Chap01 - San Francisco Homicide by jianghongl

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Dangerous Strangers: Minority Newcomers and Criminal Violence in the Urban West.


         Beginning in the late 1960s, the nation‟s cities were inundated with what was seen
as an unprecedented wave of criminal violence. In San Francisco, the average annual
homicide rate rose to 18.5 per 100,000 population by the latter half of the 1970s, up from
5.9 in an equivalent period in the early 1960s. In order to come to an understanding of the
criminal disorders plaguing their cities, many urban scholars began to look in earnest at
violence in America‟s past. Over the next 40 years the scholars produced a myriad of
studies probing the circumstances and causes of criminal violence. Some looked to the
Southern United States and its supposed culture of violence, both before and after the
Civil War. Others explored criminal violence in the mining camps and cow towns of the
nation‟s fabled “Wild West.” Still others studied the densely populated cities of the
nineteenth century urban East.
         The result of all the analysis was a large mosaic of studies offering a seemingly
puzzling array of homicide rates in different times and places. Eric Monkkonen reports a
homicide rate for New York City of 5.9 per 100,000 in the last half of the nineteenth
century.1 Theodore Ferdinand estimated a rate of slightly less than 4 in a similar period
in Boston.2 And in Philadelphia, Roger Lane found an average rate of about 3.3 Other
studies have come up with strikingly different homicide rates in the Southeast quarter of
the country. Fox Butterfield mentions a rate of 18 per 100,000 in mid-nineteenth century
Edgefield County, South Carolina.4 Gilles Vandal has more recently reported a rate of 51
in rural Louisiana in the Reconstruction-era South, and 200 in the more lethal Red River
counties upstate.5
         On the Western frontier, Roger McGrath found a rate of 116 homicides per
100,000 population during the 1870s in Bodie, one of the two trans-Sierran mining
communities he studied.6 Clare McKanna Jr. discovered a rate of 34 in Las Animas
County, Colorado, between 1880-1920, and 70 in Gila County, New Mexico, during the
same period.7 More recently, John Boessenecker has compiled an impressive collection
of statistics which show rates upwards of 200 in many California Gold Rush communities
during the violent 1850s.8
         To account for the disparities, scholars looked at a large number of factors
thought to affect homicide rates.9 Some have considered age and gender as contributing
greatly to homicide rates.10 Others have examined the relationship between the
availability of firearms and homicide.11 Much study has been expended on looking at the
connection between race, ethnicity and criminal violence.12 Some scholars have noted
the connection between some immigrant groups and criminal violence.13 And some have
suggested that the inability or unwillingness of the established authorities – the police –
to mount systematic efforts to suppress violence can contribute to high rates of
homicide.14 (Appendix One contains a discussion of the different methodologies used to
calculate homicide rates which to some degree explains the disparate rates.)
         One pivot upon which the debate about homicide causation among minority
groups revolves is the question of to what extent the criminal violence emanates from the

culture of the group involved, as distinguished from that which is the result of
mistreatment of a minority group by the majority society.
         This study will examine two aspects of the subject of criminal violence. Using
homicide as an index of the amount of criminal violence generally, we will look at the
almost 7,000 cases that occurred in San Francisco between 1850 and 2000, particularly
those involving minority newcomer groups. We will then attempt to ascertain how much
of the newcomer violence can be charged to the culture of the group involved and how
much to their treatment by the host society. We will also consider the extent to which
police practices influence levels of criminal violence. The study will demonstrate that
high rates of criminal violence can be attributed more to the group‟s culture than
generally believed. It will also conclude that what the police do – or do not do -- affects
the level of violence in a community.
         Hostility and violence between newcomers and natives has a history as old as
European settlement of the continent, and doubtless reaches back even farther. As far as
is known for sure, the first Europeans to attempt to settle in what is now North America
were eleventh century Norse seafarers. The Norsemen departed from their New World
settlements after three years because of the hostility of the native people they called
skrellings. According to the best information we have, it was the Norsemen who initiated
the violence, but whatever its source, their hostile reception by the skrellings would be
the first of many instances of “native” Americans objecting to the presence of immigrant
         In the colonial era, no less a personage than Benjamin Franklin gave voice to anti-
immigrant sentiments in his objection to “German boors” in Pennsylvania.15 A couple of
generations later it was the “native” Protestant Americans who objected vigorously and
violently to the incursion of large numbers of Catholic Irish immigrants. Out west a
couple of decades later, the Irish immigrants of an earlier period objected to the arrival of
nineteenth century Chinese newcomers. And so it went. In the early twentieth century,
earlier European immigrants opposed the more recent immigrants from Southern and
Eastern Europe. In our own time, some of the same sort of sentiment is being expressed
about those arriving from Asia and Latin America.16
         Much of the basis for resistance to immigration was--and is--economic. Nativist
objections to immigration during the early days of the Republic were directed at English
artisans who, it was felt, would force wages down.17 The arrival of large numbers of Irish
Catholics coincided with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, and as the jobs
moved from the shop to the factory and many were lost to them, Protestant natives
blamed the newcomers. The same sort of concern was at the root of much of the
nineteenth century anti-Chinese sentiment in California. It is now the Latinos and Asians
who are seen by some as depriving “real” Americans of work.
         Some of the opposition to immigration also had to do with concerns that the
newcomers contributed disproportionately to the incidence of crime. Benjamin Franklin
also objected to the importation of British felons to the American colonies, charging that
many of them escaped from servitude “and, wandering at large from one populous town
to another, commit many burglaries, robberies, and murders, to the great terror of the
people. . . .”18
         Are immigrants in fact responsible for more than their share of violent crime? By
some accounts, mid-nineteenth century Irish and turn-of-the-twentieth century Italians

were disproportionately violent.19 And despite Benjamin Franklin‟s concerns, German
immigrants, who arrived in large numbers about the same time as the flood of famine
Irish, were much less criminally violent. 20 Jewish immigrants, who arrived about the
same time as the large influx from Italy, were demonstrably less violent.21 Nineteenth
century Chinese newcomers to San Francisco posted the highest homicide rates of any
group in the city‟s history. Yet nowadays Chinese immigrants are billed as a “model
minority.” More recently, other newcomers to urban America, African-Americans – and
to some extent, Latinos – have been charged with contributing disproportionately to rates
of criminal violence.
         Figure 1.1 shows the general trend of San Francisco criminal homicide from 1850
to 2,000. 22
         Figure 1.1 goes about here.
         The first thing to notice about the graph is that the rates in general follow the
familiar U-shaped curve found in other homicide studies of Western societies from the
mid-nineteenth century to the present.23 From exceedingly high rates in the violent Gold
Rush years, the rates declined during the Civil War decade only to increase again in the
post-war period. Rates then declined and remained fairly stable until the period following
the disastrous 1906 earthquake and fire, after which they rose again. Rates declined in
San Francisco during the Prohibition era and stayed down during the Depression years,
spiking upward immediately following the close of World War II before declining again.
In the late 1960s, the rates again rose precipitously, as they did in most of urban America,
before declining again at the century‟s close. The ubiquity of the U-shaped curve cautions
us to look beyond merely local conditions to explain fluctuations in the rate.
         In their efforts to explain the incidence of homicide, scholars have studied a
number of biological, psychosocial and sociological roots of the phenomenon. Within the
sociological framework, thought by many to best explain differences in homicide rates, a
large number of factors have been considered to explain the rate fluctuations, including
gender, age, the economy, and ethnicity. 24 The U.S. Department of Justice, in its most
recently published report, concludes that,” Until data users examine all the variables that
affect crime. . . they can make no meaningful comparisons.” A noble goal, but if criminal
justice students were required to examine “all” variables before publishing their findings,
the number of crime studies would be reduced appreciably.25
         With that in mind, one way of looking at the rise and fall of the homicide rates in
a sociological context is to track them against the arrival and assimilation – or non-
assimilation, in some cases--of minority newcomers. Much of the study of immigrants
and crime has shown, despite Benjamin Franklin‟s concerns and common belief, that
immigrant newcomers are not disproportionately criminal. In 1931, The National
Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (the Wickersham Commission) in its
Crime and the Foreign Born concluded in part, “For more than a century there has been .
. . a clamorous group who tend to emphasize . . . the popularly supposed relation between
immigration and crime. . . Statistics have never justified their assumptions. . . .”26 This
view may be widespread but it is far from universal. In his study of nineteenth century
New York, for example, Eric Monkkonen found that “Usually the killer and victims were
immigrant males between 20 and 30 years old. . . . At this juncture, it is reasonable to
claim,” he continues, “that homicide was an ethnic problem.”27

         One question has to do with the origins of the violence that does occur. We can
ask, in laymen‟s terms, to what extent violence can be traced to behaviors in the
newcomer community itself and how much of the violence is ultimately chargeable to the
treatment of the minority group by the host society? Taken by themselves, the
comparative rates between the nineteenth and early twentieth century Irish, Germans,
Italians and Jews would argue in favor of the traits being found in the group being
considered -- unless it could be shown that the groups were treated differently.28 The
dramatically different rates between nineteenth and late twentieth century Chinese,
however, assuming a cultural uniformity for both periods, would seem to argue that the
behavior was caused by forces external to the newcomer group. There are two main
theories. On the one hand are those who point to discriminatory treatment of the minority
group by the host culture as contributing more. Others point to behaviors found in the
group itself, however they came to be there.
         Clare McKanna, Jr., for example, traces the high homicide rates he found among
African-Americans in late nineteenth-century Omaha, to “the development of a
subculture of violence that southern blacks brought with them to Nebraska.”29 Jeffrey S.
Adler, on the other hand, in his study of African-American homicide in Chicago during
the same period, leans toward the explanation that economic and social dislocation
brought about by their racist treatment in the North contributed to elevated rates of
African-American homicide. 30 The two concepts are not mutually exclusive. “The level
of violence among arriving immigrants,” says Roger Lane, speaking of nineteenth
century European newcomers to the city, “was determined both by their earlier history –
that is, the culture they brought with them, especially their attitudes toward drinking,
fighting, and social authority – and the state of the cities they settled into.”31
         It is fair to say, though, that the preponderance of current opinion favors the idea
that much criminality, particularly that committed by minorities in the United States, can
be traced to their treatment by the host society.32 Ronald Flowers, giving voice to what is
probably the most widely accepted explanation for minority immigrants and crime says
their “distinctive physical appearance and/or migration here has been marred by
subordination, subjugation, exploitation, racism, discrimination, and socioeconomic
disadvantage, and, as a result, has placed an enormous burden on their propensity and
vulnerability to become victims and/or offenders of crime.”33 Or as Clare McKanna
argues, “the interaction of race, social status, and differing social systems. . . acted as a
stimulus for lethal violence.”34 In other words, high crime rates by “people of color” can
best be explained in terms of discriminatory treatment.
         One way of tracking the relative incidence of violent crime against the century
and a half of the city‟s history is by considering the fluctuations in terms of the arrival of
newcomers. Homicide rates in San Francisco soared in the early 1850s when newcomers
of all types flooded into the city. Rates declined thereafter but increased again in the
1870s following the arrival of substantial numbers of Irish and Chinese immigrants. The
rates went down again in the closing decades of the century at a time when relatively
non-murderous Germans constituted a larger portion of the immigrant community. The
next increase followed the arrival of many Italian immigrants and others in the early
decades of the twentieth century, but rates again declined as the newcomers were
assimilated into the larger community during the low-immigration 1930s and 40s. The
next major increase followed the arrival of many African-Americans from the rural South

during World War II period. And the declines experienced at the end of the twentieth
century can be associated in part with the increase in now relatively non-murderous
Asian newcomers.
        By looking at a variety of groups and their different experiences at different times
in the city‟s history, this study will attempt to address the issue, to the extent possible, of
how much of the violence by different groups can be charged to their treatment by the
host society and how much can be traced to traits found in their own community. By
looking at some groups that do not normally get much attention in homicide studies, this
study will begin to fill a recognized gap in homicide studies and perhaps broaden our
understanding as to the origins of newcomer violence.35 What will be found is that some
groups of minority newcomers to San Francisco were more criminally violent than is
conventionally thought to be the case. It will also be found that the violent behavior can
often be traced to behaviors emerging from the newcomers‟culture--more so than is
generally conceded--than to discrimination on the part of the host society.36
        With homicide studies, as with history generally--or for that matter, the law--the
record holds no “smoking gun,” proving the case one way or the other. As with those
other areas of inquiry, it is sometimes necessary in homicide studies to assemble
cumulative evidence. By looking at a number of groups over a long period of time, it may
be possible to sustain a conclusion when there is not sufficient proof with regard to any
one particular group.
        Before getting too far along, a definition of terms is called for. First the term
“minority newcomer.” Given the demographics of recent immigration, much of the
current study of immigrant crime involves minority “people of color.” But as will be
shown in this study, other groups – Australians, Irish, and Italians – though now fully
assimilated into the mainstream society, were once very much considered to be what
would now be called minority groups. According to one expert in the field, minorities are
defined as “any culturally or physically distinctive and self-conscious social aggregates,
with hereditary membership and a high degree of endogamy, which are subject to
political, or economic, or social discrimination by a dominant segment of an environing
political society.”37
        The term “immigrant” has been defined as “a migrant whose move has involved
crossing at least one international boundary.”38 Such a definition, if strictly interpreted,
would exclude African-Americans, many of whom can trace their American roots back
farther than most non-Latino whites. The late twentieth century Great Migration of rural
blacks from the rural south to the urban north and west, however, was as wrenching as
that of any group which crossed international boundaries, and in some cases more so.39
Hence the term “minority newcomers” will be used to encompass the successive waves
of groups of new arrivals in San Francisco over the last century and a half, from wherever
they originated.
        To make the point that much of the behavior leading to criminal violence reposed
in the immigrant community it will not be necessary to show that the countries of origin
necessarily had high formal rates of homicide. The Irish of mid-nineteenth century
Ireland, as will be shown, had a strong tradition of interpersonal violence that didn‟t
translate into a particularly high homicide rate in the old country. Nineteenth century
China was plagued by widespread banditry and political rebellion, but as far as can be
determined, the Chinese people at the time did not commit interpersonal homicide to any

remarkable degree.40 But many of the nineteenth century Chinese immigrants who did
come to San Francisco, as will also be shown, were criminal gangsters, presumably more
disposed to resort to violence than were Chinese people generally. 41
         Sometimes the violence resulted from a conjunction of the immigrant culture with
conditions in the new country which could result – depending on one‟s definition of what
constituted the immigrant community – in high levels of violence. Should criminal
activity of the American-raised sons of immigrants be included in our count, or should
we, as does Wickersham, restrict our analysis to the foreign-born? Depending on what we
choose, a very different result can be expected. Matthew Yeager and others agree with
Wickersham and other more recent researchers that “the criminality of first generation
immigrants has been less than for the native born.” However, he continues--introducing a
very important fly into the ointment--“Complicating this picture is the much higher rates
of delinquency for second-and-third generation immigrants.” 42 Criminality by the
children of newcomers forms a large part of the story of urban crime from the mid-
nineteenth century down to the present, and to the extent that this group is considered part
of the immigrant community, their transgressions must be considered in any calculation
of the criminal cost of immigration. We will revisit this phenomenon with several groups.
         Our examination will start with the Gold Rush founding of American San
Francisco. Virtually everyone was a newcomer to the city in the boomtown Gold Rush
days which saw the highest homicide rates in the city‟s history, and for which reason,
according to tradition, the city‟s famed Committees of Vigilance were formed. While
everyone was a newcomer, early San Franciscans singled out Australians for special
criminal justice treatment. Three of the four men hanged by the 1851 Committee were
Australian immigrants. Chapter Two will deal with the Australians, their behavior, and
their treatment by what passed for a justice system in Gold Rush San Francisco.
According to one reading of history, the choice of Australians as fit subjects for the
hangman makes very good sense. “When in 1851,” according to one recent account, “it
was reported that the number of murders in the raw port of San Francisco had reached
over one hundred, many committed by robber bands such as the Sydney Ducks . . . . a
committee of vigilance was established.”43 Others, however, contend that the Australians
were “one of the most maligned immigrant groups in American history,” and that their
“bad reputation [for criminality] seems undeserved.”44 In fact, while not particularly
murderous, Australian immigrants did contribute disproportionately to the sort of
criminal violence which aroused the passions of our nineteenth century forebears.
         The next chapter will discuss the crime and criminal justice experience of Latinos
in Gold Rush San Francisco. Latinos have played a prominent part in the early criminal
justice history of California and the West. 45 The few Latinos on the scene in San
Francisco when gold was discovered were numerically overwhelmed by the tremendous
immigration of mostly non-Latino white gold seekers during the Gold Rush years. And
most of the Latinos who became involved with the justice system in those early years
were immigrants themselves. Much of what has been written of Latinos and crime traces
their problems to the host society. Robert Heizer, who is generally sympathetic to the
Latinos, does note, however, that “there is a strong possibility that Mexicans did engage
in more horse-stealing, highway robbery, assault, and thieving than any other group in
California.”46 Perhaps, he suggests, the best explanation for this circumstance “is that
Mexicans reacted more strongly against injustices that were directed against them than

other minority groups” because they resented their status as conquered people.47 An
examination of Latino crime in early San Francisco will illuminate these issues.
         According to one account, Irish newcomers in the 1870s had higher levels of
violence than was found among African-Americans in the 1960s.48 Chapter Four deals
with the Irish in San Francisco and nineteenth century criminality. It was young Irish
thugs in San Francisco--or, more properly, the thuggish sons of Irish immigrants--who
contributed the most useful word “hoodlum” to the American lexicon. The upsurge in the
homicide rate in the 1870s, after a period of decline during the Civil War era, can be
associated in part with the arrival of post-Gold Rush immigrants from Ireland. The
chapter will examine to what extent the Irish brought their vaunted reputation for
violence with them and to what extent the violence was the product of their status as what
Roger Lane describes as “the most desperate group of nineteenth century newcomers.49
          Chapter Five discusses violent crime in San Francisco‟s nineteenth century
Chinatown. Until recently, San Francisco had the largest settlement of Chinese outside of
Asia. A group that is now a “model minority” was once the most criminally violent group
in the city, responsible for more than 25 percent of the homicides with less than 10
percent of the population. According to San Francisco District Attorney D. J. Murphy,
testifying before an 1876 congressional committee, “[F]rom seven-tenths to eight-tenths
of the Chinese population of San Francisco belong to the criminal classes.”50 Filtered
through prevailing modern perceptions about the origins of criminal violence, Chinese
homicide can be explained as a response to the unarguably discriminatory treatment to
which their nineteenth century members were subjected. From what we know about
nineteenth century China, and indeed other Overseas Chinese settlements, the Chinese
were not noticeably homicidal on their own turf. But it is also true that the Chinese who
migrated to San Francisco at that time brought with them a well developed system of
criminal extortion to which much of the intragroup violence can be traced.
         Much of the early twentieth century concern about criminal violence – the
concern which in part contributed to a series of discriminatory immigration laws in the
1920s--centered on Italian newcomers. According to one contemporary account, “A Sub-
Government has grown up within the boundaries of the United States and under the eyes
of the people. Its members are chiefly of foreign birth or extraction. They hold
themselves bound by no laws of the nation. They live by the knife, the gun and the bomb.
They levy tribute on the citizenry, robbing, burning, slaying as they go.”51 Chapter Six
will explore the Italian experience with crime in San Francisco. The Italian immigrant
community was associated with the upward trend in homicide following the catastrophic
1906 earthquake which devastated the city‟s infrastructure and tore its social fabric.
         It was in the closing decades of the twentieth century that criminal violence rose
dramatically, much of it associated with the arrival of large numbers of African-
Americans, internal migrants from the rural south in the period during and following the
World War II.52 African-Americans began their move out of the rural south in the late
nineteenth century, a journey documented in many accounts. Chapter Seven will look at
the effects of that migration on San Francisco from a criminal justice perspective. San
Francisco missed out on the first “great migration,” and it was not until after World War
II that large numbers of African-Americans joined the society in the West.
         As the twentieth century came to a close, non-Latino whites were a numerical
minority in the city, now peopled largely by newcomer “people of color,” from Asia and

Latin America. Chapter Eight, “Violent Rainbow,” will consider the effects of that
immigration. A brief “Afterword” will consider developments since the century‟s turn
and offer some personal observations. An Appendix, “On Methods,” will describe how
the crime categories used in this study compare with those used by others. Another, titled
“On Sources,” will describe where the homicide data was obtained.
         When violent crime was seen to decline in the last decade of the twentieth
century, students of criminal violence looked to various explanations why. Some looked
to the technological revolution, which brought improved economic conditions to many
post-smoke-stack cities. Others considered the decline in the numbers of murder-prone
young men in the society. Among the other aspects examined was the role of the criminal
justice system, including the activities of the police. It was once held that what the police
did--or did not do--had little effect on violent crime rates, particularly homicide, most of
which grew out of sudden conflicts between family members, friends and acquaintances.
“No evidence exists that augmentation of police forces or equipment, differential patrol
strategies or differential intensities of surveillance have any effect on crime rates,” report
Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi in their 1990 A General Theory of Crime.53
Others view the issue differently. Los Angeles police Chief William Bratton, who is
credited with having much to do with the marked decline in criminal violence in New
York City in the 1990s when he headed that force, and who is being lauded for
replicating that performance now in Los Angeles, recently claimed that “the penicillin for
dealing with crime is cops.” 54
         Actually, there has been little study of the effect police have on homicide rates
except in passing. Roger Lane ascribes improved police practices as part of the reason for
the decline in violence in late nineteenth century Philadelphia. Gilles Vandal explains the
lower homicide rates in Reconstruction-era New Orleans than in rural Louisiana counties
as being in part attributable to the fact that New Orleans had a fully functioning police
department. Neither author carries the discussion much further. The Justice Department,
considers “the effective strength of law enforcement agencies and administrative and
investigative emphases of law enforcement” among those factors affecting homicide
rates.55 The issue remains unresolved.
          Certainly, though, much of the discussion of minority criminal violence is taken
up with discussions of profiling by the police, police brutality, unlawful arrests, excessive
penalties and disproportionate imprisonment. In his 1931 critique of the police, Ernest
Hopkins claims that “Perhaps nothing is more directly responsible for the violent
character of much present day crime than the lawless police work that was visited upon
the immigrant in the past.”56 Modern observers, while concluding that things are not as
bad as they once were, assert that police behavior has much to do with minority
misbehavior, without making any connection between the two behaviors except in some
tenuous way.57 Threaded through each chapter will be a discussion of how police
practices might affect homicide rates. While not exclusively determinative as to the
causes of crime, the topic deserves a place in the discussion.
         In its broadest sense, the discussion of discrimination as contributing to rates of
criminal violence bears on the disagreement about the relative weight to be assigned to
different theories of criminal motivations by different groups – that is, whether the
criminal misconduct should be ascribed to the discrimination visited on the minority
group by the host society or whether it can more properly be assigned to behaviors

emanating from the minority group. Viewed one way, the differences amount to little
more than stepping in a river at a different place. What is “culture,” after all, but the
result of “environmental” exposure over an extended period of time? What does it matter
if high levels of African-American violence are ultimately traceable to their race‟s
experience in a slave-ridden and later Jim Crow South, or instead to their discriminatory
treatment at the hands of late twentieth century white San Franciscans? In fact, it matters
a great deal.
         An important reason for looking at the history of criminal violence is to identify
the errors of the past and avoid repeating them in the future.58 The disagreement about
which theory is more correct, then, has an extremely practical application. To the extent
that the behavior is traceable to the conduct of the host society, changes in that society
with relation to its treatment of minorities can be expected to improve the situation. To
the extent that the behavior reposes in the culture of the group of newcomers – however it
came to be there – matters can be improved only by the cultural adaptation of that group
to a less harmful set of behaviors toward all involved.
         There is much sensitivity about immigrant minority crime. Let it be said at the
outset--and remembered when each successive group of newcomers is encountered-- that
by far the majority of individuals in every group is law-abiding and came only seeking a
better life for themselves and their families. A book could be written on each group--and
many have--extolling their various accomplishments and contributions to American
society. But this is not that kind of book. This is a book about criminal violence involving
minority newcomers and thus must focus on the negative contributions of a numerical
minority of each group considered.
         In the end, the study offers no new, tradition-shattering paradigm. But by looking
at groups sometimes not considered in criminal violence studies from a perspective not
generally encountered in the field, perhaps our understanding of minority newcomer
crime can be nudged along on the continuum from explanations that emphasize
discrimination at the hands of the majority as the principal reason for minority newcomer
criminal violence toward that which finds much of it residing in the immigrant newcomer
culture itself. It will also be shown that the activities of the police have had an effect on
rates of criminal violence, more than is commonly believed – a positive effect when the
police were assertive, and a negative effect when the officers laid back.

