Genovese as she drove home late one night from her job at a nearby bar. At first the killing rated nothing more than a “brief” buried in the March 14th, 1964 New York Times.

But famed New York Times editor Abe Rosenthal heard more about the case over lunch with the New York Police Commissioner. Rosenthal ordered an investigation that led to a front-page story on March 27, 1964 that has resonated for decades in the annals of crime as a tale of citizen apathy as a woman begging for help was murdered.

The New York Times did an investigation that was sensational--and wrong.

The Times headline read, “37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call Police.” The stabbing death of Kitty Genovese was horrific, lasting over half an hour. The murderer, Winston Moseley, "...had been cruising the streets in his white Corvair, searching for a woman to mutilate," according to the Times. Moseley, it turned out, had killed before.

The late Winston Moseley - he stalked, mutilated, raped and murdered women, including Kitty Genovese.

Moseley rushed Kitty Genovese as she tried to make it from her car to her apartment building. He stabbed her in the back. She screamed for help. The Times reported the neighbors did nothing except for one neighbor who yelled out a window to leave her alone. Moseley ran back to his car and simply changed hats. Then he went looking for Kitty Genovese to finish what he started. She had staggered to the rear vestibule of her apartment building where Moseley began stabbing her again and again amid blood curdling screams as she begged for someone to intervene. As she was bleeding to death, he raped her. The New York Times said 38 people in all heard the dying woman’s screams for help but did nothing.

It was an outrageous crime story that gripped the nation and much of the world. There was just one problem: it wasn’t true.

The New York Times was guilty of the shoddiest type of fact-deficient yellow tabloid journalism but it didn’t matter. The police had done a poor job of canvassing the neighborhood and getting the real story—a case of incompetent police work passed along to the New York Times as fact—but it didn’t matter.

The notion of mass indifference to fatal human suffering within earshot was a story line that was irresistible. The competing newspapers, the TV networks, national news magazines—no one did any fact checking. After all, the story was in the mighty (some would say mighty arrogant) New York Times, the nation’s “newspaper of record.” The media competition, in classic herd journalism fashion, basically plagiarized the New York Times piece and perpetuated sloppy reporting again and again and again. Newspapers and TV stations around the country and across the world told the story as they found it in the Times. An entire neighborhood was stained with a reputation for cowardice and indifference to unspeakable violence in their midst. It wasn’t true. But it became legend. The false legend has lived on for decades.

Winston Moseley in a prison photo. He died earlier this year.

Winston Moseley was eventually arrested, tried and convicted for the murder of Kitty Genovese. Moseley died in prison earlier this year at age 81. But the other victims remained. There were the three dozen-plus people the New York Times had singled out for shame and there was Kitty Genovese’s family. Her youngest brother, William, was consumed with what had happened. Determined after her murder to fight apathy in all its forms, William Genovese joined the Marines and fought in Vietnam where he lost both his legs.

When he returned from the war, William Genovese made it his life mission to find the full truth about his sister’s murder. He tracked down his sister’s neighbors, one by one and interviewed them with the help of documentary producer James Solomon. It has taken Bill Genovese 10 years to get the story but in the process he has produced Witness, a stunning kick-in-the-gut documentary that is now showing in selected theaters around the country and receiving strong reviews.

William Genovese-murder victim's brother spent 10 years pursing the truth about the killing. He found the media-fueled legend of his sister's death was false and riddled with inaccuracies. (Photo: Wtiness documentary.)

Witness exposes the truth about the Kitty Genovese murder. The truth is that some of the neighbors did try to help, some neighbors did shout at the killer and try to scare him away, some neighbors did call the police and one neighbor, a woman who was one of Kitty Genovese’s friends, did run to her and cradled her as she lay dying.

In a recent interview with National Public Radio (NPR), the documentary producer, James Solomon, said: "The film is, in many respects, about false narratives and the impact of false narratives on our lives, how we hold stories, real or imagined, and they shape our lives. The Times story is a - the original Times story is a deeply flawed narrative..."

Which brings us to the story of the life prison sentence imposed on Richard J. Wershe, Jr.—White Boy Rick.  Wershe and his friends understandably don’t like that media-bestowed nickname. 

In a well-intentioned mind-set they try to purge it from stories about Rick Wershe. But it helps to remember this slur on his name is a large part of the reason he is still in prison after 28 years, after everyone else in Michigan charged with a major non-violent drug crime when they were teen-agers, has been released, except Rick Wershe.

