“The Increase of Homicide,” from the editorial page of the Dec. 27 1922, issue of the Free Trader-Journal and Ottawa Fair Dealer, W.H. Osman, editor and general manager and G.H. Woolbert, managing editor
In spite of the alleged high place in civilization and progressiveness of the United States, the claim is made by statisticians that in none of the recognized leading countries of the world is the crime of murder so common as in this. And the alarming fact is being shown that the rate is steadily increasing. So common have murders become that except by the community immediately affected a brutal murder such as that committed at Dimmick Hill is soon all but forgotten and hardly creates a sensation of more than passing interest. In 28 of the leading cities of the United States the rate has increased from 5.1 per 100,000 in 1900 to 9.3 in 1921, and it is claimed that proportionate rate of increase obtains in the more rural communities. The New York Evening Post says that “It is evident that our social environment, with its violence of temper and disrespect for law, is the chief cause of our high murder rate. Take away the crimes due to drink and those due to the presence of unassimilated foreign-born, and the total would still be shocking compared with that of the best European countries. One reason is the readiness with which punishment is evaded in America.”
The New York World candidly says “the reason is probably that no one knows what to do,” and continues, “Capital punishment is evidently not in itself a sufficient deterrent; prohibition has not helped; the war can not be blamed, for the increase was constant before 1914. The growth of huge cities and the cheapening of life by modern industry can not be held the sole cause. Nor, tho there are more murders among negroes than whites, does the clash of races in the South explain the general condition, since 12 of the 17 cities showing a change for the worse in 1921 are in the North.”
But two of the leading causes for the increase of murder agreed upon by all authorities are the ease with which even the most dangerous men can obtain deadly weapons and the small penalties for their possession, and the difficulty for the hangman to lay his hand on even those most clearly guilty of murder.
In the first instance, almost anyone, and under practically any circumstances, can procure a gun or a poison with little or no difficulty. The possession of a gun by a criminal even during the commission of a crime carries with it little or no penalty. As was evidenced by the Dimmick Hill murder, there is no possible way of tracing a gun once it has been purchased. Even the record of its original purchase is loose in the extreme, and once purchased it passes from hand to hand freely and with no responsibility remaining with the original purchaser or penalty for the person having it in his possession. As a “one-hand gun” is constructed primarily if not solely for the purpose of taking human life, improvement in murder statistics can hardly be looked for until there is a decided improvement in the existing laws and their enforcement in this respect.
The other primary cause for the increase of murder agreed upon by all is laxity or inefficiency of the courts in bringing criminals to justice. Take, for instance, the conditions mentioned by the ‘Boston Herald, which says:
“Edwin S. Sims, who gained a national reputation by a three years’ study of crime in Chicago, shows that on April 1, 1920, there were 135 persons indicted for murder and awaiting trial in the city, and that 104 of these persons were at liberty on bond. He showed that in most cases so much time had elapsed since the indictments were found that evidence had been lost, witnesses had disappeared, successful prosecution had been rendered very difficult. At once a number of judges volunteered to try criminal cases in an effort to clear the murder docket. Twelve of these indicted persons were hanged and 12 were sent to the penitentiary for varying terms, some for life. What was the result? A decrease in the murder rate of 51 per cent instantly followed.”
It was also shown that out of 7,667 cases of murder in 1918 (the last year’s record available, (which probably is no better now) but 85 paid the death penalty.
Other contributing causes for the increase of homicide are the increasing congestion in cities without corresponding provision for play facilities, the improved opportunities for escape lying in the greater size of cities, the availability of motor cars and other means of rapid transportation, and the disturbed economic condition of the last few years.
The two great reforms urged for decreasing the number of murders are: stricter laws governing the obtaining and possession of weapons and poisons, and the improvement of court procedure which will give the prosecution some show against the defense and compel a trial some time within reason, that all witnesses may not die, disappear or be spirited away before the trial comes on.