         Frank Brewer had struck it rich in the California gold fields and in late May 1851
he went to San Francisco to celebrate his good fortune. On Sunday, June 1, he left his
lodging house near the waterfront with a full wallet. He was seen making the rounds to a
number of drinking houses on Broadway Street that afternoon and evening in the
company of another man. At about midnight, his murdered body was found next to a
fence at Pacific and Montgomery streets. San Franciscans were not surprised to learn that
police had arrested three Australian immigrants for the crime, William Hall, George
Spires, and Joseph Turner.59
         A week after Brewer‟s death, a group of prominent San Franciscans formed the
first of San Francisco‟s famed Committees of Vigilance which shoved aside the regular
criminal justice institutions and administered justice on its own account. In the course of
that turbulent summer, the committee hanged four criminal miscreants, and banished a
number more, all of them members of a largely Australian criminal gang that went by the
name of the Sydney Ducks.
         According to common belief, the Committee of Vigilance was prompted by two
pressing community concerns: arson fire and criminal violence, notably homicide, both
of which were thought at the time to be the particular province of Australian immigrants.
On six occasions between December 1849 and June 1851, the city was devastated by
major fires, thought to have been set by Australian arsonists bent on looting the town in
the attendant confusion.60 According to an oft-repeated legend, San Francisco suffered
100 criminal homicides in the few months preceding the formation of the committee,
many of them it again attributed to Australian immigrants.61 In simple fact, the homicide
rate, while ten times that of modern San Francisco, was not nearly as high as claimed by
the legend.62 And of the homicides that did occur, Australians were under-represented
among the perpetrators. Nor had Australians set the fires that devastated the city, the
majority of which were accidental in origin.
         Only if we disentangle myth from fact and supply actual body counts can
Australian contributions to Gold Rush criminal violence rates be determined and their
selection by the Vigilantes for special attention be explained. As will be demonstrated, it
was robbery, not homicide, that impelled the vigilantes to take matters in hand.63 That
difference not only serves to explain that long-gone time, but also helps illuminate some
little-discussed aspects of criminal justice involvement with minority newcomers in other
periods as well.
         When the gold was discovered on the American River in January 1848, setting in
motion the great California Gold Rush, the settlement that would grow into the city of
San Francisco numbered about 1,000 people, scattered along the shore of Yerba Buena
Cove, running between Telegraph and Rincon Hills. The population consisted of about
half Californios (Latino natives already in place before the American conquest), a few
American settlers from before the conquest, and a few more recent arrivals, principally
veterans of a New York regiment of volunteers sent West as soldier/settlers during the
recently ended war with Mexico.
         As news of the strike spread, immigrants from around the world streamed in, and
San Francisco quickly grew to prominence as the main port of entry for men and goods
headed for the gold fields. When Malachi Fallon, who was to be appointed the town‟s

first Chief of Police several months later, stepped ashore from the steamer California at
the deep water landing place at Broadway and Battery streets in February 1849, the town
already numbered 2,000. Wood frame and canvas dwellings had begun to spring up
among the Mexican-era adobes, and, with no place to store them, imported goods littered
the beaches. Portsmouth Square, the old Mexican Plaza, was ringed with round-the-clock
gambling and drinking saloons. Gold seekers continued to stream in. Most who came
pushed on to the mines, but some stayed in San Francisco. By the end of 1849 the town‟s
population is estimated to have been 20,000.
         For all the confusion of immigrants, the very early months of the Gold Rush were
comparatively crime-free, at least in San Francisco.64 In December 1848, the trussed-up
body of Emile Bertrand, a discharged veteran of the New York regiment and the victim
of the sole homicide that year, was found on the beach. No killer was ever identified and
the crime was quickly forgotten in the confusion of Gold Rush arrivals. The justice
system found by the new arrivals in early 1849 in the first flush of the Gold Rush, a
hybrid system dating to the transition from Mexican to United States rule, consisted of an
alcalde (mayor/judge) supported by a lone constable.
          Early Gold Rush arrivals came only to make their fortune and quickly return
home. Little thought was given to the establishment of permanent governmental
institutions. Each was expected to look out for his own interests and personal safety. In
the criminal justice vacuum in the early months of 1849, a group of young bullies calling
themselves the Hounds set themselves up as the self-appointed law enforcement agency
for the town. Not much attention was paid to the group until July 15, 1849 when in the
timeless way of bullies they rioted on Telegraph Hill in reprisal for the earlier killing of a
Hound by a Chilean storekeeper. The next day an outraged populace convened the first of
the city‟s popular tribunals which tried and banished the thugs under pain of death should
they return.
         If there was any doubt before, the affair of the Hounds convinced San Franciscans
that a more substantial law enforcement system was called for. In early August, San
Francisco elected a municipal government according to Mexican forms. John Geary was
elected alcalde to head a 12-member ayuntamiento (council). On August 13, the council
selected Malachi Fallon as San Francisco‟s first "captain" (Chief) of police. Chief Fallon
was authorized to hire an assistant chief, three sergeants and thirty men to staff the city‟s
first police department.
         Ironically, it was after the establishment of a police department that the homicide
rate began to increase in earnest. Typical was the case of Reuben Withers and Frank
Reynolds. In the early morning hours of Saturday, December 15, 1849, Rueben Withers,
25, scion of a wealthy New York Knickerbocker family, was among the crowd at the bar
of the Bella Union gambling saloon on Washington Street opposite Portsmouth Square.
Also present was Frank Reynolds, 28, a Philadelphia native. As the night wore on, the
drunken conversation turned to the relative merits of New York and Philadelphia.
Tempers flared. Withers pulled his revolver and shot Frank Reynolds dead. The
perpetrator fled and the police were called from their station across the square, but before
a proper search could be mounted, the killer made his way to the waterfront a few blocks
away and hastily took passage on a ship departing for Mexico. Withers was ultimately
arrested in Mexico by the U.S. Consul at Mazatlan, returned to San Francisco and placed

on trial in San Jose after obtaining a change of venue. There he was found not guilty after
a jury trial.
         Over the next year and a half, up to the formation of the Vigilance Committee in
1851, the Withers/Reynolds scenario would repeat itself time and again. In all, there were
41 criminal homicides in San Francisco in the three years between 1849 and the end of
1851, seven of them in the few months immediately preceding the formation of the
Vigilance Committee. The average annual rate for the period was 54.6 per 100,000,
which, while not approaching the level claimed in the legend, provided sufficient carnage
to slake anyone‟s appetite for blood.
         The best overall explanation for the high rates of criminal violence lies in the
confluence of large numbers of young single males in a boomtown environment. Just
about every study of criminal violence on the American frontier has shown that homicide
is disproportionately the province of young males.65 “In all new mining communities,”
wrote the authors of an 1881 history of Nevada, “the number of homicides is greater in
proportion to population than in places settled for agricultural, manufacturing,
commercial and other kindred purposes.”66 Frontier communities, they assert, attract the
“restless class that can be found in every grade of society – the speculative, the miserly,
those prone to gambling, the reckless as well as the staid and sober.” 67 San Francisco‟s
Gold Rush population was almost all young, single males and it is from this factor alone
that we can expect to encounter high homicide rates.68
         Another part of the explanation for high rates in mining frontiers, at least those in
the American West, lies in public and law enforcement tolerance toward criminal
violence. (British colonies escaped the curse of high levels of homicidal violence. In
British Columbia, which experienced Gold Rushes about the same time, the homicide
rate for a like period was found to be a small fraction of the rates found by Roger
McGrath in Bodie, Clare McKanna in Colorado, or for that matter that of Gold Rush San
          Many students of American frontier violence have noted that criminal violence
didn‟t raise public hackles as long as it was mutual and no unfair advantage was taken.
Roger McGrath found that when young white thugs killed each other in Bodie there was
little concern as long as they kept it within their own group. Says McGrath, “If two
healthy young men chose to fight – with fists, knives, or guns – and the results proved
deadly, few people became terribly upset.”70 The sentiment was not restricted to mining
camps. “Murder, unlike riot,” reports Roger Lane, reporting on the mid-nineteenth
century urban situation generally, “was not high on their [police] list of priorities. . . .
Early police reports typically said little or nothing about homicide.”71
         More to the point of this inquiry, however--an examination of the contribution of
Australians to the violent crime rate in Gold Rush San Francisco--we do have the ethnic
identity of 24 of the 33 homicide cases for which a perpetrator is known. Notably absent
in the litany of saloon homicides which did plague the town during the pre-vigilante era
are those committed by Australians. The Brewer killing in June 1851, on the eve of the
formation of the Committee of Vigilance, is the only one that can be claimed, with a
supportable degree of certainty, to have been committed by an Australian.72 Yet it was
Australians almost alone who dangled at the end of vigilante ropes. Why?
         Following the loss of its American colonies as a convict dumping ground
following the Revolutionary War, England established penal colonies in New South

Wales and Van Dieman‟s land, and by the middle of the nineteenth century the new
colony‟s population consisted of a mix of convicts, free settlers, and “ticket of leave”
men, (convicts paroled on their good behavior as long as they did not return to England).
News of the California gold strike arrived in Sydney in December and the first Australian
gold seekers arrived in San Francisco in April 1849.73
         As with other arrivals, most Australians moved on to the mines. Some remained
in San Francisco, many of whom, with experience gained working in Sydney Harbor,
took employment as bay boatmen, lightering passengers and goods from ships in the
stream across the mudflats to the beach. Their criminal reputation preceded them. One
Sydney merchant complained that three-fourths of the passengers on all vessels headed to
California were swindlers with bad reputations or people who ran up bills then ran out on
them. Among the first 52 passengers to arrive on the first ship in April 1849, according to
its captain, were some of the “worst rascals in Sydney.”74
         Arson, believed to have been set by Australian newcomers bent on stealing in the
attendant disorder, was among the reasons offered for the formation of the First
Committee of Vigilance. That belief probably took root following the first of the five
great fires, on December 24, 1849. Of the 70 arrested for stealing at the fire while the
citizenry was occupied with putting it out, 48 were Australian immigrants.75 It is
doubtless from this that the idea sprang that it was Australians who were responsible for
the great fires that plagued San Francisco. There were certainly frequent press references
blaming Australians for the conflagrations.76 In fact at least four of the six fires were
doubtless attributable to accident or negligence. And one of the two that might have been
arson was set by a black man avenging a racial affront.77
         So, the question remains: why was it that it was Australians who hanged? As has
already been noted, some students of the time have asserted that the Australians‟ “bad
reputation [for criminality] seems undeserved.”78 Others contend that immigrant
Australians were scapegoated by business leaders looking for someone to blame.79 It is
true enough that there were negative feelings about the Australians. According to one
contemporary correspondent, “There exists a very strong feeling here against Sydney
people, all arriving from the colony being looked upon, generally speaking, as nothing
better than convicts.”80 There were reasons for that sentiment other than societal
scapegoating, however.
         Society might rail against asymmetrical penalties assessed against corporate white
collar criminals these days, or violators of environmental laws, but those are not the kinds
of crime that get our retributive juices flowing. “Of vital interest to the criminal justice
system and to the population at large,” says one modern observer of the criminal scene,
“is the occurrence of violent personal crimes, since these are the offenses that arouse fear
within the populace.”81 Studies of interpersonal criminal violence – this one included--
commonly tend to focus on homicide as the measure of its incidence.82 There are several
reasons for this, some having to do with technical concerns and others with universal
societal values. One reason homicide is used as a general index of violent criminality is
that it is the crime for which the most complete records exist.83 This is of particular value
when looking at times past.84 In the absence of complete data about other types of
criminal violence, homicide has been shown in most cases--but not always--to be a good
index of the amount of violent crime generally.85

         All lives are presumably of equal value before the law, but in practice not all
homicide is viewed the same, and it never has been. Modern critics of the criminal justice
system bemoan the fact that little is done if the victim is a person of color, a phenomenon
ascribed to a lack of concern for minorities.86 In some instances that is doubtless so but
there is more to the case than that. Observers have found that criminal violence, no matter
what the group, is considered less outrageous when it stays within group boundaries. That
was the situation with the young white men found by McGrath and Lane in the
communities they studied. Similar sentiments can be found in Gold Rush San Francisco.
Withers and the other saloon shooters – those who found their way into court – were
typically released by sympathetic jurors. Murder was not high on the list of Gold Rush
San Franciscans‟ priorities. “Except in the case of robbery,” wrote historian Hubert H.
Bancroft, “a man had little fear of being killed if he stayed out of saloons.”87
         Bancroft‟s exception of robbery, a crime that a “well-behaved man” might well
have reason to fear, is significant. It is the rapist and the robber who people fear most.
While much rape and robbery is conducted within the group, those crimes are more likely
than homicide to cross societal boundaries. 88 This in part accounts for the assignment of
“special circumstances” calling for the death penalty in homicides in which robbery and
other serious personal felonies are involved. Bodie again offers an example. After three
street robberies in February 1879, the Bodie Standard warned that the practice was
getting too common and the perpetrators would wake up some morning at the top of the
liberty pole.89 This in a town which regularly acquitted homicide defendants as long as no
unfair advantage was taken. Simply put, forcible robbery was rare in nineteenth century
urban America. With reference to another nineteenth century American city, Roger Lane
comments “It is not clear either why armed robbery, now the quintessential urban street
crime, was so rare in the 1890s that a holdup in the North Bronx rated front page stories
in Philadelphia, with the cops eventually concluding that the gunman must have worked
for Buffalo Bill.90” Elsewhere Lane says that the proportion of killings for robbery was
8.1 percent in late twentieth and 2.8 percent in nineteenth century. “It is hard to believe,”
he says, “that the latter figure is an accurate representation of reality.” 91 But others found
the same phenomenon elsewhere. Roger McGrath was surprised at the absence of
commercial robberies and cites only 13 personal robberies in his study of murderous
Bodie in the 1870s.92 Horace Bell, speaking of murder-prone Los Angeles in the 1850s,
commented that “Robberies were of rare occurrence.” 93 Eric Monkkonen points out that
instrumental homicides (which include those committed in the perpetration of a robbery)
did not figure large in nineteenth century homicide either. His figures for New York
ranged from two to five percent in the nineteenth century compared to Chicago after 1976
when there was four to eight times as much.94
         And when robbery did occur, as the experience in Bodie suggests, the citizenry
was ready to impose the harshest methods of redress. The hangings of the relatively non-
murderous Australians begin to make some sense.95 In all, between mid-1849, just before
the new police department was formed, and June 1850, there were three robberies in San
Francisco. On Halloween night 1849, Joseph Ogden was arrested for the strong arm
robbery of an African-American named Alex Farnum. Two months later, on January 8,
1850, a Mr. Trail was mugged on Portsmouth Square by a man named Albert Brown,
who was arrested in the act by Officer Meredith. Three months later three unknown white
males robbed a man bringing a load of wood to the city. That is it for fiscal year 1849-50.

          Then the robbery rate accelerated. During the next year--the 12 months
immediately preceding the formation of the Vigilance Committee--there were 26
robberies.96 In July, a boatman named William McMahon, whose occupation suggests
that he may have been an Australian, was arrested for mugging a passenger named Levy.
There was one robbery in August, two more in September, and four in October. In
October 1850, Robert McKenzie, a Sydney Duck who was later to gain a measure of
fame for being hanged by the Vigilance Committee, was arrested in company with a man
named John Hughes for robbing a Chinese man on the Mission Road. 97 There was
insufficient evidence to convict McKenzie but Hughes was convicted and received a ten-
year sentence.
         In October 1850, five men, identified as Australians by their victims, boarded the
brig James Caskie in the harbor and beat the captain viciously in a robbery that netted
$200. There were three more robberies reported in November, and seven in December,
one of them involving Robert McKenzie again. By the end of 1850 Australian criminals
were known to the public through press accounts by their given names. James Hall,
whose arrest opened the chapter, was involved in a robbery of a man in his house on
Jackson street that month. And when the victim was cut in another street robbery attempt
a few days later, the Alta asked “when will the people do something?”98 They were to get
their answer before too long.
         January was quiet but things picked up again in February. On the third, two
strong-arm robbers made the mistake of trying to mug officer Benjamin Blitz at North
Beach. The next day two men knocked down a man named Jackson on Dupont Street and
robbed him of $170. And on February 14, three men robbed Thomas Long of his rifle on
the Mission Road. The next robbery showed where the public stood on the issue. On
February 19, 1851, four men, identified by the victim as Australians, entered the store of
Charles Jansen on Montgomery Street and beat and robbed him. Two days later the
police arrested two Australians who gave their names as Thomas Berdue and William
Windred. Witnesses identified Berdue as “English Jim” Stuart, a well known Australian
immigrant criminal. At their examination before the Justice Court that afternoon a group
of citizens tried to seize the defendants but were fought off. The next day, as police
escorted the pair back to the jail after a show-up identification by the victim, another
attempt was made to seize the prisoners, and again the angry crowd was driven off by the
         The city was plunged into excitement over the next few days. Thousands met in
Portsmouth Square and formed a tribunal which put the Australians on trial in absentia.
(The defendants cowered under beds in the police barracks while “the people” decided
their fate.) Finally, the appointed tribunal could not agree and the suspects were left to the
ministrations of the regular justice system. It was just as well, because as things turned
out, though English Jim had indeed committed the robbery, the man arrested was not
English Jim and had nothing to do with the crime.
         Following the Jansen, robbery it was thought at first that conditions might
improve and for a time it seemed that they had. But the robberies started up again in May.
The robbery rate for the year preceding formation of the Vigilance Committee was 86.6
per 100,000 population, substantially higher than the 52 per 100,000 that almost brought
out the vigilante ropes in Bodie.99 The majority of these robberies for whom the ethnic
identity of the perpetrators is known, were committed by Australians.

        And it was not just robbery. Burglaries increased as well. In the period from 1849
to 1850, four burglaries were reported in San Francisco. In the 12 months immediately
preceding the establishment of the Committee, there were 102. Burglary is not now
considered an anti-personal crime. In the Gold Rush society, however, where housing
was scarce, many lived where they worked, so the chance was greater of someone being
on the premises when even a commercial burglary was committed.
         On June 2, 1851 the Alta contained a one-sentence notice which prosaically
reported a burglary at the foot of Dupont Street, in which the householder (G.Burr) had
driven off the thieves. In a later account, the victim himself, Gustave Bergenroth, put it
much more dramatically. “I was alone on the extreme tip of the Peninsula,” he wrote,
“All passing boats, to or from the Bay, were obliged to round this point; on which
occasion it often happened that people came on shore, especially at night, and attacked
my house.” To defend himself, Bergenroth made an inner wall of planks and filled the
space with sand. He also laid a powder mine under his threshold as a last resort. “A loose
plank in the floor was my greatest safeguard,” he reported “as, when beset by large
numbers I could lift it up, slip into cellar and creep into the long, high grass behind the
house, whence I could make a circuit behind the foe, and sheltered by stones and holes
and sure of an easy retreat, I could open fire from my double barreled rifle.”100 And thus
did the victim drive off the burglars. 101
        Like the robbers, the burglars were disproportionately known to be Australians.
On March 16, 1851, shortly after the Jansen robbery, police got wind of the planned
burglary of Colonel Jonathan Stevenson‟s premises at the foot of Sacramento Street
(unlike the foot of Dupont, this was in the heart of the business district.) The officers set a
trap and netted a group of Australian thieves when they showed up to do the job, George
Adams, William Watkins, Francis Greer (aka) Wilson, and several others. The burglars
were duly convicted and placed in jail from where they soon escaped. In early June,
William Swan, another well-known Sydney thief, was arrested for the June 1 burglary of
a jewelry store on Dupont Street. But a couple of days later he was released by the
Recorder for lack of evidence.102
        Swan‟s release points to other problems facing the town. There was a widely held
opinion by that time that the regular justice system was just not up to the task of
maintaining law and order. "At that period of which we write," said the authors of The
Annals of San Francisco, "the tribunals of justice were considered altogether insufficient
for those dangerous times, and many of the individuals connected with them incapable
and corrupt."103 As to the attorneys who practiced before the courts, the day after the
Jansen robbery the Alta expressed the widely held belief that, "The highwayman uses his
loot to pay pettifogging attorneys who get him off. Such attornies (sic) are father to the
thief and the murderer."104 And as to the police, the Picayune in January 1851 remarked
that "out of the immediate vicinity of gambling or drinking saloons, a policeman is
scarcely ever to be found, day or night." Crime was increasing, the editor said, but
criminals were not being detected and sent to court in proportion to the incidence of
crime.105 It made little difference if they were. Because of the insufficiency of the
wooden jails, even if convicted there was little chance that a defendant would have to
serve his sentence. As was the case with the Stevenson burglary, it was a simple matter to
escape from the “wooden sieves” that passed for jails. Almost daily, morning newspaper
readers were greeted with stories of daring escapes from the insecure jails.

