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The Immigrant Jew in America

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LIVING IN AMERICA: THE JEWISH EXPERIENCE  CONCLUSIONS 

The Russian Jew in New York1*
X. LAW AND LITIGATION
1. Walter Scott Andrews
2. Adam Wiener

* - From "The Immigrant Jew in America"-- issued by the National Liberal Immigration League, New York City, 1907.
Also included in earlier 1905 edition of "The Russian Jew in the United States."

The student of the comparative criminology of the city of New York is confronted at the outset, by the difficulty which arises from the lack of unity in the systems of classification of nationalities, adopted by the various agencies whose reports furnish him with his material. The Bureau of Municipal Statistics would perform a signal service in securing the adoption of a common system, and the value of a vast amount of matter would be increased a thousand-fold. The classification is too summary, in the otherwise valuable reports of the Board of City Magistrates, and the same may be said of the reports of the Board of Health. While the following study is based partly upon estimates, the results are, it will be seen, in general confirmed by comparisons of actual counts. The estimates of population are calculated from the police census of 1895, which places that of the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx for that year, at 1,851,060.2 The population of the two boroughs for 1898, the year chosen for this investigation, was, according to the estimate of the Board of Health, 1,976,600. Besides the authorities named, recourse has been had to the report of the Commissioner of Immigration for 1900, and valuable suggestion has been derived from an interesting series of papers published by Judge Deuel, president of the Board of City Magistrates, in Town Topics,3 and from his report for the year 1898. Judge Deuel reaches the comforting conclusion that, upon the whole, serious crime in New York City is on the decrease. His tables show the same large relative proportion of criminality among the natives of the United States as is shown in the table given below, and the proportionate contributions of the various nationalities are constant enough, within certain limits, to justify us in taking the records of a given year as a term of comparison. The basis for the study is the record of persons actually held for trial or summarily tried, by the police magistrates. It is only of these that the details as to nationality are given, and, moreover, they furnish better evidence of presumptive criminality than do the mere arraignments.

The lower East Side of New York lies mostly within the jurisdiction of Essex Market police court, which extends over a region bounded by East River, Catharine Street, the Bowery, East Houston Street, Clinton Street, Avenue B, and Fourteenth Street. An estimate of its population for 1898 places it at 351,800, or 17.85 per cent. of the total population for the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx. In 1897 the births, where both parents or the mother only were natives, constituted but 14.80 per cent. of the whole number in the district; while those in which the mother only or both parents are given as Polish-Russians, were 40.35 per cent. of the total number. Besides this, both parents or the mother only in 30.07 per cent. of the total births were classed as " from other countries," and these include large numbers of Austrians (Poles, Hungarians), and some Roumanians. The German births contribute 5.90 per cent., the Italian 6.33 per cent., and the Irish but 2.55 per cent., the mother, at least, belonging to the country named. These figures are adduced to give statistical support to what is a matter of common knowledge; namely, that a study of the lower East Side of New York in any aspect, is a study of the population which constitutes the recent and present immigration from Eastern Europe to this country, an immigration consisting mostly of Jews, one of the most important displacements of sections of the race known in history, and one which has resulted in making of New York perhaps the most populous Jewish city that has ever existed. The tables given below are intended to show, first: the general relations of the lower East Side to its chief lower criminal court, Essex Market court (the Third District), by a comparison of the total number of persons held for trial, or summarily tried and convicted in this court for certain specified offenses, with the whole number so held or so tried and convicted, in the two boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx; second, the proportion of the criminality in the district which may be attributed to the Russians, they being the only nationality of those named above which receives a place by itself in the classification adopted by the Board of City Magistrates. As it is eminently true of a district which includes the Bowery within its limits, that a certain proportion of the crimes and offenses committed there are committed by non-residents, further tables are given, showing the proportionate contributions of the Russians, as well as those of natives of the United States and of each of several nationalities for the two boroughs, both in the matter of total criminality as compared with population, and in the matter of the commission of the same crimes and offenses specified in the previous table. If we leave aside the figures of population, and consider the proportionate contribution of a given nationality to the sum total of criminality as its norm of social activity in this direction, we will have a term which will permit us to discover in what direction the given nationality is disposed to sin most. And in this comparison we will have the advantage of relying entirely upon records, and not at all upon estimates. Following Judge Deuel's scheme in general, but not in detail, the crimes the commission of which involves the implication of moral turpitude head the list. Then follow less serious offenses--the assaults which are mere quarrels, the larcenies which may be mere detentions of goods. Next are placed three offenses--the keeping of a disorderly house, gambling and the keeping of a gambling house--in which convictions, and even the arraignments are so few as to suggest that, apart from the difficulty of securing evidence, they are regarded with a certain degree of benignity by the police.4 In this group, and in the last, where convictions are numerically very few, percentages would be misleading and the actual number of cases is given.

