One would suppose this a superfluous operation in this city. We have a metropolitan average of murder, and robbery on the streets in almost a nightly occurrence; nor are the actual criminals so certain to be arrested, that, the police need be looking around for new ones, to keep their hands in. Yet by the police reports In our city papers, it would seem that we have a process for making criminals, in full operation here. The mode is shown in the case of William Prince, reported in our paper yesterday. He Was arrested some time ago as a reputed notorious thief, on the charge of vagrancy.
This vagrant act, we will remark, is simply an act by which unlimited discretion is given to the Police Court of this city to arrest persons and send them to jail. One of the things that constitute vagrancy by this act, Is thus recited--"Persons who can not give a satisfactory account of themselves." The rest is equally loose. What is satisfactory account? How many are there who can give a satisfactory account of themselves, either to themselves or to anybody else? What kind of a country is it where unoffending persons can be arrested and taken before a Police Court and required to give a satisfactory account of themselves, to the average style of judges that the people and Providence place in that position? This act introduces the customs of a Turkish Cadi into what is supposed to be a civilized country, a country of institutions and laws, and where there la a tradition that no person shall be deprived of liberty or property without due process of law. The law is a disgrace to a civilized community; albeit, one or two respectable gentlemen from this city helped to pass it; but many respectable gentlemen become insane when making provision to punish crime.
The act has not the first principle of law in it. It was probably not intended to be enforced, but was, like much of the moral legislation which occupies so much of the time of our General Assembly, every session, intended to be a dead letter. But the effect is, to put unlimited discretion in regard to arresting and imprisoning persons in the power of our police and Police Court.
No charge was substantiated against Prince; therefore, in the aye of the law, and in all human probability, he was innocent. The charge, vagrancy, on which he was arrested, is in the act totally indefinite, and the reputation of "reputed notorious thief," was probably raised to sustain the charge of vagrancy, thus trying to create a crime out of two indefinite and unsubstantiated charges.
Prince was discharged. Whether his likeness was then taken for the Rogue's Gallery, we do not learn precisely from the report. We presume it was, as that is an important part of the process for making criminals. Last Wednesday he was arrested again on the same charge, and, of course, having been once before arrested as a reputed thief, and had his likeness hung up in the Rogue's Gallery, he had now become a reputed thief, and it was stated against him that his likeness was in the city portrait gallery.
Not a particle of evidence seems to have been given against him, except his repeated arrests, "reputed" reputation and likeness. He proved that he was formerly engaged in business here, and that since his former arrest he had been to another city in search of employment, had failed to procure it, and returned, borrowing money to pay his expenses. He claimed, nor was it proven to the contrary, that he had been in no bad company, except the police, nor in tippling shops, and demanded proof of any charge against him.
But this was not "a satisfactory account of himself" to the Judge of the Police Court. He had been in the company of the Mayor's police--there was no getting around that. So the judge sentenced him to ten days in the City Prison, so as to make the evidence doubly sure next time. By this ingenious process, a man, innocent in the eye of the law, and keeping good company, except the police, and that was thrust upon him, is manufactured into a criminal. It will be contrary to human nature if he is not a full blown one from this time.
The case of Jackson, on the same day, seems to be of a similar class. He was arrested as a common thief, his valise broken open and contents scattered, and a gold watch seized as stolen property. It it stated that after this abuse of his property, and after detention for some time, upon consultation between the officers, Mayor and Prosecuting Attorney, he was allowed to depart on paying the costs. Why should he be discharged if guilty? If not guilty, why compelled to pay costs? We lay compelled, for the man might have been as innocent as Moses, and yet the Judge could send him to prison for not giving a satisfactory account of himself. He had Prince's example before his eyes, and of course would be glad to escape from the clutches of our justice by payment of costs.
Another way of manufacturing criminals is to seize them on suspicion, search their persons and effects, and if nothing suspicious can be found against them, and if the officer can find a weapon on them, he will bring them before the Court under the law against carrying concealed weapons. Thus one outrage is made a cover for another outrage. The right to bear arms can not be taken away by law. Almost nightly persons are knocked down and robbed in our streets, with occasionally a murder to vary the monotony. Occasionally a gang of roughs sally out in the streets, and refresh themselves by knocking down every person that comes along. It is the duty, as well as the right of every man whose business brings him on the street in the night, to carry arms. This right includes the right and duty to shoot down any policeman who should infringe on it. The law was never intended to be enforced, but it only a freak of legislative idiocy. Yet this miserable folly is made one of the covers for violating the right of persons and property.
It it often quoted, at a legal maxim, that it is better that ninety-nine guilty persons should escape than that out innocent person should suffer legal penalty. We doubt if this is any longer a safe maxim. Certainly this rule, or one allowing a far greater margin for Innocent persons to suffer, would wipe out our whole police department and Court. It must be changed to suit our progress. The rule must be that everybody shall be presumed to be a reputed thief, and shall have his likeness hung up in the rogues' gallery, that some of the guilty may be included.
- Cincinnati Daily Press., July 21, 1860. Vol. III, No. 146. Pg. 2