          It was in this climate that the crime occurred which triggered the formation of the
Vigilance Committee. On June 2, the day after the Brewer homicide and the Swan
burglary, an Australian immigrant named Benjamin Lewis, angry that he was being
evicted from his room on Central Wharf, set fire to the building and fled. The fire was
quickly extinguished and Lewis was arrested by a nearby police officer, but when an
indictment was presented against Lewis in District Court, Judge Parsons, on the motion
of the defendant's attorney, quashed it on the grounds that the grand jury had been
irregularly convened.106 That broke it.
         On Sunday, June 8, 100 of the leading men in San Francisco gathered to form the
first of the city‟s famed Committees of Vigilance. On Tuesday, the group reconvened and
entered their names in the rolls of the Committee of Vigilance. That night at 8 p.m. a
Sydney immigrant, named John Jenkins entered George Virgin‟s shipping office on
Central Wharf and stole what turned out to be an empty strongbox. He was seen in the act
and captured by passersby who turned him over to the recently formed Committee. That
same night after a hastily convened secret trial, Jenkins was taken to Portsmouth Square,
where he was hanged from a beam in the old Mexican Customs house.107
         There was nominal opposition voiced about the summary proceedings in the
immediate aftermath of Jenkins‟s hanging, but, on the whole, the press and public
approved of the Committee‟s actions. The Committee‟s interest had begun to flag by the
end of June. Then on July 2, the real James Stuart was picked up by chance near the
scene of a burglary on Nob Hill. After several days in vigilante custody, Stuart became
convinced that he was not going to talk himself out of his predicament. In return for a
promise from the Committee that if he named his confederates he would be turned over
to the authorities in Yuba County, where he was wanted on a homicide charge, Stuart
agreed to confess. Stuart related a tale of evil, long suspected but never told in its entirety
by an insider. If there was any doubt before, his confession made it pretty clear that there
was a loose confederation of Australian criminals preying on the residents of the state. In
his statement, Stuart named more than 20 men as his close criminal confederates. After a
trial before the executive committee at which he was convicted, and despite the promise
that he would be turned over to the regular authorities, Stuart was taken on July 10 to the
Market Street Wharf and hanged.
         At the end of July, the aforementioned Robert McKenzie, one of those named by
Stuart as a member of the criminal gang, was also arrested in Sacramento and taken to
San Francisco where he was held in the Committee rooms. The Committee also kept after
Samuel Whittaker, who was caught enroute to San Diego and turned over to the
committee. Whittaker admitted to being involved in the Jansen robbery which, he said,
started out to be a sneak theft that turned violent. McKenzie also broke, admitting to two
San Francisco robberies. On Sunday, August 24, the vigilantes hanged them both from
the window of Vigilante headquarters. Declaring their work done, the committee then
disbanded and turned the administration of justice back to the regular authorities.
         Why, though, did criminal predation – burglary and robbery--increase beginning
in the late summer of 1850? A strong case can be made for a statewide economic
downturn as contributing to increased crime from the late summer of 1850 on. The non-
Indian population of California at the time of the gold discovery was about 12,000 and by
mid-1850 it increased tenfold. In the rush to gold, Californians failed to develop a diverse
economic infrastructure, and when in 1850 the easily obtained placer gold began to peter

out, it became a case of more and more newcomers chasing less and less easily acquired
         This in part explains the foreign miner‟s tax enacted in the 1850 legislative
session in an attempt to preserve the gold for “Americans.” The collection was aimed at
Chinese and Latino miners though technically Australians, as well as other Europeans,
were subject to the law‟s provisions. Some claimed, “rather feebly,” says Jay Monaghan,
that the $50 tax prevented the poor Australians from mining and turned them to lives of
crime.108 A better case can be made for economic conditions in San Francisco as
contributing to the Australian crime rate. The extension of wharves over the mudflats in
front of the town by the spring of 1850 reduced the need for boatmen, putting many
Australians out of work. At the same time American hack men organized themselves in
an effort to put their Australian counterparts out of business.109
         Some have tried to make the case that the sentenced prisoners sent from the
British Isles to Australia were largely political exiles. That was not so. One study of the
criminal background of Australian convicts showed that two-thirds of those transported
to Australia had previous criminal records for more serious crimes.110 And once there, the
leopards do not seem to have changed their spots. The records are not complete but those
taht do exist point to lessons unlearned. Of those tried by one Australian judge between
1833 and 1838, 54 percent were convicts under sentence, 29 percent were emancipated
prisoners, six percent were free settlers and four percent were Australian born.111 Thirteen
percent of the Australians who immigrated to California in late 1849 and early 1850 had
criminal records (19 percent of the adult males).112
         As is common with criminals any time, those arrested by the vigilance committee
looked to other than themselves as the cause of their problems. Sam Whitaker claimed in
his confession that he had led a law-abiding life since his arrival in August 1849, until he
ran afoul of the police. He bought a horse, he said, which turned out to have been stolen.
The police confiscated the $60 he had paid for the horse while the case was being
processed through the courts and when he went to reclaim his money after the case was
disposed of, he said, the officers laughingly dismissed his claim. It was then, he says, that
he returned to a life of crime.113 Similarly, Stuart said that he had been law-abiding until
he was cheated in a gambling setup.114 The enthusiasm with which both embraced the
criminal life suggests, however, that their excuses were just that. And the profile of the
Australian immigrant ex-convicts would seem to suggest a predisposition toward
criminality. The argument attributing Australian criminality to the economic downturn is
diluted by the fact that Australians comprised almost 70 percent of those arrested for theft
at the 1849 fire, long before the economy went sour.
         On balance the assertion that Australians were universally held up as criminals
does not wear well. On October 28, 1850, at the beginning of the crime wave which
would in the end result in the formation of the Committee of Vigilance, the San Francisco
Alta, a strong supporter of the committee once it was formed, cautioned against over
blaming Sydney people and Mexicans and Indians for the crime being committed. By
February 1851, by which time the Australian contribution to the crime rate was evident,
however, the paper changed its tune. On February 25, while conceding that many good
people came from Australia, the Alta reported that many criminals were coming as well
and that the law against ship captains bringing convicts should be enforced. A fairer
estimate of where Australians fit in to the continuum between law-abiding and crime-

prone was that of Monaghan, who summed it up as “Australians who were both honest
and successful admitted that the worst people in San Francisco came from the colonies,
and they blamed their own countrymen for permitting such characters to emigrate.”115
The economic downturn cannot totally be rejected as a contributing factor, but the simple
statistical fact – however it came to be so – is that a group with no more than six percent
of the population was responsible for over 50 percent of the forcible robberies in Gold
Rush San Francisco.
         The activities of the regular justice system with regard to criminal violence seem
to have contributed to the high rates as well. Much of the problem with crime in Gold
Rush San Francisco had to do with the fact that the city simply grew too quickly. This
rapid growth, faster than judicial institutions or infrastructures could keep pace –
including the failure to establish adequate fire prevention measures and custodial
facilities – helps account for the frequent fires and jail escapes. By some accounts the
thinly staffed regular police were afraid to deal forcefully on a regular basis with
Australian criminals.116
         Some of the problems also can be traced to venality of public officials. In his
confession, Sam Whitaker charged public officials with corruption. In one case, he said,
he avoided a ten-day sentence given to him in the Recorder‟s Court by the payment of
$230. He also said that he had once given Police Captain Andrew McCarty three ounces
in gold, and that at the request of Captain McCarty and Assistant Captain Robert
McIntire, he had gotten 12 foreigners to vote for Marshal Fallon at his election. Stuart
said that McCarty and McIntire had a long association with his gang, and had arranged
for officers to be elsewhere when the gang wanted to commit a burglary.117 There was
other more damaging evidence against Marshal Fallon as well. Thomas Ainsworth,
arrested along with George Adams in July, (and veteran of the arrests following the 1849
fire) stated that the marshal had arrested him repeatedly until he agreed to steal for
him.118 And in late August, a man about to be hanged by a mob in Sacramento, with his
neck literally in the noose, is said to have made "grave charges" against the mayor of
Sacramento and Marshal Fallon of San Francisco. 119 To the extent that the charges are
true, it could be said that police provided a negative disincentive to crime control.
         Perhaps a more important factor, one which bears on high rates of criminal
violence in the American western frontier generally – and indeed may have something to
do with the comparatively high rates down to our own time – is the attitude, held by both
public officials and the general public, that interpersonal violence was to a large extent a
private matter. In San Francisco, as shown in the Withers case and in any number of other
instances, and as in McGrath‟s Bodie and Lane‟s Philadelphia, juries were not overly
concerned if denizens of the many saloons and gambling halls took it upon themselves to
shoot each other. Those attitudes extended to public officials as well. 120
         Contrast that situation with that which occurred in frontier societies subject to
British legal traditions. Mid-nineteenth century British Columbia, according to David
Peterson Del Mar, had all the ingredients of a lawless frontier: “wide expanses dotted
with settlements of unattached mobile males.”121 The typical resident, he reports, was
“the miner, an unattached, mobile and pugnacious young man, precisely the sort of fellow
who was apt to get into a shooting or knifing scrape.”122 Yet British Columbia during the
height of its mining period had a homicide rate less than a third of those found in the
mining communities on the other side of the national boundary, 16.6 for the period of

1859 through 1871 compared to the 48.6 to 95.5 found by Clare McKanna in the
American mining camps he studied.
         Peterson Del Mar attributes the difference in large part--and correctly so--to the
different attitudes toward criminal violence found on the opposite sides of the line. “Law
preceded the settlers in British Columbia,” he says and,“the government north of the
border asserted a monopoly on law enforcement and killing.” 123 “Legal and popular
culture south of the line were more sensitive to individual liberty and freedom,” he says,
“the right of a man to take the law into his own hands without fear of suffering much
judicial punishment for it, even if that claim to freedom meant killing another man.” 124
This he suggests accounts for the disparity of homicide rates. “It was not uncommon” he
reports, “for angry men in British Columbia to threaten to kill their enemies „if I ever
catch you below the line.‟”125 (In a venue far removed from the frontier West or the
Canadian Northwest, Eric Monkkonen wonders whether the rates of urban nineteenth
century America diverged from those in England at the time because of the “feeble”
punishment mechanism in New York.126) In any event, says Peterson Del Mar,
“Criminals south of the line, even murderers, were more apt to escape the state‟s criminal
justice system and die at the hands of groups of private citizens frustrated with the
system‟s leniency.”127 And that is exactly what happened in San Francisco and any
number of other nineteenth-century western communities.
         Whatever the case, the strict measures taken by the Committee of Vigilance in
San Francisco do seem to have had some beneficial effect on the crime rate. In mid-June
1851, shortly after Jenkin‟s hanging, the Alta reported that the Recorder's Court had taken
on a different appearance. Whereas in the past there had been a vast number of burglary
and larceny cases brought in each morning, the paper said, now there were only a few
drunks.128 And the Picayune announced a couple of months later at the height of the
vigilance ascendance: "[A] great number of the most notorious cribs [on Pacific Street]
have been closed. Dens, around the doors of which, but a week or two ago, great hulks of
fellows, with faces marked with traces of every species of desperate crime, might have
been seen lounging; and from which at night, the murderer and burglar stole out upon a
mission of crime, are now deserted; and on the closed doors may be seen notices that they
are for rent, or sale."129
         That beneficial effect is borne out by criminal record. In the year following the
tenure of the committee, robbery, burglary and homicide rates all declined. Reported
robberies declined from 26 to 14 in the year following the committee‟s work. Burglary
reports were reduced from 102 to 65 over the same period.130 And the average annual
homicide rate declined from 54.6 per 100,000 population for the two years preceding the
establishment of the committee to 32.5 for the like period following. (There was actually
one more homicide in the second period--42 against 41--but when changed population
figures are factored in, the rate declined. By operation of the same type of calculation, the
rates of robbery and burglary would show a greater reduction than would appear from a
comparison of the bare numbers. Part of the reduction doubtless had to do with dilution
of the male portion of the population by the arrival of women. By the 1852 census, males
comprised 82 percent of the population compared to 90 percent or more a couple of years
earlier. By 1860 the ratio would be 60/40, thus further diluting the population of the most
murder-prone group.)

         And there was a difference in the type of homicide that did occur, suggesting that
perhaps by taking matters in hand, the more responsible elements of the community were
sending out a message that criminal misconduct generally would not be tolerated. Studies
in a wide variety of times and places show that the most common situation resulting in
homicide--about 35 to 40 percent of all cases--is some kind of a sudden dispute arising
from trivial circumstances. (Marvin Wolfgang, in his study of Philadelphia homicide in
the 1950s, attempted to establish motivational categories by means of which such issues
could be compared among different places. He found an average of 35 percent of
homicides resulting from what he called an “altercation of relatively trivial origin; insult,
curse, jostling, etc.” While Wolfgang‟s categories are not discrete, they do provide a
good general baseline with which to make rough comparisons about the circumstances
under which homicide occurs.131)
         In pre-vigilante San Francisco, the period up to June 1851, 74 percent of the
killings fell into that category. Similar findings have been replicated in a number of
different studies of Gold Rush communities. (Thompson and West found that the greater
proportion of homicides in their study of nineteenth century Nevada resulted from
reckless bravado. “Persons meet in saloons, bagnios and gambling places, with deadly
weapons on their persons; they drink, gamble, dispute when half intoxicated, banter each
other, and at last draw out their weapons and for fancied causes alone slay each other.”
For more than half of the 402 cases they list “[T]hose for which trivial causes or none at
all, is assigned are more than one-half.” “The majority of these can be safely be set down
as having begun in frivolous bravado, and never would have occurred had men not gone
unnecessarily armed and congregated in places where their cooler thoughts were usurped
by those begotten by the insidious wiles of strong drink.”)132
         In the equivalent period following the adjournment of the committee in San
Francisco, such homicides amounted to about half of the total. And of those crimes for
which arrests were made, Australians no longer dominated the criminal docket.133
         Gold Rush criminal violence grew out of a number of factors: the social
turbulence of the time, lax or corrupt law enforcement and a climate of economic
downturn. Without a doubt there was widespread anti-Australian sentiment in Gold Rush
San Francisco. But any claim that “all” Australians – or for that matter “all” of any
group--was predisposed to crime just does not hold water. Whether those sentiments can
be looked to as a contributing factor to Australian criminality is far less certain. And the
type of criminal behavior the Australians did choose to participate in--violent out-group
street robberies-- is of the sort that is bound to prompt extreme reaction in any society.
          In the end it would have to be said that the Australians did not in fact contribute
much to the homicide rate in Gold Rush San Francisco, nor did they burn the city down.
But they did in fact commit a disproportionate amount of criminal violence in the form of
street robberies. While the Australia from which the Gold Rush immigrants came might
not have been particularly plagued with criminal violence, many of the Australians who
answered the call to gold from California definitely brought criminal propensities with
them. Here they came in contact with a socio/legal climate in which it was apparent that
interpersonal violence was viewed with equanimity. Perhaps they concluded that the
apathy extended to robbery as well. If so, they made a mistake. In that regard we can
reasonably conclude that the operation of the justice system in Gold Rush San Francisco
– both legal and extralegal--had some effect on the criminal record: first, by the legal

group doing too little and then by the extralegal Committee of Vigilance doing what
many consider as too much.
       And while the forces of order in Gold Rush San Francisco--both official and self-
designated--occupied themselves with Australian ex-convicts, another, much more
murderous group of minority newcomers flew well below the criminal justice radar.

         At mid-afternoon on Monday, September 13, 1852, several residents of Pleasant
Valley (near Second and Howard streets) watched in horror as a man, later identified as
Jose Forni, chased another man down the high sand hill at that location, stabbing him
repeatedly. Neighborhood residents piled out of their homes and chased Forni back up the
hill where they subdued him and placed him under arrest.134
        The victim, Jose Rodriquez, died within two minutes without making any
statement. Forni, a non-English-speaking native of Spain, was indicted by the Grand Jury
on a charge of murder and ordered to trial before the District Court. At his October trial
Forni claimed that he had met Rodriquez, an immigrant from Mexico, on the top of the
hill and that Rodriquez had offered to share a drink with him. He declined, he said, "and
repaired to a nearby place for the purpose of nature," placing his sash containing $325
and his knife about 12 feet away. He was surprised to see Rodriquez rise up from behind
a nearby hillock, he said, pick up Forni's knife and demand his money. When Forni tried
to run, according to his version of the incident, the man stabbed him in the leg. Forni was
able to disarm his attacker, he said, and chased him down the hill where the killing took
place.135 The jury did not buy Forni‟s story and he was convicted of first-degree murder.
On December 10, 1852 the killer was taken to a spot on the western side of Russian Hill
and hanged in full view of 3,000 spectators, thus earning the dubious honor of being the
first man executed by lawful process in Gold Rush San Francisco.
        Some suggested it was Forni‟s minority status that earned him this distinction. “It
was a proud day for the law” wrote Hubert H. Bancroft, California‟s preeminent
nineteenth century historian.” True it was only a Spaniard who was hanged, Jose Forin
(sic) for the murder of a Spaniard . . . . It was a happy sight, I say, this hanging of the
moneyless, friendless Spanish stranger. . . ." 136 Such thinking finds expression in modern
discussions of minorities and crime generally. Speaking of California‟s nineteenth
century treatment of minorities before the law, Clare McKanna concludes in his study of
homicide and race in nineteenth century California that “this [justice] system, distorted
by racial prejudice, ensured that minorities would pay a much heavier price than
whites.”137 These findings have implications for modern minority crime as well.
According to Ronald Barri Flowers in his study of minorities and crime, “any study that
hopes to accurately explore the impact of crime on American minority groups must
consider the associative significance of historical mistreatment of minorities and their
criminality and victimization today.138 Sadly,” he concludes, “the United States is largely
what it is today at the cruel and unjust expense of its minorities.”139
        Writing of the Latino bandidos like those who peopled Gold Rush California, two
modern commentators on the events of that time assert that they “can be described as
victims of injustice. They were forced into a life that was outside of the newly imposed
Anglo-American law; theirs was a banditry in the form of retribution and for the purpose
of survival.”140
         The idea of the minority victims of white justice has so imbedded itself in our
collective understanding of minority/majority relations that one scholar who recently
found otherwise was moved to title his article “A Surprising Amount of Justice.”141
(There is a curious anomaly in all this. We are willing to accept criminal violence

committed by Anglos in the old West--like that found in boomtown San Francisco or the
wild mining camps like Bodie--as caused by some individual character flaw or because of
some general societal condition – not enough law, alcohol, youth, and prevalence of
firearms. Yet when “people of color” are involved, we immediately start looking for
some oppressive condition imposed on them by the majority to explain their criminal
         This chapter will look at the incidence of criminal violence attributed to Latino
perpetrators in Gold Rush San Francisco, tracking the cases from their point of incidence
to their final disposition. It will be found that while Latino newcomers to the city during
the Gold Rush era were overrepresented among those convicted and sentenced for the
commission of homicide, it is also a fact that they contributed disproportionately to the
homicide rate. And an analysis of the circumstances of those killings suggests that the
homicide rates, contrary to common belief, can very often be traced to other than simple
discrimination on the part of the host society.143
         To provide a setting in which to consider Latino homicide in San Francisco in the
1850s, a brief survey of the historical and geographical context in which it occurred is in
order. The first European settlers to California arrived in the last decades of the
eighteenth century, and in the next 75 years, the Spaniards (and their Mexican
successors) founded a series of missions, presidios and pueblos (civil settlements) at
coastal locations north to Sonoma. The European-derived population was never large
during this era. In 1815 there were perhaps 2,400 gente de rezon (people of reason), as
Spanish and Mexican settlers referred to non-Indian Californios. By 1845, on the eve of
the American conquest, there were no more than 8,000, of whom about 7,000 were
Latinos and the rest a combination of Anglo-Americans and Europeans, mostly Anglo-
         There is a prevalent view of Alta California as a Latino Arcadia before the
coming of the Americans. “Old inhabitants,” reported Zoeth Skinner Eldredge, “maintain
that California was a perfect paradise before the foreign immigration set in to corrupt
patriarchal customs; then robbery and assassinations were unheard of,” he said,
“blasphemy rare, and fraudulent creditors unknown.” 145 Bancroft agrees: "There were
then no jails, no juries, no sheriff, law processes or courts," he wrote of the period prior to
the American arrival, "conscience and public opinion were law and justice held an evenly
balanced rule.” 146
         While Latino California did not have the level of homicide that would plague the
state during the Gold Rush era, it was far from a paradise. Eric Monkkonen has
calculated an annual average homicide rate of 95.1 for the area now encompassed by Los
Angeles County for the seven years prior to the American conquest, from 1839 to 1845,
which taken by itself, would place the homicide rates for the settlement in the company
of the worst of American frontier settlements.147 Monkkonen urges caution, however,
about making too much of the high rate. The population of pre-Gold Rush California was
simply too small (and the numbers too uncertain) to calculate homicide rates with any
degree of absolute precision, a factor that also arises with other groups and societies
which will be encountered.
         There is an ongoing debate in western history circles about just how wild
America‟s “Wild West” really was. On one side is Robert Dykstra, in the forefront of
those who argue that the West was not nearly as violent as characterized in popular books

and films. Roger McGrath, Clare McKanna and others show very high rates of homicide
in any number of mining camps and cow towns. Dykstra and his supporters respond by
assigning these high rates to what they call “the fallacy of small numbers.” Citing Dodge
City‟s single homicide in 1880, Dykstra says, since Dodge City, “contained a resident
population of merely 1,275 that year, the single killing yields a statistically huge ratio of
78.4.” 148If the shot had missed, says Dykstra, the rate would have been zero, but since it
didn‟t Dodge City that year had twice the rate of the most murderous city a century later.
    On balance, those arguing for a more rather than less violent West have the best of the
argument. But without getting into the details of the debate here, it can be said that a very
few homicidal events in a very small population will multiply into deceptively high rates.
        The problem is compounded even further in trying to estimate rates for the much
smaller settlement of San Francisco in the Latino era. By 1800 there were about 200
gente de rezon residing on the San Francisco Peninsula and by the time of the American
conquest there were perhaps 150 living in Yerba Buena village, the little port settlement
from which the city of San Francisco would grow.150 There were occasional homicides in
Latino San Francisco, most notably the 1828 murder of two children by Francisco Rubio,
whose execution brought on a revolution which brought down the colonial government
and sent the Mexican governor packing.151 But there was simply not a sufficient
population in Latino-era San Francisco upon which to base rates for comparison with
later, much more populous, eras. It is sufficient to say at this point, despite the utopian
pronouncements of Eldredge and Bancroft, that pre-Anglo Californios were not strangers
to criminal violence. (The issue of questionable homicide rates based on very small
populations will be revisited in later discussions, particularly those related to nineteenth
century Italians and African-Americans.)
        As news of the gold strike spread outward in 1848, among the first to hear the
news were Mexicans and the residents of the Pacific ports of South America. Thousands
of Latinos headed for California. Ten thousand or more headed overland from the
Mexican state of Sonora to the southern mines where they lent the name of their state to
the principal mining camp. Thousands more took ship from port cities in Chile and Peru,
landing in San Francisco. Latinos, then and now, are often lumped together, both in
public consciousness and criminal statistics, as one monolithic group. Bancroft, it will be
noted, made no distinction between Forni, who was indeed an immigrant from Spain, and
Rodriquez, who was from Mexico. In fact, the cultural diversity between different Latino
groups is analogous to the differences between residents of different European
        The members of pre-Gold Rush Latino population of California were principally
Hijo del Pais, the California-born children of earlier Mexican immigrants. The first
arrivals from Chile were European businessmen who had established themselves in port
cities of the South American country. They were quickly followed by Latinos of every
occupation, from skilled miners to prostitutes, from Valparaiso and Talcahuano.153
        Among those who joined the Gold Rush from Chile, according to Jay Monaghan,
were some of a group known as rotos, "landless vagabonds who worked occasionally and
robbed often, proving themselves dangerous highwaymen or excellent guerillas.. .
Reckless, vindictive fighters, these ragged gangsters cared little for their own lives and
not at all for the lives of others." 154 Most of the Chileans, as did other nationality groups,
moved on to the mining regions. Others settled on the southwestern slopes of Telegraph