Table I.-- showing (1) The total number of persons held or summarily tried and convicted for certain specified offenses in the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx for the year 1898, as shown by the report of the Board of Police Magistrates for that year. (2) The proportionate contribution, according to nationalities, in the two boroughs (3) The proportionate contribution of the population within the jurisdiction of Essex Market police court, and the share of the Russians in the criminality of the district.


Table II.- Distribution of criminality according to nationality in the boroughs of Manhattan and the Bronx, for the year 1898, according to the report of the Board of City Magistrates for that year. The percentages in the last column are taken as the normal contributions of the given nationalities to the total criminality. By comparing this percentage with the percentages under the nationalities in Table I, the offenses in which a given nationality surpasses its general average, and those in which it is inferior
to it, are shown:


With 17.85 per cent. of the total population of the two boroughs, that within the jurisdiction of Essex Market court furnishes 22.13 per cent. of the total criminality, 23.8 per cent. of the burglaries, 47.6 per cent. of the homicides, far more than its fair share of the cases of disorderly conduct and intoxication, and somewhat more than its proportion of vagrants. It is below its reputation in its contribution of both grades of assault. The Russians in the district are prominent in their commission of forgery, violation of corporation ordinances, as disorderly persons (failure to support wife or family), both grades of larceny, and of the lighter grade of assault. The reputation for general restlessness of the clientele of Essex Market court seems to be due to the large proportion it furnishes of the totality of arraignments, namely 28 per cent. These and the numerous summons he is asked to issue, often for trivial causes and petty quarrels, may well furnish a magistrate with a vast amount of unpleasant business.

Turning to the other tables, we find that the Russians, with 11.2 per cent. of the whole population, furnish but 8.2 per cent. of the criminality, and applying this last figure, which is their percentage of the total criminality (apart from any question of population), to the percentages in the list of specified offenses, we find that they surpass their norm in some of the same offenses which furnish their contribution to the criminality of the East Side, i.e., forgery, felonious larceny, as disorderly persons, and as violators of corporation ordinances; but that, as a whole, they are far below their average in the commission of assault. The Russian on the East Side seems somewhat more inclined to violence than his compatriot in the city at large. He is notably but little addicted to intoxication, and furnishes a very small proportion of vagrants. This sobriety and this avoidance of the workhouse are also characteristic of the Italians, who, on the other hand, are more addicted to violence. Further comparisons will be left to the reader, but attention may be called to the remarkable fact that the very small population of Greeks in the two boroughs commit more than 33 per cent. of the violations of corporation ordinances. The high contribution of natives, shown also in Judge Deuel's table, is worthy of note, in that the relative position toward crime of the native of the United States, as compared with that of the foreign-born citizen or resident, shown by the United States census of 1890, seems reversed. The discrepancy is probably due to the fact that the census counts as foreigners, the children born in the United States of parents born abroad, while these appear as natives in the tables here used.

Turning to the civil courts, we find no such official description of their business as is furnished by the reports of the Board of Magistrates, but must rely upon the summary statements issued by the commissioners of accounts, supplemented, it is true, by the information furnished by the valuable report of the Legal Aid Society. Thanks are also due to Judge Roesch, of the Fourth District municipal court for statistics of his court. The litigation of the lower East Side is transacted in the Fourth and Fifth District municipal courts, which include in their jurisdiction the district bounded by the Bowery, Fourteenth Street, East River, and Catharine Street. Below are given tables comparing the number of summons issued by them to those issued in the First and Eighth Districts. The First District transacts an abnormally large proportionate business, because it is the down-town court most convenient to the offices of business men and lawyers, and the court naturally used in many cases where one or both of the litigants is a non-resident with a business office in the city of New York. The Eighth District court, on the West Side, with a jurisdiction extending from Fourteenth Street to Fortieth Street, and from Sixth Avenue to Hudson River, is chosen for a term of comparison, because a comparatively large proportion of the population which resorts to it is native born.

Table III. showing the number of summons issued in the specified district courts-both actual, and per 1,000 of population, and the proportion of free to paid summons in each court:

Table IV.--Municipal courts--Landlord and tenant cases (dispossessions).

