Fighting Vice in Chicago

Graham Taylor

  The war against the segregation of vice in Chicago has suddenly assumed city-wide proportions and will call country-wide attention to the acute crisis created. Ever since the vice commission rendered its report to the mayor and city council a year and a half ago, it has been obvious to those who know Chicago. best that sooner or later the city administration and its police department, the county authorities and the state's attorney would have to reckon with the appalling situation, which the commission dug up by the roots and held forth in the light of common day.

  Upon taking office last April, Mayor Carter H. Harrison was characteristically non-committal regarding the policies recommended by the report, but with his usual political astuteness he at once saw the bearing of its vast body of authenticated facts upon his responsibility for the continuance of the scandals in which the report involved the police. The city civil service commission was thereupon authorized and supported by the mayor in disciplining fifty or more police officials for inefficiency, some officers of the highest rank, longest service and most doubtful reputation being summarily dismissed from the service. Conditions at once improved on the streets throughout the city, and the segregated district of the West Side, which was surrounded by a vast tenement house population, was promptly and effectively closed up. Most of its hundreds of disreputable characters were forcibly driven into the larger segregated district of the South Side, which thereby grew rapidly both in density and extent. The North Side district was not affected, either by interference or accession. But the domain of the vice kings—the two aldermen of the first ward, including the great business center—was thus vastly increased in power and profits.

  Meanwhile two expressions of public determination to make an end of this situation preceded and precipitated official action. A "clean city" demonstration was made again, as it was last year about this time. Such spectacular displays do not appeal to all who oppose and fight against such evil conditions in ways which seem to them more effective. Nevertheless this procession rallied 5,000 people on a rainy day to march through the streets with banners and floats, and it made its own impression upon the city. But it was the vigorous and persistent attacks by Virginia Brooks on the equally vicious conditions in the outlying town of West Hammond which forced the hand of the county authorities. By this exercise of her right and fulfillment of her duties as a property owner there, this young woman has provoked official action affecting the city and suburb alike.

  Charged by her directly before the grand jury in the public press not only with responsibility for the existence of these illegal conditions, but with defeating attempts to get legal aid to improve them, the state's attorney took sudden and drastic action. He issued hundreds of warrants for the arrest of the keepers and inmates of disorderly resorts in the segregated district of the South Side and closed up almost all of them within a week. Spectacular citations by copiai, were also issued upon owners and agents of properties used for illegal purposes.

  But, as usual in such spasmodic and cyclonic movements of personal and political motives upon the part of rival, partisan public officials, the results are very mixed and the situation is even more complicated, from the point of view which takes into account the human interests and the public welfare involved. Indeed, it is more than suspected that this complication is not regretted, not to say aided and abetted, by both sets of officials responsible for the situation as it was and is.

  Hundreds of the women inmates, thus suddenly thrown out of the resorts, appeared upon the streets, in largest numbers where the big business and the best residences made them most conspicuous and their presence most annoying. They applied to rent rooms and flats in buildings and in sections of the city where it is not likely that many of them would have thought of applying had it not been suggested to them. Through the streets of the district, and past the dark and locked houses from which they had been driven, hordes of men roamed wantonly about, rushing after the patrol wagons, and in

( 95) the intervals trying the doors and entering the houses which ventured to keep open while waiting their turn for arrest. Plain clothes "detectives" swarmed over the district, doing little or nothing to disperse the disgraceful exhibition which these gangs of men made of themselves, but alert to discover and play up in the papers any hapless "reformer" and "uplifter" to be found there after dark. Salvation Army and other evangelistic groups added their songs, banners and excited appeals to the indescribable confusion of the sordid and morbid midnight scene.

  Out of it all some permanent good is resulting. It has been shown that the segregated district can be summarily closed, and therefore can be permanently abolished. The officers of the law and the courts who can do it, who are doing it, or who have done it are officially and personally designated. The "special interest" of commercialized vice, although estimated by the vice commission as amounting to $15,000,000 a year, has not proved itself able to protect itself from all the legal resources at the command of the community. The aggressive, well manned and managed agencies fighting commercialized vice and struggling to rescue and defend its victims have demonstrated the power of public sentiment, when only partially organized, to enforce the law, even by the hands of reluctant and pliant officials at odds with each other. The women who have led the forlorn hope in keeping open ways of escape from the human shambles protected by the authorities, into refuges and homes for their "fallen" sisters who seek to rise, have had their inadequate support sufficiently increased to warrant them in offering to take in any woman who is either out on the streets or who is in worse durance within doors.

  Thus far, however, few if any of the dislodged women have taken advantage of this offer. They are supposed to be temporarily cared for by the resort keepers in hope of an early resumption of their illicit traffic.

  The real estate dealers and agents are taking steps to present a solid front against the encroachment of denizens from the closed district upon residential sections and other buildings under their care. Owners and agents reported by the recorder of deeds to the state's attorney as renting property for illicit purposes are pledged immunity if they will promise the prosecutor to evict all immoral persons from their property. At the call of Clifford W. Barnes, chairman of the Committee of Fifteen and head of the Sunday Evening Club, a mass meeting was held in Orchestra Hall to protest against further tolerance of the segregated district.

  But best of all is this public demonstration of the shame, irrationality and futility of such a planless, purposeless spasm of law enforcement, without any preparation or provision for controlling its immediate effects so as to reduce the harm to the minimum and to secure the permanent good of the community and the individuals involved. If anything were needed to prove beyond question the necessity of some public policy toward the social evil—such as the vice commission recommended, or any other policy that would be better than none—the present situation exhibits it. It will be worth all it costs if the self-respect of the great city shall at last be awakened and aroused to the point of demanding the mayor's serious consideration of the vice commission's recommendations and the serious and sustained enforcement of the law at the hands of the police, the state's attorney and the courts. The mayor's preposterous proposition of a referendum vote to record the people's preference for or against the segregation of vice, in direct contravention of the statute law, is likely to, be anticipated by an imperative mandate of public opinion, which will be heard and heeded by him and all officials whose sworn duty it is to enforce the law.

* * *

  Since the foregoing statements were written, the City Council of Chicago has taken action, appointing a committee of nine aldermen to investigate and report recommendations. In the light of the tense situation, and in view of the fact that the thorough investigation and recommendations of the Vice Commission officially reported to the council in 1911 are still ignored as they have been for a year and a half, the language of the preamble and resolution is curiously interesting.

Whereas, The Social Evil is a problem of such importance, that we, as city representatives, should investigate and report our findings and recommendations thereon in an efficient manner; therefore,

Be it resolved by the City Council of Chicago that a committee of nine be appointed by His Honor the Mayor to take up the investigation of the Social Evil in a thorough and systematic manner in all its phases, causes and cures, and based upon the findings of such investigation, make recommendations to this body, as to its elimination or segregation, or otherwise, as may be deemed most advisable by this committee; and that the committee make its report to this body as soon as it conveniently can do so after thoroughly investigating the subject.

To the request of some members of this committee that the state's attorney should allow the reopening of the segregated district for thirty days while the investigation is being made. that official promptly and emphatically declined to do so, asserting that while he was in office, every disorderly house there or anywhere else in the city \mould be closed and kept closed. Meanwhile, the council committee by a good majority has voted against secret sessions and thereby left the way open to public hearings.


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