Hill in San Francisco. In early 1849 San Francisco had a definite Latino flavor. When the
first Australian ship bearing immigrants arrived in April 2,1849, they were greeted on the
shore by large numbers of Latin Americans, few of whom spoke English.155 As already
mentioned, there was little criminal violence in San Francisco during this period.
        In that, San Francisco was almost unique in California at the time, a factor that is
demonstrated by a brief examination of the geographic distribution of Gold Rush criminal
violence. Currently, homicide is predominately an urban phenomenon.156 That was not
always the case.157 Many studies of criminal violence, from medieval England to almost
modern times, show higher rates of murder in more sparsely settled areas.158 While
concentrated aggregations of people might provide greater opportunity for conflicts
leading to violence, less settled areas provide a corresponding opportunity to avoid
detection. And criminals were well aware of the distinction. In December 1848 a group of
vicious bandits murdered and robbed ten people in the isolated San Miguel Mission in
what was one of the worst mass murders in the state‟s history. Several days later, as the
killers made their way south, they came upon a Californio horseman. The self-appointed
leader of the group instructed one of the band to kill him, to which the bandit replied,
“Do you think I am a God damn fool to kill a fellow right in the settlements?” 159
        The ability to get away without detection depended not just on the absence of
witnesses but also the comparative paucity of law enforcement officers in the rural
areas.160 If law enforcement was not up to the task in San Francisco, it was virtually non-
existent in the hinterland. When Gold Rush newcomers flooded into the inland mining
regions, virtually untouched by European settlement in the Latino era, they at first
adopted and adapted, as had San Francisco, Latino forms of local government. Alcaldes
with executive and judicial authority were elected, and the American office of sheriff was
tacked on to provide law enforcement services. But with the scattered nature of the
settlements and mobile population, there was neither the disposition nor the ability to
bring together large concentrations of police like the 30-officer force in San Francisco,
which, for all its problems, could be expected to respond in respectable force when called
on to do so. In the gold regions for several years, communities were pretty much on their
own when it came to keeping the peace and enforcing the law.
        Consequently, the non-urban homicide rates in the gold regions ran much higher
than those in large urban areas. A number of studies have found much higher rates in
non-urban areas of nineteenth century California. 161 In response to those who might
bring in the “fallacy of small numbers” argument, the rates sustain themselves even when
the population base is extended to include the entire state. Comprehensive statewide
homicide statistics do not exist for the Gold Rush period but those which do point to
disproportionately higher rates in non-urban areas. The analysis of homicides from a
tabulation compiled by a newspaper in 1855 renders an adjusted rate for the state of 133.0
per 100,000, based on a population total of approximately 300,000. 162 San Francisco‟s
rate that year was 29.9.
        The spatial configuration of the non-urban mining regions also resulted in a
characteristically different homicide profile from that encountered in a strictly urban
setting. Most urban homicide, as discussed in the last chapter, arose out of sudden
drunken conflicts in saloons, often over a woman or a real or fancied insult. And as we
also found, there was very little robbery, and almost no robbery/homicide. Much of the
mining camp violence involved young, often drunk males working out their difficulties

with gun and knife as well. But there was another common type of killing, rarely found in
any nineteenth century large urban settlement. Much of the killing found in the non-urban
areas of Gold Rush California, as found by Boessenecker and others, was committed by
robber bands who ranged through the sparsely populated areas of the state looking for
isolated individuals and small groups of travelers, settlers and miners who they could kill
and rob with impunity.
        It is obvious from even a cursory examination of the record that much of that
robbery/murder involved Latinos.163 The situation is exemplified by the legend of
Joaquin Murrieta. According to a widely accepted version of the record, Murrieta, a
young miner who had come from Sonora, Mexico, as part of the early movement to the
southern mines, was summarily driven from his claim by Americans who raped his wife,
hanged his brother, and ran him off after administering an unwarranted flogging. It was
this outrageous treatment at the hands of the Anglos which set him on an avenging course
of murderous banditry.164
        Just how murderous were Gold Rush Latinos? There is no shortage of studies to
show that Latinos have long been discriminated against by the American justice system.
Clare McKanna attributes the disproportionate representation of Latinos in California‟s
nineteenth century prison population to their economic and political dislocation and the
difficulty they found in the justice system. There are many other studies.165 Comparisons
that restrict themselves merely to penalties assessed fall short of adequacy. Unless we
compare the actual incidence of violent crime committed by minority groups to that
committed by the majority group, such conclusions are of limited utility. Until recently
we have had little hard statistical data upon which to analyze comparative amounts of
Latino criminal violence by incidence. According to Robert Heizer, “scholarly and
popular conclusions regarding the experiences of minorities in Western justice systems
are based on frequently repeated anecdotes or analyses of particularly violent crimes.”166
Some say that the Latino newcomers were not disproportionately crime-prone. “The
criminalization of the Chicano resulted not from their being more criminal or violent but
from a clash between conflicting and competing cultures, worldviews, and economic,
political and judicial systems,” says Alfredo Mirande.167 Others comment on the dearth of
information about Latino violence. According to one recent observer, “There is little
information to draw on in attempting to explain Latino American crime causation
because of the dearth of empirical research that addresses Latino Americans as a group or
investigates any of their specific subgroups.” Another comments that there has been
limited research on Latino involvement in crime.168.
         Ramiro Martinez has recently published a work that discusses Latino homicide
rates in a modern urban setting in his Latino Homicide: Immigration, Violence, and
Community. Clare McKanna has assembled statistics for Latino homicide in seven mostly
rural California counties between 1850 to 1900 in his Race and Homicide in California:
1850-2000, but his line of inquiry took him in a direction in which he did not find it
necessary to calculate the figures in rates per 100,000 of population. An analysis of a
newspaper tabulation of 1854 criminal homicides shows that 16 percent of the homicides
in California that year were committed by Latinos (of those for whom the race of the
offender is known).169 This against an estimated ten percent of the population.170
         Extracted as they are from uncertain sources and calculated on equally uncertain
population figures, any statistics about Gold Rush-era Latino criminality are of

questionable exactitude. Thus what is left, for comparison purposes, are a few statewide
statistics of the incidence of Latino homicide during the Gold Rush era which, taken
together, suggest a disproportionate incidence Latino homicide. (The best explanation for
disproportionate crime commission by Latinos, some assert, “is that Mexicans reacted
more strongly against injustices that were directed against them than other minority
groups” because they resented their status as conquered people.171)
         More complete statistics on Latino homicide, as well as more detailed information
about the dispositions of the cases, are available for San Francisco of that era than for the
state as a whole, so it is there that this examination will be conducted. As always, a
caveat is in order. As has been shown in any number of studies, figures achieved for one
locality are best applied to that locality; trying to transfer the findings to another
jurisdiction or the nation at large can lead to serious misunderstandings. So the
conclusions arrived at in what follows should not necessarily be assigned to Latino
homicide elsewhere, or as representative of Latino homicide generally, except as part of a
much larger discussion.
         What is the anecdotal record for San Francisco? Latinos seem to have been
brought to the bar of justice in disproportionate numbers, at least according to the
contemporary Annals of San Francisco. Mexicans, the annalists aver, “In proportion to
their numbers show more criminals in courts than any other class.”172 Such a conclusion
could be attributed to the biases of the authors or to discriminatory practices by the
police and courts, of course. But even observers sympathetic to the cause of minority
rights, albeit from a distance, agree that “there is a strong possibility that Mexicans did
engage in more horse-stealing, highway robbery, assault, and thieving than any other
single group in California.”173 By early 1849, the first large numbers of seaborne arrivals
from the Atlantic states began to show up in San Francisco. It was, as has been
mentioned, in the enforcement vacuum created by the virtual absence of an effective
police force that the Hounds arose. The thugs went about shaking down residents,
particularly Latinos, under the guise of collecting money to pay for their self-appointed
"law enforcement" services. Not much notice was paid to the extortionist bullies until
June 20,1849 when a young Hound, Belden Beatty, was shot fatally by a Chilean “due to
some misunderstanding” in a Hounds foray to Chilean Quarter on the slopes of Telegraph
         A few weeks later, on Sunday, July 15, after a day of drunken revelry, the Hounds
attacked "Chiletown" in reprisal for Beatty‟s killing. All through the night, the gang
rampaged through the settlement, shooting, raping, and robbing the Latino residents of
the tent city on the hill, one of whom, Ronald Alegria, later died from his wounds. The
next day, a belatedly outraged citizenry assembled in Portsmouth Square and organized a
citizen police force to bring the gang to book. The citizens formed the first of San
Francisco‟s public tribunals, which over the next several days, tried the Hounds leaders
and banished them from San Francisco under pain of death should they return.
         In the disordered state of affairs at the time, the Hounds victimized all, but
particularly Latinos. In that, they gave physical expression to widely held sentiments of
the time. The authors of the near-contemporary Annals of San Francisco display the
casual racial and ethnic stereotypes common in nineteenth century America. Among the
others they described in San Francisco were:

                Multitudes of the Spanish race from every county of the Americas, partly
        pure, partly crossed with red blood--Chileans, Peruvians and Mexicans, all with
        different shades of the same swarthy complection (sic), black-eyed and well-
        featured, proud of their beards and moustaches, their grease, dirt, and eternal
        gaudy serape or darker cloaks; Spaniards from the mother country, more
        dignified, polite and pompous than even their old colonial brethren; „Greasers‟
        too, like them. . . . 175
There is no question but that the “affair of the Hounds” gave expression to anti-Latino
sentiments in San Francisco, but the question is: did those sentiments translate into higher
rates of Latino criminal violence? The answer to that question lies in an examination of
the Latino violence that did occur, and how it was disposed of by the justice system in
San Francisco. Because of the manageable amount of data – a phenomenon which will
not recur for other groups later in the more populous city – we are able to consider every
case of Latino homicide occurred in early San Francisco. In all, there were 20 criminal
homicides recorded as having been committed by Latinos in San Francisco from 1849 to
the end of the 1850s.
             October 1949: A drunken Chilean kills an unnamed black porter in a
                drinking tent near the beach..
             March 1850: A group of Chileans stab and kill a Frenchman leaving a
                brothel on Pacific Street.
             June 1850: A Chilean, Domingo Basquez (sic), fatally stabs another
                Chilean, Labri, in dispute over cigar.
             July 1850: Louis Bernal, a native of Matzatlan,shoots and kills Carmelita
                Bertrand in a saloon at Broadway and Stockton streets.
             October 1850: A Chilean prostitute, “Big Mouth Mary,” kills an
                Australian prostitute named Loiuse Taylor in the same saloon where
                Bertrand had been killed in July.
             January 1851: Hosea (sic) Fernandez kills a French sailor in a drinking
                and dancing saloon at Pacific and Kearny streets.
             March 1851: Jose Feliz kills "Captain" Elijah Jarvis in the Mission in love
                triangle involving Jarvis‟ wife.
             October 1851: Miguel Luches, an associate of Joaquin Murrieta, is killed
                in a knife fight at North Beach by a man named Marcelino.
             November1851: Jose Contreras, a native of Chile, fatally stabs a friend,
                Clemente Sequel (sic) in a drunken dispute.
             April 1852: Blas Rivas is arrested for killing a man named Joaquin in a
                drunken dispute at Davis and Clay streets.
             September 1852: Dolores Martinez, a 19-year-old prostitute from Mexico,
                kills Serolla Olle in a Kearny street “house.”
             September 1852: Forni kills Rodriquez.
             September 1853: A Peruvian named Jose Maria kills a black man named
                John Williams in a drunken dispute on Pacific Street.
             November 1853: Francisco, a Chilean, is killed by Polonio after leaving a
                "house" on Pacific Street.
             May 1854: Antonio Perez is robbed and strangled at her Union street
                house by four Latinos.

                August 1855: Jose LaFuente kills Maria Martinez in a domestic dispute.
                October 1855: Antonio Salgado kills Miguel Castro in a fight over a
              April 1856: Francisco Robenos kills Jose Calderon in a drunken dispute
                 on the Presidio road near Washerwoman‟s Lagoon.
              December 1857: A man named Olea kills Jose Rondo in a quarrel on
                 Montgomery Street.
              December 1859: Leandro beats his wife to death in their home on Clay
         When considered together with the other homicide cases, there are striking
similarities in the circumstances of the Latino killings in San Francisco and those
perpetrated by non-Latino whites. Two of the cases involved robberies, one by Forni for
which he hanged and the other by four Latinos who murdered and robbed Antonia Perez
at Union and Stockton in 1854 and were never caught. Two of the homicides were sex
triangles, one of which had a non-Latino white victim. Two were cases of intimate
partner murder and 13 involved some type of dispute, ten of them occurred in or near
saloons, brothels or stemmed from some sort of drunken quarrel. (That is 68.4 percent
involved some kind of a trivial dispute, much as was common in the larger society at the
         As to underlying reasons for the Latino violence, there is certainly something to
charges of discriminatory treatment of minorities at the hands of the majority in Gold
Rush California. When General Persifor Smith arrived in California to take charge of the
Army department in 1849, he announced that the mines belonged to Americans and that
foreigners had no legal right to be there. The army had no capacity to enforce his edict
but it did not go unnoticed by miners arriving later from the Atlantic states. The situation
was exacerbated when the easily obtained placer gold began to run out. The Latino
community, both the Mexicans and Chileans, contained many skilled miners who set
about driving quartz shafts into the hillsides to the chagrin of their less skilled American
counterparts. Out of this came the enactment of the 1850 foreign miners tax, the
enforcement of which was attended by much violence.
         However, it is hard to make a supportable case for ethnic discrimination as
accounting for Murrieta and others like him turning to a life of murderous banditry. There
is no evidence that Murrieta was flogged, much less that his wife was raped. “Murietta
has been portrayed as a social bandit who waged war against the hated gringos by
robbing and killing them,” reports Roger McGrath. “In truth,” he concludes, “there was
nothing social about his banditry. He robbed and killed those who had money, be they
American, Chinese, or Mexican. He killed nearly as many Chinese as whites and robbed
and murdered several of his fellow Mexicans.” 176
         And the multi-ethnic composition of the many California bandit gangs described
by John Boessenecker in his Gold Dust and Gunsmoke also points away from a “social
banditry” explanation for all the murderous robbery. As often as not, as Boessenecker
points out, Latino Californians took leading roles in hunting down the bandidos.177 This
doesn‟t exclude discrimination as contributing to Latino criminality, but, as will be
mentioned later, the existence of almost identical Latino robbery gangs in the Mexican
state of Sonora at the time, offers the possibility that the behavior came north with the
newcomers and flowered when a similar law enforcement vacuum was encountered. In a

broader sense, the general economic condition, as also discussed in the preceding chapter,
may well have had something to do with the increase in thefts and robberies in a society
experiencing an economic decline, but that does not make the crime “social.”178
         A cursory look at the nativity of those punished by imprisonments in San
Francisco might suggest that Forni‟s 1852 execution indeed represented a pattern of
discriminatory treatment of Latinos by the Anglo justice system. During the 1850s,
Latinos were represented in prison commitment on homicide charges at more than twice
their percentage of the population from San Francisco.179 Overall for the period from
1850 through 1859, 15.6 percent of those punished for homicide by hanging or
imprisonment were Latino (5 of 32) against their approximately six percent of the
population.180 But penalties compared to population figures tell only part of the story.181
         And a partial understanding of the circumstances of individual cases can mislead
us. One author recently juxtaposed the failure of the authorities to do anything about
Anglo thieves at the May 1851 fire even though a Mexican woman was shot with
impunity. “The horror of the night was increased,” she says, quoting a contemporary
diarist, “by a man shooting a poor Mexican woman named Carmelita without any cause.”
“[T]his,” charges the modern observer, “while looters went free.” In fact, neither the
killing of Carmelita Castillo nor the disposition of her case had anything to do with her
ethnicity. She was killed by her live-in lover, William Lawley, in an intimate partner
homicide. And he “went free” by killing himself.182
         A closer look at the totality of the circumstances of Latino homicide --by its
incidence rather than by comparing arrest or penalty figures to the population--suggests a
more equal proportion of incidence to punishment, at least as they apply to urban San
Francisco. During the same period that Latinos comprised 15.6 percent of those punished
for homicide, they were named as the responsible in 15.1 percent of the criminal
homicides for which the ethnic identity of the perpetrator is known, a close statistical
         And by looking at the particulars of the cases, perhaps we can discern that the
reason for their disproportionate representation had to do with other than racist
discrimination. Cerelia, killer of the unnamed black servant in 1849, escaped into the
Gold Rush confusion. So did the killer of the French sailor in March 1850. After the man
he stabbed was cut, but before he died, Basquez was convicted of aggravated assault and
sentenced to three months in jail. He was re-indicted for murder following his victim‟s
death but the defense claimed the previous conviction for assault was a bar to further
          Big Mouth Mary decamped as well. Jose Feliz, murderer of Jarvis, was later
killed in a drunken fight at the Sanchez Rancho in what is now South San Francisco. All
these perpetrators put themselves beyond the reach of the law so not much could be done
with them. Given the spotty record-keeping of the time, we do not have a complete
disposition in every case. Of those caught in the toils of the justice system, some
dispositions are unclear, such as the case of Hosea (sic) Hernandez for killing the
Frenchman in the dancing saloon on Pacific on January 21, 1851. In the case of Blas
Rivas for killing Joaquin on April 29 1852, a warrant was issued for the perpetrator‟s
arrest after he departed. In the case of Jose Contreras for killing Clement Sequel in
November1851, he was convicted of manslaughter and committed to San Quentin prison

for three years. Big Mouth Mary may have slipped away, but Dolores Martinez was not
so lucky. She was sentenced to a year in San Quentin, which she served.
         What the figures show more than anything is that in the early disordered days,
while the justice system struggled to gain its footing, many killers – not just Anglos--
were going unpunished for a number of reasons. And when individual cases are
examined, we get the picture that there was not necessarily a blanket sentiment against
Latinos that resulted in their disproportionate conviction and sentencing for criminal
homicide. After two trials for killing Carmelita Bertrand in July 1850, at the first of
which the jury could not agree, Bernal was found not guilty. The Alta might not have
been thoroughly satisfied with the final verdict but reported magnanimously that in a case
where a human life is at stake, none of the forms prescribed as proper by the people
should be dispensed with, even if a guilty man should go free. And this of a native of
         In the October 9, 1851 case of Marcellino and two others, arrested for the North
Beach killing of Miguel Luches with 20 stab wounds in an affair of honor, they were
released because of insufficient evidence. A number of cases involving Latino
participants beyond those in which Latino perpetrators were charged with criminal
homicide also serve to shed light on the interaction between Latinos and the Anglo justice
system. Latino perpetrators were as likely to be adjudged not guilty on the grounds of
self- defense as whites when the facts of the case warranted it.
          On June 22, Diego Sandoval, recently released from prison, took to terrorizing a
Latino tailor named Alamoz. On June 22, Sandoval confronted the tailor and demanded
$3. Alamoz backed up and when Sandoval approached with a bowie knife, shot his
tormentor dead. The killing was adjudged to be self-defense. On November 3, 1852, two
months after Forni killed Rodriquez and a month before he was hanged for it, the Alta
reported that John Chappell (Johnny Cab), a boatman from New York, was cut and killed
by a Mexican, Abellardo Torres, in a "house" on the corner of Murderer's Alley (between
Dupont and Stockton). Testimony was given at the Recorder‟s Court that Chappell had
been spoiling for trouble and insulted Torres‟ wife and attempted to shoot Torres.
Chappell‟s bad reputation doubtless worked against him. Still, the Torres couple,
dwelling as they did in a brothel, cannot be considered particularly upright citizens either.
Yet Torres was quickly cleared of criminal responsibility for Chapell‟s death on a finding
of self -defense.
         While there are gaps in the record and incomplete information in some of the
other cases, in the Forni case there is sufficient detail to make a determination. Despite
what Bancroft might suggest, the reason that Forni hanged was that the case, alone
among all the homicides committed in San Francisco up to that time, Anglo or Latino,
was the only one wherein all the elements of a capital crime were present. Forni was not
hanged because he was a Spaniard, but rather because his was the only homicide in Gold
Rush San Francisco in which the authorities had all the elements of a provable capital
murder case, and the will to see the case through to a successful conclusion.183
         Testimony in the Forni case showed that Rodriquez had recently received wages
of $280 and that Forni knew about it. On his arrest, $312 was found in Forni‟s
possession. One of the witnesses who first brought the defendant to bay at the top of the
Second Street hill was able to testify to Forni's guilty attempt to get rid of evidence.
When he first came on Forni at the top of the hill, the witness said, the defendant was

running his knife in and out of the sand, as if desperately trying to remove remnants of
the blood stains. Witnesses who arrested him said that Forni was armed with his own
knife, and that Rodriquez' knife was still in its scabbard on his belt. The hat of the
murdered man was found on the top of the hill with two cuts and blood stains, showing
he had received the wound on the head before he was seen running down the hill. There
may be much that Anglos need to apologize for in their treatment of the native peoples
they found on their way West. But not for hanging Forni.
         And there are some indications, as there were for the Australians who ran afoul of
the law, that the behaviors leading to the criminal violence came with the newcomers.
There do not seem to be any formal statistical compilations of homicide with rates per
100,000 of population for Chile and Mexico for the 1840s or 1850s, but it is clear from
the anecdotal record that those places were not strangers to criminal violence. The violent
activities of those Chileans who found themselves in the toils of the law in Gold Rush
San Francisco sound much like the homegrown Chilean "landless vagabonds who worked
occasionally and robbed often . . . . [and who] cared little for their own lives and not at all
for the lives of others."
         Historian Hubert H. Bancroft describes the Mexican state of Sonora at the time as
plagued by bandido gangs. Police were largely unknown in the region from which many
of the Mexican miners originated, he wrote, and “banditti became so bold at times as to
enter a town and rob a store in open day; and if they confined their operations to the road,
the authorities were not quick to molest them.”184 Whatever else contributed to their
lawlessness, says Leonard Pitt, the California bandido must be understood also as a
product of social upheaval in Mexico.”185 During the uncertain period following the 1820
Mexican Revolution, bandit chieftains roamed the Mexican countryside he says. “The
resemblance of the California bandits to their Mexican counterparts was unmistakable.”
In their later study of Mexican violence Wolfgang and Ferracuti found a set of conditions
in which homicide rates grew. Noting that violent behavior was imbedded in the Mexican
folkloric tradition, they concluded, “Where the use of violence is taken for granted and
homicide is a common form of death [as it was and is in Mexico], subcultural values
encouraging the use of violence can surely be assumed to be present.”186
         While not discounting discrimination, and all the travails that were visited on
them in Gold Rush San Francisco and California, then, it must be recognized that much
of the criminal violence committed by Latino newcomers to Gold Rush California can be
credited as well to traits found in the culture in which they originated. And as to majority
group discrimination creating Latino criminality, says Bruce Thornton: “The story of
Joaquin [Murrieta] is an exceptionally clear illustration of the limits of identity politics,
which assigns individuals to stereotypical racial categories usually based on their being
victims of historical oppression.”187
         During the five years from 1855 through 1859, Latino homicide dropped
precipitously to an average of one killing a year. Thereafter, it just about disappeared off
the scope in San Francisco. In the remaining 40 years of the nineteenth century (1860
through 1899) Latinos committed just 14 of the almost 900 homicides during that period.
The best explanation for the decline probably has to do with a declining Latino
population in the city. Because of the problem with getting exact figures for the Latino
population, we can at best make an educated guess. But from what we know the
population declined statewide over the nineteenth century.188 The decline in Latino

population was probably even more pronounced in San Francisco, for as one near-
contemporary writer put it, “The native Californians [read Latinos] . . . as a rule, betake
themselves to the country, and find more pleasure in their quiet and somewhat romantic
pastoral life than mingling in the bustle and tumult of the city.”189
       It appears that what happened--in San Francisco at least--is that Latinos were
displaced at the low end of the economic ladder – where the preponderance of criminal
homicide can always be found--by working-class Irish and Chinese newcomers.

          In the early morning hours of November 18, 1858, William “Tipperary Bill”
Morris, a 28-year-old-native of Ireland, entered John Evans‟ saloon on Pacific Street near
Dupont (Grant Avenue). There he engaged the waitress, Elizabeth Riley, in small talk in
Irish. At some point the conversation must have then switched to English, for when
Morris asked Riley if she would like to “drink a glass of piss,” another patron, Richard
Doak, the 23-year- old mate of a recently arrived bark, remonstrated with him. Morris
told Doak to mind his own business and, to emphasize his point, brandished a large
revolver. Evans, the establishment‟s proprietor, ordered Morris out of the place.
          Morris left and waited outside. When Doak departed shortly thereafter, Morris
shot him down as he cleared the street door. Police immediately identified Morris from
his description and frequent previous contacts with the authorities. Morris was arrested
and placed on trial in the Fourth District Court in April of the following year, where he
was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to hang. On June 10, 1859, William
Morris was taken to the yard of the Broadway Street County Jail and hanged. With his
hanging, Morris completed the 60 percent of those hanged by legal authority in San
Francisco in the 1850s who were Irish natives, a group that then comprised
approximately 15 percent of the population.
          By most accounts, the nineteenth-century Irish in America were a particularly
violent group.190 Roger Lane estimates that the nineteenth-century Irish in Philadelphia,
with about 20 percent of the population, were responsible for from 23 to 30 percent of
homicide indictments.191 In some communities, according to Lane, the Irish had rates of
homicide of more than two and one half times their proportionate representation in
society.192 According to Eric Monkkonen, Irish murderers were also over-represented in
mid-nineteenth-century New York, where he found a homicide rate of 37.5 per 100,000
for adult Irish-born males.193 Elvin Powell claims that the Irish in the 1870s had higher
levels of violence than found among African-Americans in the 1960s.194 The references
to Irish combativeness of an earlier time are too widespread to be explained in terms of
simple prejudice. Sean McCann describes Irishmen as “Quick-tempered and yet still a
brooder on hidden angers, has never been short of a fight, right or wrong, through any
stage of history.”195
          The roots of Irish predisposition for physical conflict resolution seem to run
deep.       Says Posionius, first century Greek historian, describing a Celtic feast: “These
Celtic warriors were wont to be moved by chance remarks to wordy disputes, and the
irritations could increase to the point of fighting.”197 Without too much imagination, we
can visualize the same behavior in Roger McGrath‟s Bodie, Roger Lane‟s Philadelphia,
and even post-Gold Rush San Francisco.
          This chapter will examine criminal homicides by the Irish newcomer community
in nineteenth century San Francisco, one of the most Irish of cities in the nation. We will
find that the general violent reputation of the nineteenth-century urban Irish is well
deserved. But given the nature of the data upon which previous estimates of Irish
homicide have been based, it is far from certain that Irish violence resulted in fatal
outcomes in San Francisco to the degree apparently encountered elsewhere.