These tables reveal it is true, a somewhat greater tendency to resort to litigation on the East than on the West Side; between 5 and 9 more people in 1,000 apply for a summons on the East Side than do in the Eighth District. But they reveal more strikingly the poverty of the district, in the large proportion of free summonses issued. For a free summons can be issued only when the suit is for a sum of less than $50, or when a person sues "in forma pauperis." The relatively greater number of evictions is evidence of the same poverty, and so is the large business done by the East Side Branch of the Legal Aid Society. This business consists largely of efforts to recover small sums of money due as wages; $15 would be a high average for all the claims brought to its notice. Many letters are written for the recovery of sums of less than $1, and suits brought for the recovery of $5, and of even smaller sums. Seventy-five per cent. of its business is done for Polish and Russian Jews, 50 per cent. of the remainder for Austrian and Roumanian Jews.
Of the total number of judgments obtained, quite a large number are returned unsatisfied (no larger a proportion, however, according to the society's marshal, than in other districts of the city), and this fact might be argued in support of the accusation that the East Side acts upon a low standard of commercial honesty. But a comparison instituted in this manner is not fair. Of the total number of applications to the society, many are settled without recourse to the courts, and many are settled before judgment. In a list of 261 suits examined, 88 were dismissed or discontinued, or resulted in judgments for the defendant; 79 were settled or reported settled ; 39 judgments were satisfied, thus leaving 55 cases or a little more than 25 per cent. only, of executions returned unsatisfied. Quite as consonant with the facts at hand as the theory of commercial dishonesty would be the one of the prevalence of a spirit of enterprise out of proportion to the capital of the community; and the frequency of settlements before final judgment may well mean that in a majority of cases the cause of the non-payment of wages is the sheer inability to pay. With regard to the accusation of untruthfulness so freely brought against the litigants of the district, statistics are silent, and the matter must be one of personal impression. In the course of an experience of several months in the East Side office of the Legal Aid Society, the writer believes that usually he has listened to the truth, often colored, of course, by the bias of the relator. The actual and complete denial of a claim is not frequent.

To sum up: The interpretation of these figures seems to show that, judged by the records of the police courts, the native of the United States is, in the city of New York, at least, a more frequent criminal than is the foreign-born
resident or naturalized citizen. They confirm to a certain degree the reputation of the lower East Side for general lawlessness, but absolve the Jew, as judged by the Russian, who is shown to constitute a probably preponderating element in the population, from anything like a proportionate contribution to this lawlessness, excepting as to a few specified offenses. Examining the record of the Russian in the city at large, it is found that he furnishes a low proportion of the general criminality, with a relatively high percentage in the matters of forgery, felonious larceny, refusal or inability to support his family, and in the violation of corporation ordinances. The records of the civil courts seem to show him to be rather more litigious than the average citizen, but they show him, above all, to be poor. As to the matter of commercial dishonesty, the statistics at hand do not justify the accusation, in more than a limited degree, and as to that of untruthfulness, they are silent. A low criminal record, somewhat litigious, very poor, yet furnishing an extremely low contingent to the vagrant classes, these are the characteristics of the East Side Jew, as judged by the Russian. If, from the economic standpoint his very poverty renders him an undesirable competitor, his combination of thrift with sobriety and his slight tendency to crime may well be set off as compensating qualities in any estimate of his value as a future citizen.

Thirty years ago the conviction of a Jew for a felony was almost unheard of in the city of New York. To-day there is not one penal institution within the area of the Greater New York which does not harbor some offenders of the Jewish people.

It is not difficult to realize the effect of having thousands of Russians and other wandering Jews and their families turned loose on Manhattan Island, causing them to drift into the Ghetto of our metropolis and other congested districts, where immorality and squalor march hand in hand, and side by side. The Jew has been tainted by the new city life into which he has been cast.

If the tribe of Baron de Hirsch would only multiply and increase as the tribes of Abou Ben Adam, how many of these poor families might be removed from poverty, hunger and dirt to peaceful pastoral sections of our country, there till the soil and thrive in the agricultural pursuits as some now do in New Jersey.

