New York: Exactly 12 years ago, Judge Alfred Talley of New York made a remarkable statement on Crime in the United States of America. He said: “We are the most lawless nation in the whole world. There are more than 10,000 murder cases every year in the United States.”

HT This Day: July 11, 1935 — The most lawless nation in the world (HT)

“The murders per thousand of the population in the various countries in the period 1911-21 were: United States 7.2; Italy 3.6; Australia 1.9; South Africa 1.9 India 1.5; Spain 0.9; Norway 0.8; Great Britain 0.6; Canada 0.4; Holland 0.3; Switzerland 0.2.”

An American writer in the “World’s Work” in 1924 asserted that “America is the most lawless nation on earth.” This was a bold assertion, but the writer proceeded to justify it by figures which cannot be controverted. “In the small City of Memphis, Tennessee, for example, with a population 1,70,000 there were nearly as many homicides in 1923 as there were in England and Wales, with a population of 38 million.” Again, “robbery is thirty-six times as prevalent in New York as it is in London today while in Chicago in a single year more than twelve times the number of robberies were reported than in England and Wales with their 38 million people. The increase in crime in the United States is creating grave disquietude among serious Americans and the bare facts provide ample justification for this attitude of mind.”

Actually over 30 murders a day are committed in the United States. Last year the total was more than 12,000 and the homicide rate, which in 1902 was 1.2 (in Britain it is less than one) was 9.2 per 1,00,000. These are appalling figures, the more so because Prohibition and bootlegging have both been dead for two years. The highly organized criminal industry that it had led to was one of the strongest arguments against Prohibition, and was largely responsible for its abolition, yet it appears that the crime wave is still growing, and that the energies of the gangster, who, even outside the talkies, form such a menacing part of American life have merely been diverted from boot-legging to other equally lawless activities.

The kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby focussed the world’s attention on a particularly horrifying form of crime, and was followed by swift and stern Federal action. This has to some extent been successful, but the Weyerhaueser case which was reported recently shows that the kidnapper is still a very real terror to wealthy American families. In New York a drive is at present afoot to break up the principal “rackets” in the city-gangs who; “sell” protection to merchants, extorting enormous sums on the pretext that they are saving them from unlawful interference; the same gangs. of course, are only too ready to practise unlawful interference with those who refuse to buy their “services”.

One of Mr. Roosevelt’s declared aims when he became President was to wage determined war against crime, but he was at once caught up in the financial crisis, and has probably been unable to give as much attention to it as he would wish. Nevertheless, the record of the Federal police during the past two years is by no means an unimpressing one. They have a force of agents who are a terror to the underworld and who have accounted for public enemies such as Dillinger, Floyd and many others. But they are hampered by the State constitutions which limit their activities and powers of interference with local police departments, where there is often inefficiency and corruption.

A similar complaint has been heard in England in recent years where Scotland Yard must await a request, from the local police before beginning investigations, a procedure which in the provinces often leads to serious delay and gives the experienced criminal a good start.

An interesting procedure in America is the link between the Treasury and the police. The murder of the Lindbergh baby, it will be recalled, was traced through the Treasury identifying notes paid with the ransom money, the redoubtable Al Capone, with countless crimes on his hands, went to jail in Chicago for none of these but for not paying his income tax and while he was in jail his gang was smashed.

The same weapon is now being used in New York against the chiefs of “rackets,” while the lesser fry are being arrested under a new law against the association of persons with criminal records.

Hunger makes men desperate, and a country that has 22 million people starving and on the relief rolls and is passing through the most awful economic crisis in its history must expect an increase is crime.

America’s historical background, her peculiar racial mixtures, her enormously large negro population in the South, where the murder rate is twice as high as in the rest of the country, her violent industrial conflicts, have combined to produce a lawlessness that, if it becomes more deeply rooted, will be a great menace to her own future” and to the world at large.

It is reflected not only in the startling number of murders but in the fact that there is and has been no loud outcry against this blot on the nation’s life.

In this aspect, the crime question in America resembles road casualties in Britain. Until the public conscience is aroused, the American police are fighting a battle against unfair odds; how unfair is shown by the sympathy and preposterous hero-worship bestowed on pitiless killers like Dillinger. This is another of the many social problems facing a troubled and sorely perplexed nation.