        I estimate that Irish-surnamed people were the victims in from 30 percent to 48
percent of the criminal homicide that occurred in San Francisco between 1860 and 1900,
at a time when the total Irish community composed on average about 30 percent of the
city‟s population.
        While much of the violent behavior can be credited to the newcomers‟ treatment
by the host society, much also can be traced to cultural traditions brought from the old
country. And the activities of the nineteenth-century police in San Francisco seem to have
had effect on the overall homicide rates. Figure 4.1 shows the overall homicide rate for
each decade of the late nineteenth century.
        Figure 4.1 goes about here.

         Before examining each of the periods individually, however, it would be useful to
get some technical issues out of the way. There are a number of problems, definitional
and otherwise. First it will be necessary to define what constitutes an immigrant
community. Should we restrict our definition strictly to direct immigrants or should we
include their American-born children? Because this issue will reappear with other
newcomer groups, a digression at this point is in order. In contemporary discussions
about the cost of immigration, it is generally agreed, for example, even by those who
support unrestricted immigration, that the medical and educational costs of the children
of immigrants are a legitimate charge against the immigrant community (even as they
argue that these costs are more than offset by the taxes paid by immigrant workers.)
Therefore, any discussion of crime and immigrants should properly include the
contributions of their children to the immigrant crime rate. To do otherwise would be
         Many observers such as George Wickersham in his Crime and the Foreign Born,
have found that “such comparable statistics of crime and population as it has been
possible to obtain indicate that immigrants are less prone to commit crime than are native
Americans.”198 Many others, while concluding that the first-generation immigrants of
some immigrant groups were not particularly crime-prone, have found that their second-
generation offspring often contribute disproportionately to crime rates. 199
          The theory propounded to explain this phenomenon is that the children of
immigrants, who are often forced to settle in marginal areas of the cities of their new
homes, find themselves caught between the old-world values of their immigrant parents,
and those of the new community to which they are not yet fully assimilated. Out of this
tension, some children of immigrants turn to crime and violence.200 Certainly, much of
the criminal violence perpetrated by members of the Irish urban communities was
committed by the immigrants‟ American-born offspring.
          The problem this situation presents for homicide researchers is that the records of
victimization, upon which most homicide studies are based, identify their subjects by
country of birth, if at all. By using this means it is thus possible to clearly identify those
Irish who were born in Ireland, but not their American-born children. The population
upon which Eric Monkkonen bases his estimate of Irish homicide in New York is thus
restricted to those Irish who were born in Ireland.201 This method of counting the
immigrant community eliminates the inclusion of the American offspring of the
immigrants in the discussion. It also inhibits the sorting out of how much of the violence
is attributable to cultural values in the immigrant community and how much of it is

traceable to the treatment of the newcomers by the host community. To the extent that the
homicide was committed by the immigrants themselves, it might point to behaviors they
brought with them, but if the first generation is law-abiding and the second not, it would
point to conditions in the host society as creating the environment responsible for the
violence. We will return to this issue again, so at this point it is not necessary to explore
the phenomenon in detail, except to note that it occurs.
          Another method of determining the extent of the Irish immigrant community--
that used by Roger Lane in his studies of Philadelphia violence--involves identifying its
members by their surnames. 202 When we consider the Irish community in a nineteenth
century urban context, we are generally referring to those Irish Catholics from the South
of Ireland who came in large numbers following the disastrous Potato Famine. So this
method presents problems as well. As Lane found out and reported, the Irish, to an
extent not matched by other groups, shared surnames with other nationalities. Over the
centuries of foreign intrusion, a large number of English and Scottish names had taken
root in Ireland. The most notable example was the large group of Ulster Protestants from
an earlier immigration who came to refer to themselves as “Scotch Irish” and had little in
common with the Catholic Irish.203 The Scotch Irish had a well deserved reputation for
violence in their own right.204 By one estimate, one-third of California‟s Gold Rush
population was Scotch Irish.205
          The problem for the homicide researcher is that many of the Catholic Irish
shared surnames like Smith, Lane, even Wilson, with these Scotch Irish immigrants as
well as others from England, Scotland and Wales. All of which combines to make the
precise ascertainment of the dimensions of the Irish community and its contribution to
homicide rates problematical. (One begins to understand why no one has made a
substantial attempt to quantify nineteenth-century Irish urban violence to date.)
         There is one more point to be made about differences between the Irish
community in San Francisco and those in some eastern cities before any comparison can
be made between rates. One version of the story of nineteenth-century urban America as
it played itself out in eastern cities was of the violent competition between nativist
Protestants and immigrant Catholic Irish for a larger piece of the political and economic
pie.206 In the West, where there was no tradition of ethnic exclusion and all arrived at
about the same time, it was to each according to his ability, at least compared to the
impacted cities of the East. Irish Catholic Malachi Fallon was appointed Chief of Police
by a group of leading businessmen in 1849, most of whom were other than Irish
Catholics. Two years later, in Boston, the entire night watch of the police force resigned
when the first Irish police officer was appointed on a court order. It was not until the
1880s that Boston had its first Irish Chief of Police. R.A. Burchell concludes in his study
of the San Francisco Irish. “By contrast with elsewhere,” he asserts, the Irish were
“comparatively successful and fortunate.” 207
          According to the theory that discrimination causes alienation, which results in
high rates of criminal violence, we would expect that this would explain the apparently
higher levels of Irish homicide in those eastern cities where the Irish had a harder time of
it at the hands of their nativist tormenters. There is probably something to that possibility,
but given the difficulty in determining the size of the Irish perpetrator population in any
one city, let alone our ability to compare such populations among cities, it would be next
to impossible to make such comparisons between cities with any measure of precision.

One gets the sense, however, that there was less Irish homicide in San Francisco than in
some eastern cities, and certainly less than those with rates two and a half times their
representation in the general population as cited by Roger Lane, however that came to be
the case.
         Irish-named perpetrators were involved, as were others, in San Francisco‟s Gold
Rush homicidal violence. In June 1851, Sam Gallagher fatally shot a gambler named
Lewis Pollack who had humiliated him publicly and bedded down his woman. In 1854,
Thomas Foley killed his employer, John Dunn, in a drunken dispute over wages. Also in
1854 William Shepherd, an Irish native, killed his girl friend‟s father, presumably
because he would not let them marry.
         In January 1856 Isaac Graham, also Irish-born, killed Nicholas Brooks, a
shipmate on the steamer Columbia, after a long-running dispute turned deadly. In May of
the same year, Irish American County Supervisor James Casey killed newspaper editor
James King of William (the “of William” added to his name to distinguish him from
others of the same name in his native Maryland). King‟s killing was to have the most far-
reaching effect of any Irish homicide, triggering as it did the establishment of the Second
San Francisco Committees of Vigilance. In mid-1856, San Francisco‟s famed Vigilance
Committee reorganized itself, again wrested control of the justice apparatus from the
regular authorities, hanged four men, Casey among them, and banished several dozen
political thugs. Almost to a man, the political operatives banished by the committee had
Irish surnames.
         As shown in figure 4.1, the general homicide rate declined dramatically beginning
in the late 1850s, reaching a low point of 8.7 in the late 1860s. It then almost doubled
again by the late 1870s before going into a late-century decline shared by other American
cites generally. As a group comprising one-third of the city‟s population on average
during this period, the Irish were inevitably involved in every fluctuation in the rate.
           The decline in homicide generally in San Francisco in the late 1850s and 1860s
can be attributed to a number of factors having nothing to do with the ethnic makeup of
the city. In purely statistical terms, there was an increase in the population in the
percentage of proportionately less murderous females and children. By 1860 the male
/female proportion shifted from the 90/10 of earlier years to 60/40, which diluted the
proportion of the group of more murder-prone young males. Mineral discoveries
elsewhere also doubtless exerted a “pull” which drew the murderously inclined out of
town. The 1858 Gold Rush to Canada‟s Frazier River drew San Franciscans to the new
fields, among them many of the saloon hangers-on who contributed so much to the earlier
homicide rates. The next year saw the opening of Nevada‟s Comstock Lode, which
doubtless attracted more murderously inclined San Franciscans. San Francisco‟s gain was
Virginia city‟s loss.208 Supporters of vigilance also claimed credit for the crime reduction.
         There were other factors at work as well. Until recently it has long been held that
the police can‟t do much about the incidence of homicide in that most of the killing stems
from personal issues over which the police have little or no control.209 In our
preoccupation with the argument generated about whether the West was “wild” or not
based on Robert Dykstra‟s findings about nineteenth-century cattle towns, we can lose
sight of the point he was driving at. Dykstra‟s point is that it was the absence of adequate
law enforcement that caused the high rates prior to 1874, and that when a regular law
enforcement presence was established, the rates went down.210 The same sort of

phenomenon can be observed in San Francisco and elsewhere. 211 When the first
Committee of Vigilance adjourned in 1851, it returned the management of governmental
affairs to the regular authorities. The Second Committee did not make the same mistake.
Following the adjournment in August 1856, its members established the Peoples political
party which ran the town effectively for the next ten years, during which the homicide
rate declined markedly. 212
         How they accomplished that purpose is exemplified in the career of Martin Burke.
In 1858, Martin Burke, who had served as the head of the Police Committee on the
Executive Committee of the Committee of Vigilance, was elected Chief of Police. Burke
took to the job enthusiastically. He later wrote of his ascension to office, “I made up my
mind that I should be the most unpopular man in the city at the end of the year, but
determined to have my own way and do which I thought fit irrespective of what anyone
thought of it.”213 This attitude was translated into the police practices he employed, as
expressed in an early annual report: “Much of the time and labor of the officers” he
claimed, “is devoted to the prevention of crime by following up of criminals, and by
keeping so strict a surveillance over them, that they prefer leaving the city to submitting
to it.” His attitude toward due process is embodied in his comment that “I was rather
autocratic in those days and did not keep exactly within the law.”214 When compared to
other San Francisco police chiefs around his time, Burke comes across as particularly
hard-nosed in his attitudes and practices with regard to crime and vice enforcement, a
factor which may have contributed to his premature departure from office following the
1866 election.215
         It was following Burke‟s departure from office that San Francisco‟s homicide rate
almost doubled. The city‟s population trebled in the 1860s, fueled in large part by the
arrival of large numbers of working-class Irish, fleeing service in the Civil War that a rich
man could avoid by the payment of $300. By 1870 the Irish-born and their children
comprised approximately 30 percent of the city‟s population.
         The overall rate of homicide in the 1870s was 13.2 per 100,000, and that
involving white victims alone was 10.5. 216 Victims with possible Irish surnames
accounted for 53 percent of the white homicide cases, while the Irish – both Irish and
American-born – comprised 35 percent of the white population. That translates into a rate
of 16 homicides per 100,000, one and a half times the homicide rate for whites in general
and one and a half times the representation of the Irish in the total population.
         But were all the “Irish” victims really Irish? Sixty-one percent of the “Irish”
victims had names that are clearly Irish in their origin, O‟Grady, Murphy, Gillen, and
such. But that leaves almost 40 percent with what Roger Lane calls “crossover” names,
those which could be Irish or could be some other resident of the British Isles. Are we to
assume that George Knight, William Johnson, Frank Green, and Thomas Williams were
necessarily Irish just because they might have been Irish? In the end, there is no way to
tell for sure. 217 We can properly assume that some of them were probably Irish, but we
must also consider that some were just as likely English, Scots, Welsh or Scotch-Irish.
All we can say for sure is that the Irish proportion of homicide was probably somewhat
more than their 35 percent of the white population at the time.
         One common way to estimate the amount of crime, and more importantly the way
a group is treated by the host society, is to examine their representation in the prison
population compared to their proportion of the society as a whole. Prison records,

showing as they do the technical place of birth of the incarcerated subject, restrict our
ability to identify Irish subjects to those born in Ireland, and thus provide only a partial if
somewhat useful tool. At first blush it would seem that Irish natives were
disproportionately imprisoned. In the 1850s, 25 percent of those hanged or imprisoned
for homicide in San Francisco (8 of 32) were Irish-born when that group comprised 15
percent of the population. During the 1860s, immigrant Irish natives, who made up 17.2
percent of the population, contributed 23.4 percent of those sentenced to prison or hanged
for homicide, somewhat more than their representation in the community. Irish natives on
average comprised 14.7 percent of the population in the 1870s and yet contributed 19.6
percent to the prison incarcerations and hangings.
         When taken as a whole for the nineteenth century, the Irish-born component of
the punishment population was fairly proportionate. In one-third of the 1,014 cases of
criminal homicide in nineteenth century San Francisco (324 cases) someone was
sentenced to prison or executed. Fifteen percent of those (49 of the 324) listed their place
of birth as Ireland. Native-born Irish constituted a mean average of 13 percent of the
city‟s population overall during the entire span of the nineteenth, century making their
conviction and sentencing rate a fairly close match.
         It could be argued from the proportion of native Irishmen among those legally
hanged in the 1850s – 60 percent with the same 15 percent of the population – that they
had been singled out for special attention.218 But an examination of the circumstances
suggests that, as in the case of Forni, their crimes came within what would be considered
capital cases by their contemporaries. Evidence presented at trial convinced the juries in
every instance that the crimes were premeditated. Nineteenth-century Americans might
have tolerated killings in drunken fights but had little patience with those who planned
their crimes. So, in the end, we are unable to make the argument that Irish killers were
discriminated against in the justice system, any more than were Latinos at the same
period. And the number of cases is really too small--three of five cases--to make any
statistical projections.
         Again there were factors beyond the immigrant ethnic composition of the city to
explain why the homicide rates increased during the 1870s. During the Civil War, the San
Francisco economy boomed as local manufacturing facilities grew to provide goods made
scarce by the war, providing the jobs which, it can be argued, helped keep violence down.
In the post-war period the economic boom came to an end even though immigration did
not. By the early 1870s, the Nevada silver boom had just about run its course, just as the
state‟s agricultural industry suffered from a drought. The completion of the
Transcontinental Railroad, by providing a way to import goods cheaply, impacted the
local manufacturing and shipping industries, just as thousands of workers who had helped
with the construction were thrown into the labor market.
         It was during this period that groups of alienated young men came together in the
"hoodlum" gangs which terrorized San Francisco all through the decade and beyond.
Burke‟s replacement, Police Chief Patrick Crowley noted them with dismay in his 1872
annual report. “There exists one evil which I mention with regret,” he reported in his
annual report “it is the disposition on the part of many young men and lads to commit
acts of violence and mischief.” 219 It was in San Francisco in the 1870s the word hoodlum
was coined.220

        Like the young gangsters of our own time the hoodlums spent a great deal of time
settling disputes among their various factions. On September 27, 1874 a young hoodlum
named Murphy killed another named Caldwell. On December 7, 1874 another hoodlum
named Frank Curley was killed by a notorious Hoodlum named Frank McEvoy. On July
4, 1876 three hoodlums named McCarthy, Dennis, and Hicks killed a man named Page at
Third and Mission streets. Ten days later, Thomas Taafe came upon five young hoodlums
dancing a jig at Dupont and Union streets. He made some remark about the dancing and
three of the five stabbed him to death. On Sunday August 6,1876, Patrick McCarthy,
David Condon, James Mugan, and several other young members of the Hayes valley
Gang went “wilding” in southeastern part of the city which ended that night in the killing
of an Irish immigrant named John Earle. 221
        Much of the hoodlum violence in San Francisco was directed at the Chinese.
Some of the enmity was doubtless simple racism.222 But much also can be traced to
economic competition.223 The 1850 foreign miners tax was enforced mainly against
Chinese and Latinos, as we have seen. By 1851 Chinese launderers undercut white
laundrymen, many of them Irish, and supplanted them in the economy.224 The Chinese
launderers, reported the Pacific Tourist in the 1880s, set prices to “keep wages high
enough to secure the most money, and low enough to sicken the Irishman that competes
with them.”225 It may be in the finest tradition of laissez faire American political
economy but such practices can still be counted on to engender resentment. 226
        By 1860, with 5,000 residents, the Chinese comprised about six percent of the
city‟s population. Thereafter about 5,000 arrived annually until 1868, when following the
adoption of the Burlingame treaty which provided for unrestricted immigration, the pace
picked up. Between 1869 and 1876, the annual number of arrivals from China averaged
15,000.227 It was during this period, significantly, that anti-Chinese agitation increased.
Perhaps it was inevitable.228 Much of the white enmity at the time was based on the
belief that Chinese were sojourners, here to make a “pile” and return to China.229 Recent
scholarship has shown that the Chinese, with their going-back-and-forth to and from
China actually constituted what is called a “trans-Pacific culture.”230 The distinction
between “sojourner” and “trans-Pacific” culture would doubtless have been lost on an
out-of-work nineteenth century white man. 231 It was in this climate and during this
period that young hoodlum gangs made several fatal attacks on the Chinese.
         On June 9, 1871 a group of young hoodlums including 14 year old Matthew
Harrington attacked Ah Hee, an inoffensive Chinese man who kept a cigar store at Fourth
and Brannan streets. Observers saw Harrington hit Ah Hee over the head with a four foot
long board, injuring him fatally. The next year on July 29, 1872, a group of late teenaged
hoodlums, including a young thug named William Bryan, invaded the Chinese truck
garden at 20th and Harrison Streets. When the gardener, Ah Wing, remonstrated with
them, the young thugs beat him to death. In May 1873 Wong Cheong Tuck was killed at
822 Clay street by Robert Manning and John Brennan. There were several more white on
Chinese killings over the next 15 years, most by young hoodlums, some of whom were
identified and arrested and some not.
        Violent anti-Chinese agitation reached its peak in July 1877 when a labor meeting
called in support of striking railroad workers in the east went sour and turned into a week
long anti- Chinese riot. It soon became evident that the badly outnumbered police would
not be able to contain the violence, so former leaders of the Committee of Vigilance and

leading citizens formed a 5,000 man “pickhandle brigade” with which to counter the
mob. In the end, several rioters were killed by police gunfire and one Chinese died,
burned up in a wash house in the Marina District, set afire by local hoodlums.
         In all there were 11 Chinese murdered by whites in nineteenth century San
Francisco compared to 12 whites killed by Chinese. Taken together, the interracial
White/Chinese killings in nineteenth century San Francisco account for slightly more
than two percent of the criminal homicide, a very small portion by current standards of
interracial homicide. Still, any fair reading of the press of the time will demonstrate that
non-fatal white attacks on Chinese were much more common than the reverse.232
          Mainstream commentators may not have wanted to face it but much of the
hoodlum violence was caused by young Irish-Americans. Said B.E Lloyd in his 1876
Lights and Shades in San Francisco, describing the typical hoodlum gangster, “He is of
no particular nationality; but if he is not American born, he is Americanized.” 233
Literally true perhaps, but that is only half the story. The openly anti-Irish editor of the
Illustrated Jolly Giant was more explicit. “The „hoodlums‟ of San Francisco,” he reported
with characteristic venom, “are unquestionably the offspring of Irish Roman Catholic
parents, partly educated in the Catholic schools of this city. They possess all the
independence of an American citizen with the effrontery of the devil.”234
          The paper might be ignored for its anti-Irish positions generally, but even more
responsible groups came to the same conclusion about the preponderance of second
generation Irish among the hoodlum gangsters. Said H.C. Bennett, Secretary of the
Chinese Protection Society, formed in San Francisco in 1869 to defend the Chinese
against street attacks “It is a significant fact in this connection,” he reported, [abuse of the
Chinese] “that every person arrested is an Irishman, and the children who give the
officers the most trouble are of Irish parentage. 235 There were other than Irish hoodlums,
of course, but as is obvious from the recitation of hoodlum names contained in this
discussion most had an Irish connection of some sort.
         Another way to look at the contribution of an ethnic group to the homicide rate
when the data is incomplete is to compare the rates of different ethnic groups, in this case
the Irish and the Germans. For all of Benjamin Franklin‟s concerns, the Germans were
not a particularly violent group. The Germans and the Irish in San Francisco had roughly
comparable numbers of nineteenth century immigrants making such comparisons
feasible.236 Just about every study which mentions them has lower rates for Germans than
other ethnic groups and those which compare them to the Irish show the Irish to have had
about twice the rates of the Germans.237 That was the case in San Francisco as well.
According to Coroners‟ tabulations, Irish born victims in the period from July 1879
through June 1885 accounted for 17.6 percent of the homicide victims at a time when
Irish natives made up 11.5 percent of the total population.238 Germans, with
approximately 9 percent of the population provided 8.4 percent of the victims.239
         Overall, for the half century the Irish show themselves to be more murderous than
the Germans. Between 1850 and 1900, during a period when their numbers in the city
were fairly comparable over the long run, the Irish had twice as many punished for
homicide, 50 against 25.240 During the 1880s native born Germans comprised 9 percent
of the population, they contributed 10.4 percent of the victims, and 10.7 percent of those
hanged or imprisoned.