Appreciating the need of having good Jewish influence brought to bear upon the minds of these offenders and to better them, the Society for the Aid of Jewish Prisoners was ushered into existence in 1891 to take up the work that had been looked after by the Conference of New York Rabbis. Its object is "to improve the moral condition of Jewish prisoners in the state of New York, and to lend them a helping hand after their release from penal institutions.
Under the guidance of this organization, Rev. Dr. A. M. Radin holds divine services at the Penitentiary and Workhouse, Blackwell's Island, on every Saturday; at the House of Refuge, Randall's Island every Sunday; at the Kings County Penitentiary in Brooklyn every other week and at the Tombs Prison on Mondays. At Sing Sing Dr. Israel Davidson makes frequent visits, conducts meetings, and looks after the Jewish prisoners. He also performs a similar task at the state penal institution at Naponach. At Auburn Rev. Dr. A. Guttman, of Syracuse, is the Jewish chaplain, and at Clinton Prison (Dannemora) Rabbi Judelson officiates.

The crimes of the Russian Jew are more or less of a nature similar to those of other nationalities and races, although the basest of crimes, murder and manslaughter, are practically unknown to them.

Some years ago there was a tendency to commit arson, but this too has become almost entirely eliminated from the category of offenses among the immigrant Israelites. Most of the offenses are committed by the children of immigrants, who have been contaminated by the vice of our great city and who spurn the advice of their elders, whom they frequently term "greenhorns" and who are unable to exert the necessary influence over them or to command the proper respect.

Offenders guilty of petty larceny and other misdemeanors or of a grand larceny in a minor degree are generally committed to the Blackwell's Island Penitentiary and about eight per cent. of the prisoners at that institution are Jews. This includes persons arrested for selling or peddling on the streets without a license, who are unable to pay a fine.
Vagrants, drunkards, and disorderly characters are committed to the Work House at Blackwell's Island, and it is gratifying to learn that at all times less than two per cent. of the two thousand inmates of that institution are of the Jewish persuasion.

At the Kings County Penitentiary in Brooklyn there are comparatively few males and it is indeed a rarity to find a Jewish girl or woman on the roll.

At the Tombs Prison and Ludlow Street Jail, where persons under indictment are detained, pending trial, the number varies.

About ten per cent. of the young people at Elmira Reformatory are Jewish, but this includes unfortunates from all over the state of New York.

At Auburn Prison there are generally less than a dozen Jewish convicts sentenced for heinous crimes out of a total of more than thirteen hundred.

The same average holds good for Clinton Prison; and at Sing Sing where the New York City convicts, who have committed felonies, are incarcerated, the average number is less than ten per cent. among the Jews.
"Evil associations corrupt good morals," is applicable to the conditions existing in the so-called Ghetto of New York City. During the regime of Tammany Hall the lower East Side of New York City was a hot bed of vice and immorality and the "red light district," as it was termed, became as offensive a glare to the eye as the Tammany rule was a stench to the nostrils.

Young men and women were lured away from their parental roofs and employed as "cadets" to aid as bad a gang of degenerates as ever lived in a civilized community and the then chief of police looked on, and retired, or rather was turned out of office, after Tammany's defeat on the ill-gotten gains of his office.

Young working girls were scoffed at by those who wore silks and satins and had money in their pockets; while the former wore rags and had barely a few coins that they could consider their own. The bad influence and effects can readily be imagined. From lives of immorality developed vagrancy, petty thefts, and more serious offenses. The banal influence of some of the wretches who called themselves men and women, not only on girls but on boys as well, can be pictured without much difficulty.

Another trait developed by this state of affairs was gambling and when the looms in gambling became extensive, the temptation to forge and steal developed but too soon.

How could such influences help but offset the virtuous instincts of a parental abode, a father's advice, or a mother's prayer?

There was but one solution when the reform government entered on its duties under the leadership of Mayor Low, whose efforts for good were directly turned towards ameliorating the conditions of these depraved and downtrodden Jews and. Jewesses, and whose noble purposes must be thoroughly appreciated,-- to prosecute all offenders and purify the congested quarter of the great metropolis.

Through the suggestions of this administration the youthful criminals, or rather offenders, were separated from the hardened convicts, as will appear later.

All offenders are brought before a magistrate's court and where the charge is one of disorderly conduct, vagrancy, disturbing the peace, etc., the court sentences them to Blackwell's Island for a few days or sometimes for some months, and sometimes simply imposes a fine and if it is not paid the culprit is sent to the Workhouse on Blackwell's Island.

In instances where a misdemeanor is committed, such as petty larceny, grand larceny in a minor degree, assault in a minor degree, and the like, the accused is held under an amount of bail for the court of special sessions, presided over by three justices at a session--and without a jury--whose authority extends to sentencing offenders for any period not exceeding one year and in imposing fines not in excess of five hundred dollars. Before the case reaches the court of special sessions an indictment must have been found by the grand jury.

