THE EPIDEMIC OF HIGHWAY ROBBERY.The boldness of the footpads now infesting the towns and cities of the State calls for special vigilance on the part of the police and great watchfulness by citizens who have to traverse remote streets late at night. The exceeding number of highway robberies in the last few days proves that there is an idle and criminal gang of men in the cities who are resolved to live at the expense of others, and to exact the means at the mouth of the pistol.
There is no doubt whatever that the low dives of the cities harbor these men, and that the closing of these places would deprive the criminal classes of resorts where they secure the liquors that inspire them with criminal courage. These rascals rob upon the highway and burglarize houses to obtain money to spend in these vile resorts, and the keepers know of the source of the revenue. The shutting up of these ante-rooms to hell, at least early in the evening, is absolutely necessary. There is no reason why they should have existence at all. They contribute nothing to the good of the communities and serve only as council chambers for the class that will cut a throat to turn a penny.
It ought to be safe for the citizen to walk the streets of any California town at any hour, but just now the fact is that it is not discreet to venture upon unfrequented streets after nightfall. Several bold robberies have occurred in this city early in the evening recently and upon streets fully lighted and in close proximity to the business centers. If no other means can be found to cow these vicious fellows and make them seek safety in flight to other fields, the citizens will be justified in organizing aid committees to the police force to hunt out all worthless fellows who have no visible means of support and who make their homes in the dives and thieves' dens of the city and put them into the chain-gang to earn their bread.
In San Francisco Wednesday night a citizen was waylaid on a public street and within call of a police station, by one of these murderous rascals, and stabbed because he would not yield up his purse. The citizen had pluck to resist the robber and to follow and fire upon him, wounding and putting the would-be murderer to flight. If a few of these highwaymen are killed every now and then by those they assail it will serve to put the entire gang into a state of fear. As a rule, the citizen who is "stood up," as the term goes, yields too readily. Resistance will, nine times out of ten, result in the flight of the robber, and if a few are shot down as they flee from their attempts to levy tribute, there will be no mourning.
Mob law and Vigilance Committees cannot be advised. Our cities and towns must pursue lawful methods in enforcing order and protecting life and property, but the citizen assailed by the robber on the highway will have public approval who resorts to arms in self-defense. The unusual high tide of robberies this winter certainly justifies the people who are compelled to walk in the streets by night in carrying arms. So long as the criminal classes parade the highways, pushing pistol muzzles under the noses of citizens, and the police are unable to stop the proceeding, the people must defend themselves--the epidemic of robbery must be cut short. A first step should be to jail the vagrants and the vicious fellows who hang about dives, and the second to close up these haunts of vice.
An essential factor in achieving the latter end, however, is to secure juries, the members of which will not cringe before the frown of the beetle-browed chiefs who run these crime shops; jurors who have the moral courage to declare the guilty guilty, and to refuse to refine distinctions down to acquittals on flimsy technicalities. The police is scarcely blameworthy for failing to regulate the dives, since it is very rare indeed that convictions of dive-keepers and inmates can be secured before juries picked up for service in the Police Courts. We need just now some panels of jurymen for service, who have some bowels of compassion for the citizen who is assailed in peace, property and life, by the murderous gangs the dives vomit forth every night upon the streets.[Sacramento Daily Record-Union, Sacramento, Friday Morning, December 19, 1890. Volume LXXX.--No. 103. Pg. 2]