         A comparable analysis of Irish and German homicides from 1850 through 1900,
for which the circumstances and nativity of perpetrators are known, gives a hint as to the
reason for some of the differences. For the Irish, the principal reported circumstances
were that 44 percent involved drinking or saloon arguments.241 Another 19. 4 percent
involved disputes which may or may not have involved alcohol, and another 19.4 percent
involving domestic violence. The rest are spread among general causes. The Germans on
the other hand, while no strangers to their beloved beer, seem to be less affected by it. For
Germans the principal motivation was domestic violence, at 42.8 percent. And only 7
percent involved alcohol.242
         Several observers have pointed out that Germans were better able to adapt to the
new world.243 Many of the Irish who came were landless peasants, ill-suited for
competition in the complexities of urban life. Germans for all their language difficulties
were better able to assimilate economically.244 But any assertion that Germans were less
violent because they were better equipped to handle the vicissitudes of immigrant life
begs the question. Does anyone argue that they were necessarily better received than Irish
immigrants? If so, any better treatment, it could be reasonably be argued, had more to do
with the way they behaved on arrival than any inherent preference for Germans over the
         As the century came to an end, both the Irish homicide rate and that of the
general white population declined. In the 1890s Irish surnamed homicide victims
accounted for 45 percent of the white total. (At that time Irish were 27 percent of white
population.) The overall homicide rate for all whites was 6.75 per 100,000 in 1890s and
for Irish it was 11.1. We encounter the familiar problem in deciding whether those with
Irish surnames were in fact Irish. (53 of the Irish surnamed were had distinctively Irish
names and 47 percent were crossovers.)
         Both Irish homicide rates and those of whites generally declined by about one
third from the 1870s to the 1890s, but the ratio of the rates between the two groups
remained about the same at 1.6:1 in the latter period (assuming as always that all the
crossovers were indeed Irish.) When these figures are put together with those which
demonstrate to a certainty that the Irish born portion of the community were over-
represented among homicide victims and had marginally disproportionate rates of
incarceration for homicide, it is reasonable to conclude that nineteenth century Irish San
Franciscans were more homicidal than non-Irish whites. There is no evidence, however,
to suggest that they had homicide rates approaching anything like the two and one half
times their representation in society reported elsewhere.
         The case can be made that much of Irish nineteenth century urban violence can be
traced to circumstances they found in the new world. The hostile greeting of Irish
Catholic newcomers by nativist Protestants in the urban East has been reported on
extensively. And the fact that Irish violence rates were probably lower in the West, where
they were not subjected to such a hostile reception as in the East, would suggest that
forces external to their community were a factor in their rates of violence. Economic
deprivation – another structural consideration--seems to have had something to do with
the rise of Irish hoodlum violence in the 1870s.
          Recently the view that nineteenth-century Irish were particularly violent has been
called into question. According to Carolyn Conley, the homicide rate for late nineteenth
century Ireland was only two thirds that of England and Wales.245 Such findings would

seem to support the contention that any disproportionate Irish rates of violence in the
United States would more properly be traceable to condition found in their new home
than to any inherent traits in the Irish people or their culture. But a close examination of
the phenomenon of violence, both as Conley found it in Ireland, and as it occurred among
the immigrant Irish community in the United States, suggests that in fact a large part of
the violence can be traced to old country traditions.
          One of the problems measuring violence in an earlier time--as has been amply
noted by anyone who studies the subject--is the paucity of hard data on the amount of
non-fatal homicide. It is for that reason that we use homicide as a general index of the
amount of criminal violence. Conley found that to be the case in her study of late-
nineteenth century Ireland. “Given the Irish reluctance to cooperate with the system and
the official incentive to inflate the crime figures as a justification for coercive measures,”
she says, “the dark figure of unreported crime in Ireland is particularly impenetrable.”246
In the end Conley concludes, “the numerical data must be viewed with skepticism.”247
         If there was not so much homicide there was another type of prevalent Irish
violence which was not so amenable to counting. Late eighteenth and early nineteenth
century rural Ireland was characterized by a tradition of faction fighting, in which,
seemingly spontaneously, large groups of Irish would meet in gangs of up to 1,000, and
fight for reasons which are not always readily apparent to the modern observer.248 The
heyday of faction fighting was prior to the period Conley studied and the very period
from which most of the Irish came that are credited with contributing so much to mid-
nineteenth century urban American violence.
         Though reduced in its extent, Conley found manifestations of this sort of violence
still prevalent in the period of her study. She found “a long established cultural tradition”
of “recreational violence” in the Ireland she studied, much of which apparently didn‟t
make its way into the formal reporting system. “Regardless of the weapon,” she reports,
“a brawl at which no one sustained a serious injury was usually beneath the notice of the
authorities.” 249 This predisposition to indulge in recreational violence was also observed
in Irish American communities. Frederic M. Thrasher, reports in his study of Chicago
gangs. “Among the Irish fighting has been described as sort of a national habit. .. . Irish
gangs are probably the most pugnacious of all; not only do they defend themselves, but
they seem to look for trouble.” 250
          But any arguments that much such violence went unreported would not account
for the lower rates of actual homicide Conley found in late nineteenth century Ireland.
There is no reason to believe, any more than for anyplace else, that homicides in late
nineteenth century Ireland were unreported. The comparatively lower rates of Irish
homicide in this period might in part be accounted for by the Irish choice of weapons of
assault. Conley did find that the Irish were inclined to use other than traditional assault
weapons--that is knives and guns--when they engaged in violence, which, it could
reasonably be concluded, resulted in fewer fatalities per assault.251 Because of the Irish
tradition of eschewing the use of more deadly firearms and knives, we can reasonably
conclude that the ratio of deaths to violent incidents in Irish encounters was probably
lower than would otherwise be expected. It is simply much more difficult to kill someone
with ones fists or feet than with a firearm or knife, so we can reasonably assume that
there must have been a great deal more blunt force violence by the Irish which did not
result in fatal consequences.252

         Others have noticed the same peculiarity in Irish violence in the United States.
Testifying before Britain‟s Royal Commission on Capital Punishment in February 1951,
Professor Thorsten Sellin claimed that “Irish immigrants in the United States used to get
into all sorts of fights, but their homicide rate was always low because they fought with
their fists and brass knuckles, and not with knives and revolvers.” The largely Irish
hoodlums in San Francisco, reported Herbert Asbury in his Barbary Coast, “seldom
carried a firearm but depended upon his fists, a stout hickory bludgeon, a set of brass or
iron knuckles. . . .” 253
          The same phenomenon was observed in other nineteenth century communities
with a large Irish component. Largely Irish “Butte [Montana] was never a „Wild west‟
town in the accepted sense,” says Jack Black in You Can’t Win, writing of the town in the
early 1890s . . . . “The miners were orderly, hard workers, deep drinkers, and fair fighters.
They had none of the cheap, shouldering swagger of the „gold-rush‟ miner. Nearly
everybody owned a gun, but the bullying, gun-toting, would be bad man and killer never
flourished in Butte. When one of them got peeved and started to lug out his „cannon‟
some hard-fisted miner beefed him like an ox with a fast one to the jaw, and kicked his
„gat‟out into the street where small boys scrambled for it. The mines were worked by
Irishmen and „Cousin Jacks‟ (Cornishmen), who settled their differences with good, solid
blows and despised the use of weapons.” 254
          The ratio of knives and guns to other weapons by nineteenth century Irish San
Franciscans compared to other ethnic groups seems to bear out these claims. An analysis
of the nineteenth century homicide cases in San Francisco, shows that Irish assailants
were less inclined to be armed with conventional assault weapons at the time of the
encounter. Twenty percent of Irish homicides involved attacks with other than firearms or
bladed instruments. The equivalent figure for Latinos was 10 percent and for Chinese it
was 10 percent.255 (To the extent that there is this divergence between the number of
assaults and homicides, we might question the universality of using homicide as an index
of general levels of violence for all groups).
          In the end Conley is doubtless correct about the lower rates of actual homicide in
Ireland than England Wales, or for that matter the United States. But that can be
explained in part by the fact that Irish in Ireland tended less to use deadly weapons rather
than any indisposition to do violence. Conley‟s finding go more to explain different types
of violence rather than their amounts. Indeed, from Conley‟s own description of events, it
appears there was far more recreational violence of the sort which resulted in so much
carnage in the United States--once firearms and bladed instruments were added to the
mix-- than was found in other societies.256
         Why did homicide decline in the United States in the closing decades of the
nineteenth century? Probably the most widely accepted theory is that of Roger Lane, that
it was the contemporary urban industrial revolution in most of the country which pushed
homicide rates down from their antebellum peak 257 Part of this, he claims, was the
assimilation of the previously disorderly Irish into the workforce. Lane points out that the
Irish, once the most murderous major group in Philadelphia, saw a declining rate there as
well.258 He explains why. “The city‟s Irish, once infamous for their violence, over the late
nineteenth century went to parochial school, got their knuckles rapped when they got
rambunctious, and graduated into jobs in factories, offices, and most famously civil
service…..” 259 In other words, it was their assimilation into the industrial workplace

which brought about the decline. Improvements in police practices had a beneficial effect
as well. Lane also points out that in the post-bellum years, the “big urban police
departments won the battle for the streets” with the introduction of the call-boxes, signal
systems and patrol wagons. 260
        Those forces were at work in San Francisco as well, though perhaps in different
proportions. We cannot look to a strictly economic explanation for the decline. The 1893
depression was the worst in the nation‟s history of any up to the big Depression of the
1930s. The exclusion of Chinese workmen with a series of laws beginning in 1882 may
have relieved some of the social tensions which can result in violence. San Francisco saw
improvements in the ability of the police to respond to violence as well. Following the
1877 riot, the size of the force was trebled and over the next two decades, patrol wagon
and call box systems were introduced and district stations were built which decentralized
police out of the downtown business district.
        To be sure there were other forces at work as well. Irish natives declined as a
percentage of the Irish population and the proportions of men to women shifted in favor
of more women.261 At the same time, the proportion of less murderous Germans
increased in the population as the numbers of Irish began to decline.262 But also it was a
different type of immigrant coming from Ireland in the last part of the century, a reality
which must be factored into any discussion considering the relation ship between the
immigrants behavior as contributing to violent crime rates as compared to the
discrimination they receive at the hands of the host community in the 1870s as opposed
to the 1890s.
         One recent Irish American scholar describes the Ireland from which most mid-
nineteenth century immigrants came--those who contributed disproportionately to the rate
of criminal violence. “A kind of raucousness, punctuated by violence, also marked life in
rural Ireland in the early nineteenth century,” he says. “Fairs were particularly infamous
for drinking and fighting.”263 Yet he goes on, speaking of the same people at the end of
the nineteenth century, “Ireland had changed; it was no longer the raucous, rural slum of
the early nineteenth century. It was a more ordered, disciplined place by the beginning of
the twentieth century. And because it had changed, the immigrants who came from
Ireland in the late nineteenth century were better clothed, better educated, more
disciplined, and more knowledgeable about the kind of society they were entering.” That
judgment about a changed Irish community is confirmed by Conley‟s research as well.
The homicide rate in Ireland for the decade immediately preceding the Potato Famine--
the period during which those emigrated who would account for the most Irish violence
in America--was six times that found by Conley in the last decade of the period of her
study. 264 And even in the latter period, reports Conley, “Much of the violence appears to
have been more recreational than rebellious and may have had as much to do with Irish
traditions as with political and socioeconomic grievances.”265 The same might be said of
Irish American violence at the time.
        In the end, because of the fact that they tended to eschew the use of deadly
weapons, there was probably more Irish violence in nineteenth century urban America
than is strictly reflected in homicide statistics. As with other groups Irish rates of violence
were affected to some extent by their treatment by the host society. And because of their
comparatively benign treatment in San Francisco by the host society, San Francisco rates
of Irish violence did not attain the levels found in some eastern cities. Still, there are

strong indications that Irish immigrants and their offspring were more violent than
immigrants from other European countries in the mid-to-late nineteenth century.
         And much of the violence can also be traced to behaviors the Irish immigrants
brought with them to the new world. If the second generation are included in the Irish
community--as they should be--some of the delinquency leading to the violence can
probably be traced to the intersection of old world parental values and those of their
immigrant sons. And at every step of their assimilation into American society, the
activities of the police department doubtless had an effect on levels of Irish violence.

         Sometime in late 1864, according to a contemporary news account, Chun Wong, a
53-year-old Sacramento laundryman, “purchased, according to the custom of his
countrymen, a Chinese woman of the public class of her importer, paying $200 or $300
for her.” The woman, Sun Choy, set up housekeeping with Wong until Wong‟s friend,
Ah Lie, entered the picture. As will sometimes happen in such situations, the friendship
between Ah Lie and Sun Choy ripened into something else, and early in 1865 the two
took off for San Francisco. It was there that Wong found them in March. After several
meetings, it was decided that Lie could keep the woman if he reimbursed Wong for
medical expenses he had incurred for her in Sacramento.
         Wong returned several times for his payment but Lie continued to put him off.
Wong made one final visit in late March when, according to his later testimony, he was
attacked by both Lie and Choy. In self-defense, Wong said, he pulled his bowie knife and
fatally stabbed Choy. Lie testified that there had been no such attack. Unfortunately for
Wong, Lie‟s account was corroborated by two police officers who happened to be present
in the house at the time of the cutting. Wong was sentenced to hang and on July 6, 1866,
he was taken to the corridor of the Broadway Jail where the sentence was executed, thus
earning him the dubious distinction of being the first Chinese hanged in San Francisco.266
         In all there were 392 homicides involving Chinese residents in the 12 decades
from 1850 to 1969 in San Francisco, 86 percent of which occurred in the six decades
between 1870 and 1930. During that period, with an average percentage of the population
in the single digits, the Chinese contributed 19.9 percent of the homicide victims to the
city‟s total, more than three times their representation in the larger society -- and a far
higher rate than could be credited to the reputedly pugnacious Irish.
         Figure 5.1 displays the Chinese homicide rate for San Francisco compared to
white rates for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. 267
Figure 5.1 goes about here.

         This chapter will examine Chinese homicide in San Francisco in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and attempt to determine to what extent the
criminal violence can be credited to their treatment by the host community and how much
can be traced to traits found in the immigrant community. To understand why those high
rates occurred, the question becomes not so much: "Why did nineteenth- and early
twentieth-century Chinese immigrants kill each other in such large numbers?” But rather,
"Why did the Chinese beginning killing each other around 1870 and stop suddenly in the
early 1920s?” That is the focus of this chapter.
         Nineteenth-century Chinese American society was characterized by a seemingly
impenetrable (to the eyes of the occidental inquirer) array of group associations, most
with roots in the old country. Foremost were the family associations, open to all with the
same family name, whether directly related or not. In California and other overseas
locations settled by large groups of Chinese, associations were organized according to
district of origin. These companies, or hui-kuans, headed by merchants from the various
districts of the old country, provided a host of immigrant services to the newcomers. It
was these groups which coalesced in later years into what was called the Chinese
Benevolent Association or, more familiarly, the Six Companies. Then there were the

tongs, not all of which were criminally oriented. Some were organized along the lines of
workers guilds to apportion work and regulate competition among the various trades and
some were formed from among those with no strong family or district connections to
oppose the hegemony of the family and district associations. It is among these latter
groups that the criminal gangs found their principal foothold.
          Underlying much of the discord in nineteenth-century Chinese affairs in
Chinatown was the conflict between the Manchu governmental establishment and the
rebellious elements of the Han Chinese who found a much more comfortable home in
overseas settlements, away from the direct scrutiny of governmental agents.268 To further
complicate matters, many Chinese held memberships in both criminal and non-criminal
associations.269 It is important to an understanding of nineteenth-century Chinatown
violence in San Francisco that the patterns of violence were remarkably similar, albeit on
a much reduced scale, to the communal feuding rooted in surname and native-place
rivalries which afflicted Southeastern China of the period.270 (One is reminded of the
communal faction fights which characterized rural Ireland at about the same time.)
         At least in the early days in San Francisco, the Chinese were just as likely as
others to kill over seemingly trivial disputes. In one case a man was teasing his friend and
things got out of hand, resulting in the friend‟s death. In May 1856 Gong Ah Pong killed
Ah Choy in a trivial dispute in a laundry at Filbert and Kearny for which he was
sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin.271 In March 1862, Ah On struck Lee Ah Choe with
a flat iron a workplace dispute in the laundry at Pacific and Powell.
         In other ways, however, homicides involving Chinese differed from those
committed by non-Chinese. For one thing, none of the Chinese cases listed saloons or
drinking alcohol as a precipitating factor, a major circumstance accompanying killings by
whites. A few Chinese came to their death in opium dens but given the soporific effect of
opium and its affordability at the time, there was little reason to kill over drugs. Another
difference is that many cases involved women in ways not found to the same degree in
the non-Chinese society.
         The high Chinese homicide rates can in part be explained in simple demographic
terms. According to one estimate, of the 12,000 Chinese in California in 1852, seven
were women.272 As with most gold seekers who came in the early 1850s, Chinese men
came by themselves. More women followed but, for a number of reasons which will be
discussed, the Chinese community in California maintained the same widely disparate
ratio of men to women which, when encountered in white mining camps, resulted in
inflated homicide rates.273 Gender parity was not achieved until the last decades of the
twentieth century.
         Chinese contract laborers in many of the Asian countries to which Chinese went
looking for work serviced themselves with local prostitutes. Some married local women
and never returned to China, forming the basis of many of the Chinese communities
which still inhabit the non-Chinese countries of that region.274 In San Francisco in the
early 1850s, Chinese prostitution prospered as it did in the white community. The first
Chinese vice operators were independent entrepreneurs, and the first of those was a
woman named Ah Toy, whose antics, reported assiduously in the daily press, amused the
largely male readership in the very early Gold Rush years. But soon the darker side of the
industry manifested itself. In the spring of 1851, Norman Assing (Yuen Shen) a leading
merchant in the Chinese community, opened a brothel in competition to Ah Toy, and

when the Committee of Vigilance convened that summer, he attempted to have Ah Toy
deported as a lewd woman.
         As early as 1851, the Alta noticed that some of the new arrivals were extorting
money from their fellow countrymen.275 The February 5, 1853, issue of the Alta reported
that two Chinese were in court for extortion. “These two rascals,” the paper reported are
"part of a gang" that compel the Chinese women to pay $20 a month under threat of
being murdered or having their houses burned down. The situation became clearer when,
in January 1854, City Marshal Brandt Seguine raided a Chinese commercial building on
Jackson Street and arrested 159 Chinese men. What Marshal Sequine and his men
discovered was the first outward evidence of the movement of criminal Triad gangs from
China to the United States. According to complaining witnesses, it was this group that
was extorting money from Chinese prostitutes.276 A reputable Chinese businessman
testified to the existence of a secret society “who have been in the habit of collecting
taxes from the Chinese brothels, at $10 a month per prostitute, payable each two weeks in
$5 installments.” Also, he courageously added, “I have since heard that the same party
had demanded $100 each from the Chinese merchant, in Sacramento Street.” The judge
dismissed the case for lack of evidence.
         The Chinese Triads, formed centuries earlier by Han Chinese to fight Manchu
invaders, had, by the mid-nineteenth century, largely degenerated into criminal gangs
which, among their other activities, controlled emigration from southern China. In
California, the Triads dominated Chinese vice operations. In China, agents of the Triad
societies, which came to be called tongs in their American form, would tour the rural
areas of China and buy extra daughters, or hire them, or kidnap unwitting females and
transport them to the United States, where they were required to work as prostitutes to
pay off their “fare.” The women were maintained in dirty cribs for the pleasure of
Chinese and American men. Few of them lived long enough to discharge their debts.277
         The larger society in San Francisco in the early 1850s overlooked vice by
whomever it was conducted. By mid-decade, however, white women joined their men
and society began to change. One of the strong sub-themes underlying the agitation
leading to the second vigilance committee was the effort, mounted mostly by women, to
eliminate the vice area around Dupont Street. In keeping with what were then considered
enlightened nineteenth-century attitudes about vice, hardliner police Chief Martin Burke
believed that prostitution and gambling could not be extirpated but that they could be
controlled. In keeping with that thinking, Burke mounted a career-long campaign to
ameliorate the worst aspects of vice. While in his first annual report in 1859 he
grudgingly admitted that there was little that could be done about the vice in general, he
took a strong stand against prostitution involving the Chinese. "With regard to Chinese
prostitutes," he wrote, “common humanity dictates that a law should be made for the
protection of these miserable beings, who, whether sick or well, willing or unwilling, are
compelled by their degraded owners, to submit to every pollution dictated by corrupt
minds, and sanctioned by the avarice of the keepers of these unfortunates.” 278
         In 1864, Police Captain Douglass, under Burke‟s command and assisted by
leading Chinese merchants, returned illegally landed prostitutes to the ship that had
brought them here.279 In 1865, an attempt to relocate Chinese prostitutes away from the
central business district was thwarted by white attorneys hired by the tongs. The Board of
Supervisors did, however, pass an ordinance that required blocking the view to the

brothels from the sidewalks around the streetcar lines. In 1866, the Supervisors passed an
ordinance placing the Chinese brothels in the hands of the Health Department.
Legislation was also proposed to make it an offense to visit a Chinese house of ill fame
for fornication or lewdness.280 When Chief Burke complained that the Health
Department had not cleaned up the brothels, his days as head of the department were
numbered.281 For all the trouble with Chinese prostitution, there was little Chinese
homicide in the 1850s and 1860s.
        By the late 1860s and early 1870s, conditions changed. Fueled by post
Burlingame Treaty immigration, the Chinese population in California swelled. With the
completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, thousands of Chinese and Irish workmen
were turned loose in a declining economy. Many Chinese fled harassment in the
hinterlands to the relative safety of San Francisco. Among those who came from China,
disguised in the mass of economic immigrants, were members of the Triad gangs,
suppressed in China following their defeat in 1864 with the other Taiping rebels.282 Still,
few Chinese women came. The city‟s Chinese population, 3,000 in 1860, grew almost
tenfold to 26,000 by the mid-1870s, when Chinese men still outnumbered women by 20
to 1. Most of those women were prostitutes.283 It was the perfect prescription for
        In the eight years from 1861 to1868, there were two homicides committed by
Chinese in San Francisco. In the next eight years there were 39. In January 1869, Ah
Kow, who, according to press accounts “had a bad reputation among his own people” and
was said to have killed two men in Trinity County, killed Tim Moon Ping. The murder,
said the Alta on April 4, 1869, “arose out of the late difficulties about imported Chinese
women.” In September 1869, two homicides were committed by Chinese the same day.
One stemmed from a dispute in a gambling hall and the other in a workplace dispute in a
washhouse on Market near Second Street. On December 18, 1870, Ah Hee killed Huen
Chek off Dupont Street over a $20 debt. In October 1871, Ah Sing killed Sam Quin at
Clay and Waverly in what was classified as a robbery.
        Money figured prominently in the killings of Chinese newcomers, more so than
for other groups, either as a result of some kind of a dispute or from robbery or extortion
attempts gone wrong. As discussed previously, few nineteenth-century San Francisco
homicides, or those in urban America generally, had money as their motivation.285 But
with the San Francisco Chinese, money was clearly involved in some way in 37 percent
of the cases for which the circumstances are known. And it is safe to assume that money
was often at the bottom of the 27 percent of Chinese homicides explicitly identified as
tong disputes.286 Some were over debts for buying and selling women, as in the case of
Sun Choy. Some were out and out killings for failure to pay extortion and others involved
disputes between tongs representing tailors or shrimp fisherman over exclusive
commercial rights.
         The 1874 Pat Choy killing shows the nexus between women and money which
accounted for much of the Chinese homicide. On October 14, 1874, Ah Sin, the
proprietress of a brothel on Washington Alley, killed Pat Choy by forcing opium down
her throat with a syringe because the prostitute was not bringing in enough earnings.287
The first tong war in San Francisco, between the Suey Sing and Kwong Duck tongs, is
said to have started over a prostitute called the “Golden Peach.”288