In other instances, where the more serious and heinous crimes are committed the city magistrate holds the prisoner, with or without bail, as the exigencies of the case may require, for the grand jury, and in some cases such matters are submitted to the district attorney in the first instance, and he may take the initiative in submitting the facts to the grand jury. After an indictment has been found, the prisoner, where he cannot or may not give bail, is confined in the city prison, familiarly called the Tombs, until his case is reached in the court of general sessions of the peace, or occasionally in the criminal term of the supreme court, both of which are conducted under the jury system.
Upon conviction the prisoner may be sentenced to any of the state prisons and fined, or in case of minor offenses, which are sometimes disposed of in the last named court, to the penitentiary.

In Brooklyn there is also a court of special sessions, and the Kings County court which possesses criminal jurisdiction in Brooklyn takes the place of the court of general sessions in New York.

Women convicted for felonious crimes are committed to Auburn or to Blackwell's Island or to some reformatory, while males are sent to any one of the penal institutions herein referred to.

During the past two years a number of excellent innovations have become established tending towards preserving youth under sixteen years of age from contamination with older and more hardened and confirmed criminals.
Wherever a boy or girl of tender years is brought before a magistrate, except in heavy criminal cases, the matter is referred to one of the justices of the court of special sessions who presides over a part called the children's court in an entirely separate building away from the environments of the criminal tribunals.

The courts have parole officers whose duty it is to supervise the conduct and movements of the youthful offenders, on whom sentence is suspended. These parole officers report to the court from time to time, and if the reports are favorable the culprits are again free to go where they please and are thus saved from the evil surroundings of a criminal atmosphere in penal institutions.

This parole system is also in vogue in the magistrate's court and frequently sentence is suspended pending favorable reports submitted to the court by parole officers
.
Mrs. Sophie C. Axman, a Jewess, who co-operated with the Educational Alliance and looked after the parole cases in the children's court, has now been appointed chief parole officer by the board of justices of the court of special sessions.

In all of the penal institutions, religious services are held for the Jewish inmates by Jewish rabbis, with the possible exception of the protectories. At the Catholic protectory the boys are taught useful trades and if at any time a Jewish rabbi desires to interview Jewish children he is generally received very cordially.

In sending children or young men to a reformatory the judge or magistrate selects the institution which is conducted in conformity with the religion of the prisoner.

Last year a certificate of incorporation was granted for a Jewish protectory to be managed on the lines similar to the Catholic protectory. Several meetings of the incorporators of the new Jewish Protectory and Aid Society have been held in New York City and more than two hundred thousand dollars have already been subscribed by Jewish members of this great municipality, men whose wealth of heart is commensurate with that of worldly goods, and it is to be expected that in the very near future ground will be bought and buildings erected on the cottage system, and wayward boys and girls taught trades of all kinds. Under the state laws and county regulations the society will receive $2 per week or $114 per annum for each youth cared for, but it is estimated that it will cost again as much to maintain the inmates and the remainder of the requisite fund will be raised through donations and annual dues. Hon. Julius M. Mayer, who was recently elected attorney general of New York State, is the president of the new society. Its work will, beyond doubt, be far reaching. When a youthful offender receives his discharge from the protectory he will be proficient in the trade which he has learned and able to support himself in a respectable manner. Through the co-operation of the societies having a hand in the work of the Removal Bureau he may be sent to other parts of the country to work at his trade, to support himself and others, and bequeath to the next generation a fair type of American manhood.
No particular mention has been made as to the litigation in the criminal courts applicable to Jews for the reason that they are all on the same plane with others.

In cases where a Jewish prisoner or other wishes to stand trial and has no attorney the court will always name some member of the bar to defend the case, and there are always interpreters to assist, although there are instances of miscarriage of justice at times.

However, we may be fairly well satisfied with the conditions during the past year in New York, when we realize how vastly different the empire state treats its Jewish offenders compared with almost every European nation, other than those of the English-speaking countries.

After a Jewish prisoner is discharged, having completed his term of imprisonment, Jewish societies give him a helping hand, and in some instances lead him back into the paths of virtue; often, too, to the greatest paradise on earth, a happy Jewish home circle.


1 The study by Mr. Andrews was originally published in the Year Book of the University Settlement Society of New York, 1900.
2
See Report of the Board of Health, 1895.
3
The papers were published at intervals in Town Topic, during the years 1897 and 1898, and were summarized in two articles, which appeared during the months of September and November, 1898.
4
This is truer of the period under consideration than it is now.

 

 


 



 

 


 











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