Richard J. Wershe, Jr. was never known on the streets as White Boy Rick. It’s true he knew many of Detroit’s major dope dealers from the 1980s thanks to his work as a paid undercover informant for the FBI. He was paid to get around. But the dopers knew him as Ricky. Just Ricky.

As explained in previous posts, the FBI quit using Rick as an informant after they got what they needed to the indict and prosecute the Curry Brothers drug organization. He had dropped out of school with no parental supervision to work full-time as a junior G-man. 

When the paid informant work stopped Wershe turned to the only trade he knew; the one law enforcement taught him. He tried to become a wholesale-level cocaine dealer.

A unit of the Detroit Police Narcotics section, a team that fancied itself the “No Crack Crew”, set its sights on Wershe at the same time they were helping the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) develop a case against the Chamber Brothers, a Detroit drug enterprise that truly was operating at the “kingpin” level.

WXYZ-TV, Channel 7 reporter Chris Hansen was embedded with (some critics say he was in bed with) the No Crack Crew before the term embedded journalist was popularized in the second Iraq war.

In July, 1987, Hansen aired a series of crowd-pleasing, ratings-busting investigative reports on the Chambers Brothers gang, aided in no small part by home videos the gang had taken of themselves bragging about their drug profits. The videos had been seized by the No Crack Crew and shared with Hansen as a reward for months of loyal service as a de facto PR man for the cop crew, documenting countless drug raids and kicked-in doors, which made for great television and a mesmerized audience.

The last of five TV reports on the Chambers drug organization featured a twist; a young white kid who was supposedly their supplier. He was identified as “White Boy Rick” a nickname the cops picked up from a true drug wholesaler who had two “Ricks” as customers and called one, who was black, Maserati Rick for the car he drove, and the other as White Boy Rick, because, well, he was white.

The evidence that Wershe ever provided the Chambers Brothers with more than a kilo or two of cocaine ranges from thin to non-existent. But by making him the finale of a series of reports on the Chambers Brothers, Wershe was to be forever linked in the minds of viewers, judges and parole board members as a supplier “kingpin” and “drug lord.” One local judge, so impressed with the sensational media coverage of Wershe, blurted out in court that he may look like Baby Face Nelson (an old-time gangster) but as far as the judge was concerned he (Wershe) was worse than a mass-murderer.

The No Crack Crew did nothing to correct the media smear of Rick Wershe. Yeah, he was another drug dealer wannabe, but he never was a Godfather of Detroit’s dope underworld. 
But the No Crack Crew basked in the glow that was cast by catching and prosecuting such a major desperado.

As Roy Grisson, one of Wershe’s black street friends from that era observes, the notion that this white teenager who couldn’t even grow a decent moustache was giving orders and calling the shots to a bunch of street-and-prison hardened adult black dope dealers doesn’t even pass the common sense test.

But that didn’t trouble Detroit’s Channel 7, the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit News and every other local news organization. Like the Kitty Genovese lie, they picked up the White Boy Rick myth and ran with it. Over and over and over. There was competition to see who could find the most stunning White Boy Rick story. Never mind that the legend wasn’t true. Like the Kitty Genovese tale, the White Boy Rick saga took on a life of its own. And the White Boy Rick legend continues to haunt him to this day.

I was recently in Detroit to do more research on the White Boy Rick story for a book I am writing. I was struck over and over by the fact many people I encountered had no idea who Richard Wershe, Jr. is. But their eyes lit up with recognition when I mentioned White Boy Rick.

The lawyers can argue about which case law applies to his situation, blah, blah, blah. The truth is, no one in the criminal justice system, not judges, not prosecutors, not Parole Board members, not the Governor of the State of Michigan, wants to be the one to stick his or her neck out to give a parole to a legend known as White Boy Rick.

  • Like the Kitty Genovese case, the legend of White Boy Rick is false. 
  • Like the Kitty Genovese case, the police in the Rick Wershe case didn't get the facts straight.
  • Like the Kitty Genovese case, the Detroit news media swallowed the police line about White Boy Rick whole without doing any fact checking.
  • Like the neighbors in the Kitty Genovese case, Rick Wershe was smeared by sloppy police work and sloppy reporting.
  • Like the Kitty Genovese case, the tale of White Boy Rick quickly became an urban crime legend.
  • Like the Kitty Genovese case, it has taken years to expose the truth about White Boy Rick.  

They are very different stories but both are modern tragedies. The ordeal of Kitty Genovese is over. The ordeal of Richard Wershe, Jr. continues.   


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