         In 1875, in an effort to control the importation of prostitutes, the U. S.
Legislature, with the support of the Chinese Six Companies, enacted the Page Act, which
prohibited the importation of Chinese women except for the wives of merchants. While
well-intentioned, the law only served to exacerbate the situation by making females an
even rarer commodity. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act which excluded the
immigration of Chinese workmen became law.289
         The large and rapid increase in the Chinese population from the early 1870s not
only resulted in conflicts with Irish workmen and hoodlums but created tensions in the
Chinese community as well, which can be said to have resulted in some of the Chinese on
Chinese violence. In 1885, the American press reported an attack by 12 armed Chinese
on a Dupont Street merchandise store. “Nobody knew the cause of the battle,” the press
reported. What it all started with, we are otherwise informed, was the attempt of the
member of one tong to open a laundry in violation of the “ten door rule” which, by a
guild agreement, prohibited laundries within ten doors of each other.290 The tongs became
involved in the business dispute and things escalated. Much nineteenth century Chinese
violence was attributable to attempts within the Chinese community to apportion finite
economic resources within a growing population.
         There are indications that some of the tong killings may have been attempts by
individuals to break away from control of the Chinese establishment. Several of the tit-
for-tat killings in the 1890s involved disputes between “union” and “non-union” tailors.
Could it be that some of the newcomers, sensing the difference of opportunity in the new
world, chose to break with tradition and strike out on their own, thus angering those who
previously controlled their affairs? 291 To the extent that this was the case, the killings
must be attributed not to white discrimination but to access to the opportunities the new
society offered. This may be the as-yet unwritten aspect of Chinatown history.
         Much recent scholarship about San Francisco‟s Chinatown, led by a group of
young Chinese scholars, has attempted to correct the previously distorted view of the
immigrant Chinese. But in their zeal to adjust the record the new scholars must be careful
not to swing too far in the other direction. One of the topics covered is the roots of the
gender imbalance to which so much of the homicide can be traced.292 How that came to
happen is important to any assignment of responsibility for the conditions which ensued.
         The prevalent modern belief is that the gender imbalance was primarily due to
exclusionary restrictions placed on the Chinese community by the white majority.293
According to one recent scholar, the predominately male Chinese population was “due in
part to legislation that prohibited the immigration of Chinese women.”294 According to
another modern interpretation, “As a result, [of the immigration policies excluding
women], the early United States policy measures and laws which prohibited Chinese men
from having their wives with them in this county are believed to have contributed heavily
to their crime history.”295 In fact, the prohibition against the emigration of Chinese
women was rooted in Chinese custom and law.296 In a memorial to President Grant in
1876, the presidents of the six Chinese companies and the Chinese YMCA offered as the
primary reason why Chinese women did not come in greater numbers that it was
“contrary to the custom and against the inclination of virtuous Chinese women to go so
far from home. . . .”297
         Without a doubt in later years, after society was shocked into acknowledging the
problem by the large number of homicides related to the enslavement of Chinese women,

strong legislative measures were taken to exclude women who were seen as the cause of
the killing. But in the early years, the distorted gender imbalance from which the killing
originated can be traced to Chinese custom and law.298 It was not until conditions had
degenerated badly by 1875, that the Page Act, which excluded other than merchants‟
wives, was passed into law. And the informal attempts to exclude prostitutes before that
enactment were not the exclusive initiative of the white authorities.299
         It is the same thing with the origins of the tongs. According to some accounts, the
tong gangsters emerged out of conditions imposed by the host society. According to one
standard account of minority crime “Their emergence in the United States came with the
early immigrants from southeastern China who were routinely and severely persecuted by
the dominant group in American society. The tongs were formed in Chinatowns across
the country largely as a result of this mistreatment.”300 In fact, as has been mentioned, the
criminal Triad gangs formed in China and came among the first immigrants. Following
the defeat of the Taiping rebellion, the Triads came to California in even greater numbers.
The extent to which Triad gangsters have been involved in Chinese criminality has only
become known in the last several decades.301
         The conviction of Fong Ah Sing for the 1881 murder of a prostitute named Cum
Choy illuminates another issue that comes up with regard to Chinese homicide. Because
of an 1854 court decision prohibiting uncorroborated Chinese testimony against whites,
we are told, the marginalized Chinese turned inward, and formed their own informal
judicial tribunals which sometimes imposed capital punishment because the Chinese felt
unwelcome in the regular courts. 302 In fact, the criminal gangs were exacting tribute long
before the 1854 decision, and throughout the nineteenth century, the Chinese showed no
disinclination to use regular American courts. Lucy E. Sayler shows that, “By the time
the Chinese exclusion was passed in 1882, the path to the courts had been well marked
and leaders in the Chinese community spoke with ease and familiarity about the rights
owed them under treaties and the Constitution.”303 The Chinese showed no reluctance to
work the courts once a suspect had been arrested. Companies and tongs kept white
attorneys on retainer against the day that one of their members would be arrested and,
once at trial, supported spirited defenses. Even those without company support did not go
without representation. The appeal file for Chin Mook Sow, who was defended by a
court-appointed lawyer after he killed Yee Ah Chin in December 1875, at the height of
the anti-Chinese agitation, measures more than four inches high.
         And it seems that there was more to the restrictions on Chinese testimony than
simple racism. Simply put, the Chinese had a different way of looking at the law which
conflicted with American ideas about Justice. In his recent Race and Homicide in
California, Clare McKanna cites a well known Chinese proverb: “An indictment cannot
be got up without a lie,” to illustrate Chinese attitudes toward perjury, and to explain the
common practice in China of paying witnesses for testimony.304 We can see how these
customs played themselves out in the Fong Ah Sing case. Fong Ah Sing was convicted--
and eventually executed--on the testimony of three Chinese witnesses who put him at the
scene of the crime. Fong Ah Sing claimed that he had been framed by the false testimony
of Chee Kung Tong members with whom he had a disagreement. After Ah Sing‟s
conviction, according to Prosecutor Frank Stone, white witnesses came forward who
claimed that Ah Sing had been elsewhere at the time. When Stone, who later took up
what proved to be an unsuccessful attempt to exonerate Ah Sing, confronted the lead

prosecution witness with the new evidence, the witness told him he could provide as
many witnesses as were needed.
        The Alta of November 28, 1853 reported that “Notwithstanding the severity of
this oath, the evidence of the Chinese taken in court is not generally of a very reliable
character, and the Recorder is often obliged to discharge prisoners against whom there is
nothing but Chinese evidence, on account of contradictions and discrepancies which are
always discovered in their testimony.” At the trial of Ah Moon for killing Chung King,
reports the Chronicle of March 24, 1877, “the case, as usual with all Chinese trials,
involves any amount of perjury.” Three witnesses put the defendant on the scene. Two
others put him at a party elsewhere. “One defense witness offered to testify for either
side, whoever would pay the most.” The arguments that Chinese turned to private justice
because they were reluctant to use white courts and that their testimony was excluded
merely on the grounds of racism do not stand up to close scrutiny.
        Another way of looking at the treatment of minorities by the host society, a
method used previously in connection with other groups, is to examine the relative
proportion of those punished. Of the 564 people imprisoned or executed for homicide in
San Francisco from 1870 to 1930, 79 were Chinese. Table 5.2 shows the relationship
between the incidence of homicide committed by the Chinese and their proportionate
Table 5.2 goes about here.

        While Chinese homicide rates always exceeded their percentage of the
population, the proportion of those punished was almost always in line with the
percentage of incidence, at least until 1910. This, on its face, would seem to point to
generally fair treatment by the justice system. But there is a seeming anomaly. In San
Francisco, 64 percent of the Chinese sentenced on homicide convictions were given life
sentences or hanged, while for the non-Chinese population, the corresponding proportion
was 34.8 percent. Chinese were thus twice as likely to be hanged or to receive a life
sentence, a startlingly disparate ratio which cries out for explanation.305
        Others have noticed this phenomenon as well. Clare McKanna in his recent study
of homicide in a number of nineteenth-century California counties concludes, on the
basis of the severity of penalties assessed against the Chinese, that minorities were
discriminated against by white-dominated justice systems. “Chinese inmates had the
highest life sentence rates of any group among the aggregate prison population,” he
reports, “with 46 percent of all Chinese inmates receiving life sentences.” In San
Francisco, he adds, “60 percent received life sentences.”306 Finding that life sentence
rates for whites were 20 percent lower than for the Chinese, McKanna concludes that the
“most logical explanation would be racial prejudice,” and ends with the explanation, “It
appears, especially in San Francisco, Sacramento, Fresno, and Calveras counties, the
prosecutors may have used life sentences as a way to get these Chinese „deviants‟ off the
        Without discounting nineteenth-century anti-Chinese sentiment on the part of
whites, there is another explanation for the disproportionate Chinese sentences. As we
have seen in earlier chapters, society treated instrumental homicide, including robberies,
more seriously (as we do today) than those arising out of sudden passion (expressive
killings). As with other groups, the principal reason that the Chinese received more

severe sentences is that they committed more of the type of crimes that would properly
result in such sentences. 308 As mentioned above, in at least 37 percent of the cases of
Chinese homicide for which the circumstances are known, money was involved, either as
in robberies, extortions gone wrong, or disputes over ownership. From what is known
about the 27 percent of the Chinese homicides resulting from tong conflicts, it can
reasonably be assumed that many of them were of the same sort. So, we must first look
to the nature of the offense rather than to discrimination to explain disproportionate
sentencing patterns.
         And an examination of some of the cases in which people were hanged confirms
that judgment. The second Chinese to hang in San Francisco was Chin Mook Sow for the
December 10, 1875, killing of Ah Chin at Washington and Stockton streets. Early reports
were that the two men were fighting over a woman.309 In a deathbed statement, Ah Chin
claimed that money was the cause of the attack. He told officers that he had loaned Chin
Mook Sow money earlier and when he refused to “loan” him more, the defendant stabbed
him. 310 Chin Mook Sow was convicted, but might still have escaped the ultimate penalty
until it was revealed that he was the same as a man named Muck Sow who had escaped
from San Mateo 12 years earlier after having been convicted of murder there.
         Next to hang was Ah Duck in December 1882. Ah Duck comes across as a one-
man Murder Incorporated. He was known as a hit man and by general belief he had killed
eight men in seven years. He was convicted of the murder of Wong Sheing Hing on
Washington Street on November 11, 1877 in a fight between tong gangsters for which he
was sentenced to life imprisonment. His fatal mistake was to kill his cell mate in San
Quentin in a dispute over opium for which he was finally hanged. Lee Sare Bow was
hanged in 1887 for the 1882 contract hit of Chew Ah Chick, who had given evidence
against three men who had attacked Chick‟s wife.
         On December 29, 1888, Leong Sing went to his death on the gallows for the
murder a year and a half earlier of his uncle, Yung Teng, who had refused his demand for
money. In February 24, 1894, Lee Sing was hanged in San Quentin for the 1893 killing
of Chee Kow at Jackson and Stockton streets in the midst of one of the many tong wars in
a week in which there were three killings in the Chinese quarter. For once, there was
much independent evidence (white witnesses and his arrest by an officer immediately
after the killing, who found him in possession of a firearm.) Taken together, considering
the circumstances surrounding the nine Chinese hanged in the nineteenth century (25
percent of those hanged against 19.9 percent of the homicide committed by Chinese) it
would be as difficult to support the notion that they were hanged out of racial animus as it
would be for Latino or Irish killers, as shown in previous chapters. From a reading of the
cases, Chinese homicides were almost never committed in the heat of passion, unlike
those of the non-Chinese with whom the rates of severe punishment are compared.
         That does not exculpate the host society – particularly its agents of law
enforcement – from responsibility for conditions contributing to Chinese violence. In
1876, at the height of the anti-Chinese agitation and after the homicide rate had begun to
rise precipitously, the state Legislature convened a series of hearings on Chinatown.
Among the subjects investigated was the relationship of the police to Chinese vice.
Witnesses testified that gambling and prostitution were controlled by criminal gangs and
that there was police collusion.311And there were indications that police involvement was
not a new problem. On February 1, 1851, Norman Assing, the brothel keeper who tried

to get Ah Toy deported by the Vigilance Committee, “gave a grand feast at his private
home in San Francisco,” attended by, among others, “a number of policemen.”312 In this
context, the presence of the two police officers in the brothel in which Chun Wong killed
Sun Choy can perhaps be understood in a different light. And by 1869 we find Captain
Douglass, who had escorted prostitutes to ships returning them to China in 1864, was
now escorting women from the docks, to the “houses to which they had been consigned.”
The Alta on February 24, 1869, announced the arrival of a ship with 396 Chinese women
who were greeted on the wharf by Captain Douglass and a detail of 18 officers who
escorted them to “destinations fixed by companies” (emphasis added). When the
Examiner questioned this use of police resources, the Chronicle, on October 23, 1869,
attacked the Examiner for suggesting that Captain Douglass (without naming him) “is
always on hand when the steamer arrives with a posse of hand picked men -- whether on
or off duty -- to see that the arriving Cyprians get to the correct locations.” The
Chronicle joined with Captain Douglass in denouncing the Examiner’s recommendation
that the Police Commission investigate. There are few heroes in the story of nineteenth-
century Chinese vice and crime.
         One of the provisions of the McCoppin Act--the legislation that trebled the size of
the police department following the 1877 riot--abolished the Chinatown Special Police
system, and in its place provided for the organization of the fabled Chinatown Squad. So
that appropriate control could be exercised, the unit was assigned to the Chief‟s office
instead of the geographic commander. To thwart any ideas of their profiting informally
for letting vice activities go unpunished, squad leaders were changed every few months in
the hope that the turnover would keep them honest. For 90 years, the squad would be
charged with keeping the peace and enforcing vice laws in the Chinese quarter.
          In February 1891, following a spate of Chinatown killings--and frustrated by the
department‟s inability to bring the killings to an end--Police Chief Patrick Crowley
ordered raids of dubious constitutionality on the headquarters of Chinatown‟s tongs. It
was the first of several such campaigns. Sergeant William Price assembled 16 police
officers, equipped with axes, and led them from tong headquarters to tong headquarters,
breaking up furniture and roughing up tong members found there. When the groups
repaired the damage, Price returned and wrecked the premises again. Over the next
several months, the gangs found it wise to relocate away from Sergeant Price and his
          It is hard to tell whether the hardliner tactics would have eventually prevailed.
Within a few months, Price was stopped by court orders. And there were actually more
Chinese murders in the year following the Price raids (ten) than there had been in the
preceding year (eight). Homicide declined in the next year but when it increased again in
1893, the raids were resumed. Over the next 30 years, the high homicide rates continued
with puzzling tenacity. A number of factors emerge out of the mist of misdirection and
         One explanation for the failure of the strong enforcement measures to bring the
killing to a halt lies in the inherent hypocrisy of the situation. In 1894, the Chief Clerk of
the Police Department, William Hall, the top aide to Police Chief Crowley, was
dismissed, along with virtually the entire Chinatown Squad, in one of the first of many
well publicized police scandals involving collusion between the Chinese vice lords and
police officials over the next several decades.313 (Again we find parallels in China. Lax

public officials actually contributed to the disorders in the Ch‟ing period. According to
Harry Lamely: “They usually extracted bribes and fees from both sides, and sometimes
found the intake so lucrative that they failed to adopt preventative measures against
future outbreaks.”314
         A standard explanation for minority criminal violence is that a group that is
socially, legally and economically marginalized by the majority society turns to homicide
as a way of resolving conflicts unaddressed by the regular justice system. But of
nineteenth-century Chinatown, we might ask: marginalized by whom? Playing in the
background in San Francisco‟s Chinatown were old-world conflicts about which non-
Chinese San Francisco was largely unaware. For example, much of the conflict between
the Chinese Consul General, appointed by the Manchu regime, and the anti-establishment
Tong officials was doubtless rooted in old-country Manchu-Han disharmony. It will take
scholars steeped in an understanding of the Chinese nineteenth-century political culture
with a command of Chinese languages to sort out all the connections. When they do, they
will find the adumbrated story in the record of Chinese homicide. Threaded throughout
the half-century of Chinese violence is the ongoing conflict between two of the major
Chinese companies, the See Yups and the Sam Yups. The more numerous See Yups,
mostly working men, came in conflict with the wealthier Sam Yups, who largely
controlled the Chinatown economy. The conflict can be discerned in the pitched battles
between rival companies in the gold country in the 1850s, and it continued through all the
many associational disputes of the remainder of the century. It was among the See Yups
that arriving Triad criminals found a safe haven. In the late 1880s the conflict between
the two groups increased. Much of the killing in the 1890s, centered on this conflict until
the matter was tentatively resolved with a See Yup victory in 1896.315
         Other circumstances also contributed to the high Chinese homicide rates. Several
of the killings in the late 1890s can be traced to feuds between families and to labor
disputes, such as the killing of Mock Foo by Chin Noon in the Washington Street Theater
in October 1898 in a conflict between union and non-union tailors. Some of the killings
resulted from problems brought to San Francisco from Alaskan canneries where many
Chinese went for seasonal work.
         In our quest to find reasons for violence in Chinatown by examining the way the
Chinese newcomers were treated by the host society, we cannot lose sight of the Chinese
perspective. It can be argued that some of the Chinese killing can be attributed to the fact
that, from the Chinese point of view, that the police were not severe enough, and as a
result offended Chinese took matters into their own hands. Sam Ching, a Six Companies
detective thought so. Regarding the leniency of the white courts shown to Chinese
offenders, he said in 1896, “In China, a man who kills another is detected and executed in
pretty short order. Here a man can kill President Cleveland and if he have money enough
can with the aid of lawyers prove himself insane, that he took the life of the president
because he thought him a cow or horse.”316
         It wasn‟t just the little people. Following the January 1897 assassination of Fong
Ching (Little Pete), the most prominent gangster/businessman in Chinatown, Fung Wing
Hang, the Chinese Consul General in San Francisco, laid responsibility for the killing
directly at the door of police department.
                 Three years ago the police adopted a most effective course of
         continually raiding and breaking up the highbinder headquarters. It will be

         remembered that Sergeant Price was in charge of the squad at that time
         and he and his men were merciless in their raids upon the dens where
         crime was being hatched. I will admit that there were times when the
         officers made mistakes and raided places occupied by peaceable and law-
         abiding Chinese but that is to be expected, all things being considered, and
         the Chinese residents who believed in law and order made no complaint.
         These raids resulted most beneficially. They had the effect of breaking up
         all of the highbinder societies and driving the hatchet men and murderers
         into the country. For months after that no murders or crimes of importance
         occurred in Chinatown. Then for some unaccountable reason, the police
         ceased to be vigilant and it was not long before the highbinders began to
         reassemble and trouble was brewing.317
         The Consul General reported that several months earlier that he had informed
Police Chief Crowley that “the troublesome element” was becoming active and that some
sort of outbreak was imminent. He asked the Chief to resume the old raiding system, he
said, but the Chief said he could not because he was under bonds (from previous law
suits) not to willfully destroy property for fear of losing his sureties.
         The apparently lower incidence of homicide among Chinese settlers in British
colonies--as among white settlers in Australia and British Columbia--may have been in
part attributable to the more certain punishments administered by British authorities,
compared to their more tolerant American cousins. In this context, homicides involving
Chinese newcomers can in part be charged to the same laissez faire attitudes, which, it
has been argued, contributed to high rates generally.318
         By many accounts, the tong wars subsided at the beginning of the twentieth
century and the rates of violence subsided. 319 In fact, as is evident from a review of
Figure 5.1, Chinese homicide rates continued to rise in San Francisco in the first decades
of the new century. From an average annual rate of 30.8 in the 1890s, the Chinese rate
climbed to 50 in the first decade of the new century. Notable in contributing to the high
rate in the latter period was the 1909 “war” between the On Yick Tong and the Yee
Family. The “war” started, as was common, when a member of the powerful Yee family
enticed away the wife of a member of the On Yick Tong. Before the war was over, nine
lay dead.320 In the decade of the 1910s, the Chinese homicide rate climbed to an all-time
high average annual rate of 74.7 per 100,000 population. Following a number of killings
in 1913, the tongs came together and formed a peace committee, an effort doubtless
prompted in part by a police blockade of Chinatown in which officers were posted on
street corners to warn tourists out of the area. Still the killing persisted.
         Throughout the decade, reports of tong war killings interspersed with
investigations into police graft dominated the press discussion of Chinatown. In 1917,
there was a tong war in which 57 Chinese were killed statewide.321 We must note, as a
strictly mathematical proposition, that soaring rates in the first two decades of the century
were in part caused by the reduction of the population denominator. The actual number of
homicides committed by Chinese remained about the same, 6.1 on average per year in the
1890s and 1900s, and 6.8 in the 1910s. But during the same period, the average Chinese
population of about 20,000 in the 1890s declined to a low point of 9,000 in the period
from 1910-1920, thus inflating the rate per 100,000 population. Dykstra‟s concerns about
the fallacy of small numbers again comes to mind. But the fact remains that in

proportion to the size of their population, it was more dangerous to be Chinese in San
Francisco in the 1910s than the 1890s.
        Then in the 1920s, the Chinese homicide rate plummeted. During that decade, the
annual average rate of Chinatown homicides declined from almost 75 per 100,000
population to 24.1 (n. 29), and in the 1930s declined still farther to 7 (n.12). A number of
reasons have been offered to account for the sudden decline. According to some
accounts, the tong gunmen simply died off and were not replaced. This might be
construed as one positive aspect of the discriminatory Exclusion laws.322 That possibility
is borne out by an examination of the composition of the population. The percentage of
young Asian males as a portion of the total Chinese community was about the same in
San Francisco in the 1930s as it was in earlier decades, but it was different type of
        By the end of the nineteenth century, overseas Chinese communities had become
havens for young Chinese intellectuals escaping persecution from the Manchu
Dynasty.323 Among them was a young man named Sun Yat Sen, who, aided by the
Triads, finally defeated the hated Manchus and in 1911 formed the Republic of China.
With a less repressive Republican regime in control in China, there was less reason to
oppose the establishment. And in place of the immigrant gangster was the “paper son”
who came to get an education and make a living.324
        Still, for a time it appeared that the killing would continue unabated. In 1921, San
Francisco was in the throes of one of its recurrent “tong wars,” this one between the Suey
Sing and the Hop Sing tongs. According to the later account of Lew Wah Get, an official
in the Suey Sings, the war started, typically enough, over a woman. The Suey Sings had
imported a slave girl,but the Hop Sing claimed her and refused to compensate the Suey
Sings for expenses incurred. What followed was the highest-ever single annual homicide
rate for Chinese San Francisco, 155 per 100,000.
         It was in March of that year that Chief of Police Daniel O‟Brien assigned
Sergeant Jack Manion to head the Chinatown Squad with orders to do what was
necessary to clean things up. The straight-talking police officer later recounted how he
brought the homicide rate down. By rigorously enforcing the vagrancy laws against all
those with “no visible means” of support, and re-arresting them repeatedly, he said, he
drove the tong gangsters out of the city and kept them out.
        But those sorts of methods would deal only with the street-level criminals. To get
at the root of the problem, Manion used another technique. He later related that on one
occasion he was sitting in on a peace meeting attended by members of all the fighting
tongs. After agreement was reached and the peace agreement was signed, according to
Manion‟s account, he snatched the paper off the table, folded it, and placed it in an inner
pocket.325 “I now have here all officials of all tongs which I will give to my Chief to
keep,” he told the assembled leaders. “This means no more killings or all tong officials
who signed this paper will be deported back to China.” 326
        It may be that the tong leaders believed Manion would follow through on his
threat. Police and other criminal justice officials often claim credit for crime decreases,
whether they had anything to with them or not. Manion‟s claim could be construed as
self-serving, but the record and statistical evidence seem to back him up. All homicide
rates declined in the 1920s, for reasons which will be discussed in the next chapter, but
the Chinese rate declined much more dramatically, beginning immediately after Manion

delivered his ultimatum in December 1921.327 In the five years immediately preceding
the ultimatum, 155 whites were murdered in San Francisco, as were 35 Chinese. In the
next five years, it was 133 whites murdered to nine Chinese. Thus the white rate declined
14 percent in the period immediately following Manion‟s ultimatum, compared to a 74
percent decline for the Chinese. Perhaps the most telling evidence of the effect of
Manion‟s methods, though, came in the summer of 1926 when the Hop Sing and Bing
Kong tongs went to war again. During this war, which ran from July to November, 26
men were shot statewide, 18 of them fatally. None of the killings occurred in San
Francisco‟s Chinatown where Manion was managing affairs. 328
         To be sure there were other forces at work to reduce Chinatown violence. Ivan
Light points out that the normalization of gender ratios in both the Chinese and white
communities reduced the demand for vice services even as the tourist and restaurant
industries attracted more white customers to Chinatown.329 Tong leaders as well as
merchants, sometimes the same persons, had a vested interest in a peaceable community
so that customers would not be frightened away, and the two groups combined to bring
about an end to the violence. In reporting on the cessation of hostilities in the 1921 tong
war involving four fighting tongs, the San Francisco Examiner tallied up the cost. “Forty
men have been killed in this war,” the paper reported, “and the loss of business to
Chinatown is estimated at more than a million dollars.” 330 Light is doubtless correct in
his conclusions but his was a gradual process which perforce took place over a period of
years. The sharp decrease in the early 1920s suggests a more dramatic cause for the
         So in the end, we return to the question of how much responsibly can we assign to
the host society for Chinese criminality, how much is chargeable to the immigrants
themselves, and what effect did police behavior have on the situation. On the issue of
mistreatment as a cause of the violence, there was no shortage of harassment before
1870.331 Yet it was not until the post-1868 surge of immigration that the Chinese
homicide rate soared. If the violence had been a result of host society mistreatment, one
could reasonably assume that the earlier rates would have been higher than they were.
         San Francisco prides itself on its reputation for tolerance of diverse ethnic groups
and lifestyles. The nineteenth-century experience would seem to fly in the face of that
reputation. There is no doubt that there was a great deal of enmity between the Chinese
and white workingmen in nineteenth-century San Francisco. But it must be remembered
that it was San Francisco that Chinese sought as a refuge when vilified, harassed and
murdered in the countryside. Anti-Chinese sentiment was typified by the Los Angeles
riot in 1871, where 22 died and where the police are alleged to have winked at the
attacks.332A year earlier in San Francisco, Police Chief Patrick Crowley showed up with
the entire police force to help Officer David Supple--who was Dublin born it might be
added--to quell an anti-Chinese riot mounted by young hoodlums against a Chinese
         In 1877, after white citizens became outraged that a Chico farmer had contracted
with the Ning Yung Company for a group of farm laborers at a time when the local
economy was in severe decline, a group of white men entered the Chinese dwelling and
shot down six laborers and set their shack afire in what came to be known as the Lemm
Ranch Massacre.333 In 1885, 51 Chinese strikebreakers were killed in Rock Springs
Wyoming. And in 1887, ten Chinese were killed at Log Cabin Bar in Oregon.334 Notably

absent in any of the listings of nineteenth-century Chinese massacres is any reference to
San Francisco. That can in part be explained by the presence in San Francisco of a strong
police force which, for all its other failings, did a better job than others in protecting the
minority newcomers.
         On balance, nineteenth-century Chinese in San Francisco excluded themselves,
and were excluded--with fatal consequences.335 Ironically, it was that legally sanctioned
exclusion by white laws which prevented the importation of criminal gangsters, along
with changed attitudes in Chinatown brought about by the departure of the Manchu
regime in China, and a determined effort by the authorities, which finally brought the
killing to an end. Jack Manion didn‟t do anything much different from what Sergeant
Price and others had tried before. Behavioral changes in the Chinese community along
with a different type of immigrant led to the change.

         Retired San Francisco Police Lieutenant Lou Calabro was raised in the Canarsie
section of Brooklyn in the 1940s. It was there that he learned of the public perception of
disproportionate Italian criminality. “The persistence of the image of the Italian as
criminal,” comments one leading scholar of immigration history, “from the Black Hand
assassin with a stiletto at the turn of the century, to the Prohibition Era gangster with
machine guns, to the so-called Mafia and Costra Nostra of today, makes it one of the
more enduring ethnic stereotypes.”336
         To be sure, there was no shortage of Italian criminals in Brooklyn when
Lieutenant Calabro was growing up, but from his personal experience Calabro knew
there were plenty of criminals from other ethnic groups as well, and the vast majority of
Italians were as law-abiding as anyone else. So, when assigned to duty in San Francisco‟s
city prison in the early 1960s, Calabro made it the first order of his personal business to
go through the arrest log book which listed the name, charge, and nativity of every
arrested prisoner, looking for Italian names. He was puzzled and relieved to find few.
Had he made the same sort of survey a half century earlier, Lieutenant Calabro would
have found a somewhat different picture.
         This chapter will examine criminal violence by Italians in San Francisco. The
analysis will show that Italians in San Francisco had twice the homicide rate of non-
Italian whites in the early decades of the twentieth century. Even so, those rates were far
lower than those of Italians in large eastern cities. And the intercity differences can in
part be explained by conditions that existed within the Italian communities in the
respective jurisdictions, more so than by any mistreatment by the non-Italian host society.
         Italians joined the California Gold Rush with everyone else, albeit in fewer
numbers than many other groups. In 1851, by one account, there were 600 Italians in San
Francisco, one-tenth the number of Frenchmen, Germans, or natives of the British
Isles.337 By 1860 San Francisco‟s Little Italy, centered on Dupont Street north from
Vallejo, boasted perhaps 400 residents.338 Others ran truck farms in what are now the
outer Mission and Bayview districts. Italians do appear on the criminal records of the day
though not in large numbers. Perhaps most prominent was Genoa-born gambler, Charles
Cora, who in 1856 killed U.S. Marshal William Richardson in a controversial street
affray that helped bring about the second vigilance committee. (According to a
contemporary Chilean account, it wasn‟t a Chilean who killed the Hound Belden Beatty
in June 1849, but one of a group of Italian priests who somehow had made it to Gold
Rush San Francisco and were lodged on Telegraph Hill. There is doubtless more to
history than we will ever know.339) In October 1858 an Italian named Giribildi (sic) was
convicted and imprisoned for fatally stabbing an Irishman named Richard Smith in a
fight outside a North Beach saloon.
         In January 1863 Pietro Lecari, an Italian rancher whose property adjoined San
Bruno Road, was the victim of a hit man hired by his wife and business partner. In June
two Italians were killed in the “Farallones Egg War” with a competing seabird egg
collecting company. A week later, Marie Freschi, an Italian prostitute, was murdered on
Waverly Place. And in July Carlo Odiaro cut the throat of a man named Pissano in a
personal dispute. (We get a hint that there may have been more to the case than was made

public at the time. One of the killers in the Lecari case a few months earlier was a native
of Italy whose name, as reported in the records, was Francisco Pizzano.)
         In the 1870s, there were seven Italian homicide victims. Three of the cases
involved fights in saloons or on the street. In 1875 Mary Loretto, killed her seducer, Gus
Galli, as he prepared to depart the city. In one case, that of Police Officer Joseph
Coppola, the perpetrator was his Irish-born wife, Catherine (nee Crowley). The cross-
ethnic nature of that case was offset by the 1874 killing of a Chinese man in Spofford
Alley by Giancomo Boero. In the 1880s San Francisco logged in only one Italian
homicide victim and four homicides with Italian perpetrators. In the 1890s it was seven
Italian victims and 12 named as perpetrators.
        The small Italian population at that period and the spotty nature of the incidence
of the killings makes any attempt at statistical analysis difficult. We are reminded yet
again of Dykstra‟s “fallacy of small numbers.” The five Italian killings in a few months
in 1863, given the small Italian population, would have translated into an annual rate of
more than 300 per 100,000.340 By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, the
Italian population had grown sufficiently to allow for meaningful analysis.
        In the opening decades of the twentieth century, as shown in Figure 6.1, urban
homicides rates (and the national rate generally) began to rise.
        Figure 6.1 goes about here

         The fact that the trends for all jurisdictions moved in the same direction, at least in
the first two decades of the century, suggests that there were similar forces at work
driving the rates generally. Some of the increase, at least for some of the jurisdictions, has
been credited to the inclusion of previously unreported vehicular manslaughters and
abortion deaths.341 Part of the increase can also be credited to high rates committed by

Italian newcomers.342 Chicago Italians in 1910 had a rate of 41 per 100,000 population,
four times the overall Chicago rate for the period.343 In turn-of-the-twentieth century
Philadelphia, Italian-born immigrants had a homicide incarceration rate--the measure
used by Roger Lane to establish comparative homicide rates--more than twenty times that
of non-Italian whites.344 The figures for Italian homicide perpetration in New York in
1915 computes out at a rate of 22.9, five times the overall rate of incidence for that city
(4.39).345 And Italian immigrants contributed 62 percent of the homicide incarcerations in
Massachusetts in 1920 at a time when they comprised three percent of the state‟s
population. 346
         Depressed economic conditions in southern Italy in the closing decades of the
nineteenth century, the demand for cheap labor in the United States and the reduced cost
of steamship fares combined to create the second great wave of nineteenth-century
immigration, this time from Eastern and southern Europe.347 In 1890, the Italian
community in San Francisco (Italian- and American-born) numbered slightly more than
8,000. By the turn of the century that number had increased to 13,000. By 1910 the
population more than doubled to 29,000, and by 1930, 57,000 Italians called San
Francisco home.
         Any analysis of early Italian criminal violence must consider the fact that in many
respects late nineteenth and early twentieth century Italian immigration was similar to
that of the Chinese. For one thing, most of those who came from Italy were young single
rural males who came to make a stake and return home.348 Limited by language barriers,
the newcomers depended on countrymen familiar with American ways, padroni , to find
them work and otherwise act as intermediaries with the host society, again not unlike the
Chinese companies. Very often the padroni victimized those they purported to serve. And
in the end, as with the Chinese, concerns about the negative effect of Italian immigration
on American society led to exclusionary immigration legislation aimed in part at
restricting the number of Italian newcomers.
         Also among the Italian newcomers we find out-and-out gangsters, like the tong
gangsters, who oppressed their own people, extorting money from them, fully confident
that their victims would not involve the American authorities. In the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries, Italian immigrant communities were preyed upon by criminal
gangs, associated in the public mind with Italian “mafias” or “Black Hand”
organizations.349 Beginning in the 1890s, accounts of Italian homicides in San Francisco
were increasingly associated with suspicions that a mafia was involved. When Antonio
Lalla was arrested for slashing a woman‟s throat on First Street in 1892, he was identified
in the press as one of the mafia men who had been involved in the assassination of New
Orleans Police Chief David Hennessey.350 In another case, the 1899 killing of Joseph
Sierro by Filipo Fertita in a dispute between fishermen, newspapers speculated that the
killer was involved with the Mafia. Such reports had some foundation in reality. On April
22, 1911, a bomb exploded on the threshold of a baker named Cassou, who had
previously ignored a demand for $2,000. In 1914, there were several Black Hand
incidents.351 In September 1915, two officials of the Union Sicilione were arrested for
trying to extort money from the president of the Western Fish Company and an agent for
the Alaska Packing Company. Two months later, Black Handers tried to extort money
from Achille Paladini, President of the Fish Trust.352 In October 1916, Frank Palozotta's
home at 628 Chenery Street in the quiet Glen Park district was bombed.353

        The most notable Black Hand case in San Francisco occurred on Thanksgiving
Day 1916. Gaetano Ingrassia, a successful North Beach masonry contractor, decided to
take a walk on Columbus Avenue following his holiday dinner. It was a calculated risk.
Ingrassia had recently received threatening letters from Black Hand gangsters. He had
reported the threats to the police who gave him a permit to carry a firearm for his
protection but suggested that he keep his head down while they worked the case. Not one
to be cowed, Ingrassia went for his regular post-prandial stroll that night, and as he
passed the ice cream parlor at 735 Columbus, he was attacked by three members of the
Pedona family. Ingrassia hit two of his assailants in the exchange of gunfire but he
himself was killed. Joseph Pedona and Antonio Pedona senior, and Antonio Junior were
promptly arrested, tried, convicted and sentenced to terms of imprisonment at San
Quentin. (A year later in November 1917, Ingrassia‟s son-in-law, Mario Alioto, uncle of
the future mayor Joseph Alioto, was killed on the same spot by Antonio Lipari, a friend
of the Pedonas. Giuseppe and Ignazzio (sic) Alioto armed themselves and went to Hall of
Justice to shoot Lipari, who, they claimed, was a Black Hander. Police deflected their
          While Italian gang killings certainly nudged the homicide rate in San Francisco
upward in the early decades of the twentieth century, they were insufficient in number to
drive the rates by themselves. As always, there were a number of other factors beyond
ethnic participation to influence rates of violence.
        The defining event in early twentieth-century San Francisco, an event which
affected every aspect of the city‟s life, was the April 1906 earthquake and fire, which left
the city a devastated ruin. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, thousands of
residents, their homes destroyed and their jobs gone up in smoke, fled the city. In a
stroke, the city‟s population was reduced by half, from 350,000 to 175,000, and with no
tax base with which to pay them, 20 percent of the city‟s Police Department were forced
to take leaves of absence.354 As newcomers of all types streamed in--some opportunists
looking to take advantage of disaster conditions, others looking for honest work to help
with the rebuilding--the city experienced a social upheaval to match the geological
cataclysm it had suffered. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, the city was visited
by a major crime wave. In 1907, San Francisco had a homicide rate of 15.4 per 100,000
population, its highest homicide rate since the deadly late 1870s, a rate not reached again
until the 1960s.
        A number of other indicators point to the disordered conditions of the time.
Murderers who commit suicide after killing their victims--usually males in domestic
situations--are a rough measure of domestic violence. In the five-year period from 1910
to 1914, such cases increased 88 percent over the five preceding years. (up from 9.8 to
18.5 percent of the total homicides).Weapons use increased as well by 10.9 percent (65.7
to 72.9 percent of all cases) during the same period. In the decade immediately following
the disaster, the robbery homicide rate more than doubled compared to a like period
before (from 2.6 to 5.9 per 100,000). More police were murdered in the few years
immediately following the disaster than had been killed in more than a half-century
preceding it. Taken together, these statistics point to the existence of a very violent
period, not unlike the disordered Gold Rush era.

While none of the above factors can be shown to involve Italian immigrants particularly,
as Figure 6.2. shows, Italian rates made up part of the overall increase in the early
decades of the century.
Figure 6.2 goes about here.
         For most of the period the Italian rate was twice that of the non-Italian whites,
high but nothing like those in the East where it is reported that the Italian rates exceeded
the overall rates of non-Italian whites by as much as twenty times, in at least one
jurisdiction. (Somewhat different things were being compared. In Philadelphia Lane
compares the incarceration rates of Italian born convicts to those of non-Italian whites. In
Chicago and San Francisco, the Italian community being considered was comprised of
both Italian-born victims and those born in the United States. But in Chicago, the Italian
rate is compared to the overall group, which includes the high-rate Italians and blacks. In
San Francisco, the comparison group is of non-Italian whites. Were it possible to
compare the Chicago group with an identical San Francisco group, the disparity between
Chicago‟s five times higher rate and San Francisco‟s twice higher rate would be even
more pronounced.)
         It has been posited by some, as we have seen, that high rates of criminal violence
by minority newcomers can be traced to their treatment by the host society.355 That seems
to be the opinion of Ernest Hopkins, who, in his 1931 critique of the police, at a time
when there was a great deal of public concern about foreigners and crime, claimed that
“Perhaps nothing is more directly responsible for the violent character of much present-
day crime than the lawless police work that was visited upon the immigrant in the
past.”356 That sentiment was echoed by a Massachusetts Immigration Commission report,
which asserted that “Police corruption, which takes the form of protection of criminals,
enables an Italian, or sometimes criminals of other nationalities, to develop in an Italian
colony the „Black Hand‟ system of blackmail.”357
         On the other hand, there is fairly general agreement that late nineteenth and early
twentieth-century Italians came from a violent tradition.358 "The propensity for violence
of the southern Italians was not a symptom of social disorganization caused by
emigration,” says Rudolph Vecoli, “but a characteristic of their Old World culture.”359 In
fact, as with other groups, the violence can be traced to some combination of the two
factors.360 Perhaps by examining the phenomenon as it occurred in San Francisco as
compared to elsewhere, we can add a bit to the discussion of the nature of immigrant
violence.361 The fact that both Italian and non-Italian white rates rose and declined
together in San Francisco, converging by the mid-1930s, suggests that some factor, other
than the mistreatment of one group, may have been at work.
         Many of the post-quake newcomers to San Francisco were Italians.362 An
important fact to understand about Italian immigration is that there was more to the new
immigration than simple numbers. Most of the mid-nineteenth century Italian immigrants
had come from the relatively prosperous northern provinces. These newcomers seem to
have assimilated fairly well into the larger society without provoking much concern about
a tendency toward criminal violence. The late-century immigrants, on the other hand,
came for the most part from the poor, and reputedly more violent, southern provinces of
Sicily and Calabria.363
         Part of the immigration story for any group is how earlier arrivals smoothed the
way for later arrivals, either by informal means or by the formation of immigrant aid

societies.364 A less familiar part of the story is that older immigrants, having partially
assimilated, sometimes distance themselves from the embarrassing crudities of the later
arrivals. It is a common occurrence. On Palm Sunday 1847, Irish newcomers in
Worcester, Massachusetts, rioted against their earlier arriving countrymen, upon whom
they depended for housing and jobs, but from whom they were alienated by cultural
differences.365 Turn-of-the-twentieth century New York German Jews often shunned their
more exotic co-religionists newly arrived from Poland and Russia.366 In San Francisco,
while community services were established for the newcomers, enmity against those from
southern Italy also found expression in the northern Italian community.367 To some extent
in San Francisco, says Deanna Gumina, “The pioneers, the Genoese, Tuscans and others
who could have served as guides to those who came later, rather shunned the
[southerners] and kept to themselves.”368
         It was the combination of two factors – the magnitude of the inflow of newcomers
from southern Italy, and the distanced relationship between the older, northern-based
Italian immigrant establishment and the newcomers from the south--which helps explain
in part the widely different homicide rate in various Italian immigrant communities. By
1910, Chicago‟s Italian community, which was approximately the same size as that in
San Francisco in 1890, grew to be three times larger. Part of the reason had to do with
simple geography. San Francisco is farther away from Italy, and one more train ticket for
an impoverished immigrant to buy constituted a negative incentive, particularly for those
who intended to return to Italy. One attraction, as for immigrants of all types, was the
availability of many low-skilled jobs. Many southern Italians were attracted to Chicago to
work on the growing railroad industry of the time. San Francisco‟s railroad infrastructure
had largely been completed decades earlier by Irish and Chinese laborers, and while some
low-skilled jobs remained, the main opportunities for employment lay elsewhere. “It did
not take long for the word to get back to Italy,” reports Deanna Gumina, “that unskilled
Italians had better chances in the heavily industrialized Eastern cities which were far
more capable of employing cheap labor than the new urbanized areas of California.”369
Such jobs became available in the rebuilding period following the 1906 disaster and
many Italians, in fact, came to San Francisco then, but by that time the predominant
pattern of immigration to Chicago and other eastern cities had already been
          One result was that Italians had a different experience with criminal violence in
the two cities. In San Francisco, as seen in the case of the killing of Ingrassia, justice was
swift and certain. “[Ingrassia‟s] death was not in vain,” reports Sebastian Fichera, “ for
others took up the battle where he left off; the police made arrests, witnesses testified,
juries convicted. With the cooperation of North Beach residents, the relevant institutions
worked in the way they were meant and the problem, if not solved, was certainly brought
under control.” 371 In Chicago, on the other hand, the established Italian community,
previously dominated by stable northern Italians, was overwhelmed by the influx of
newcomers from the south.372 In addition to the endemic hostility between north and
south, any community resources to aid the newcomers in Chicago were taxed beyond
their limits. The community “lost much of its original solidarity and became increasingly
racked by strife,” says Fichera. 373 Instead of hanging together to fight common problems,
the Italian community in Chicago fragmented and withdrew inside itself. One result of
these differences, claims Fichera, was a disparate incidence of criminal violence.

Fichera‟s reading of the situation is borne out by the comparative records of criminal
violence in San Francisco and Chicago in the early decades of the twentieth century. In
1907 Chicago, respectable Italians formed a “White Hand society,” which identified
Blackhanders to the police and helped convict them. “A large number of criminals
apprehended through its efforts went free,” reports Fichera, “some escaped conviction
altogether; others sent to prison were being released after one or two years.” And the
upshot was that “the few witnesses who had risked their lives by giving testimony against
the gangsters, soon found themselves at the mercy of the ex-convicts.374 “Both the
paroled convicts and the witnesses were now residents of the same neighborhoods,” he
says, and “not surprisingly,” the program failed. 375 “In North Beach, on the other hand,”
Fichera continues, “the community‟s strength was the underworld‟s weakness for the
gangsters never found the kind of cover to which they were accustomed in Chicago.” On
evidence of witnesses, the gangsters were sent to prison. More to the point, unlike in
Chicago, they remained in jail, and thereafter Black Handers virtually disappeared from
San Francisco.376 In San Francisco, the convictions in the Ingrassia case showed that the
police and immigrant community could work together and when they did the gangsters
could not stand up to them.377
          And the police efforts in San Francisco were supported by the general public and
the press. “If, as alleged, there is a „Forty Strong Gang‟ on North Beach,” reported a
contemporary newspaper, “it should be included in the „clean up‟ now under way. It is
well known that there is among the Sicilians a very turbulent element which is
accustomed to act together in rather loose organizations for all sorts of criminal
enterprises and it is evident that some of that element has immigrated to this country, of
which some have found their way to the city and the North Beach. They all have
revolvers and never hesitate to use them. And they use knives as readily as revolvers. “As
they must be known, one way to deal with them is to search every one of them as a
known criminal whenever he appears on the street, confiscate all deadly weapons of
every kind and send them to jail for carrying them concealed." 378
          Between January 1, 1910, and March 26, 1911--during which period there were
three homicides committed by Italians in San Francisco--Chicago suffered 38 unsolved
Italian killings. During the thirty years from 1890 to 1920--a period when there were a
total of 74 Italian homicides in San Francisco of all types--there were some 400 murders
in Chicago attributed to the Black Hand alone.379 In one three-month period in 1913,
according to a contemporary newspaper account, there were 55 bombings in Chicago‟s
“spaghetti zone,” compared to 14 in the San Francisco Bay Area for a four-year period
about the same time.380 Even taking population differences into account, Chicago Italians
were substantially more violent than those in San Francisco in the first two decades of the
twentieth century. And in the absence of contrary explanations other than those discussed
below, Fichera‟s scenario makes compellingly good sense.
         It was during the Prohibition era--from the passage of 18th Amendment and the
enactment of the Volstead Act in 1920, which prohibited sale of alcoholic beverages, and
its repeal in 1933--that the reputation of Italian immigrants for criminal violence grew to
full flower. It was during this period that American crime went through a generational
and ethnic succession in crime, as younger criminals replaced their elders and members
of more recently arrived ethnic groups replaced mobsters from earlier groups. Reference
to Figure 6.1 shows that homicide rates increased generally (though not in San

Francisco), in some cases quite dramatically, during this period. Chicago‟s homicide rate,
already high, rose 18 percent in the first five years of Prohibition, while San Francisco
experienced a 47 percent decline during the same period. 381 It was reported that in the
period from January 1921 to mid-1925 Chicago suffered 422 unsolved homicides, of
which 242 were gang killings. 382 In the first ten months of 1926, 42 more men died in a
“booze war.”383 By one estimate there were more than 500murders in the Chicago gang
wars. 384
         Part of the reason for the diverging rates of bootleg violence may have had to do
with geographic location. Chicago was closer to the heavily populated Midwest than San
Francisco and was therefore situated to participate in all the jurisdictional disputes that
proximity naturally entailed. But there were other reasons as well. Another aspect of the
difference between the two cities was that in Chicago much of the violence was
accompanied by ethnic succession from Irish to Italian run gangs. The Irish-to-Italian
succession in Chicago was marked on one end by the 1924 killing of Irish gangster Dion
O‟Banion and at the other end by the 1929 Valentine‟s Day massacre, which put an end
to the largely non-Italian Bugs Moran gang.385 Both incidents were credited to Italian
gangsters. In Detroit, Italian gangsters in the end virtually exterminated the Jewish Purple
Gang, thus contributing to the high Prohibition-era homicide rate in that city.386 In New
York during the 1920s and 30s, Italian gangs supplanted the Irish gangs on the waterfront
by murdering the Irish dock bosses.387 There was no equivalent conflict in San Francisco.
         In addition to the ethnic succession in New York and Chicago, another aspect of
the violence was generational criminal succession. In those cities, the introduction of
prohibition laws sometimes forced a split between the younger gangsters--those born in
the United States of immigrant parents (such as Alphonse Capone) or those born
elsewhere and brought here as children by immigrant parents (such as Charles “Lucky”
Luciano, Owney Madden and Meyer Lansky) who wanted to branch out in the larger
community versus the older generation of “Mustache Pete” gangsters who tended to be
satisfied with remaining in their own communities.388 There is, however, no explicit
evidence of any such generational succession in San Francisco.
         That is not to say that Prohibition did not contribute to San Francisco‟s homicide
record. Some of the killings during the period resulted from the usual fights and domestic
incidents. Several, also, occurred during robberies, some of them of “soft drink parlors,”
a contemporary euphemism for a speakeasy. Speakeasies, or “blind pigs,” ran with virtual
impunity in San Francisco during the Prohibition era but there was a distinct disincentive
to tolerate violence in general in the operations. Admission was by permission and it
would have been in the interest of a proprietor to exclude the more boisterous and
potentially violent patrons who might draw the unwanted attention of the authorities.
         In the 1920s the Italian homicide rate in San Francisco--while still more than
twice as high as that of non-Italian whites--dropped by half, from 14.9 per 100,000
population in the 1910s to 7.9 in the 1920s. Much of the killing that did occur was
apparently involved with the illegal liquor business. In February 1924, Rosalina La Fata
was killed when coming out of a café at Filbert and Powell streets. Mimi Imperato, a
known bootlegger, was kidnapped from his Union Street café and was being “taken for a
ride” when the police “Shotgun Squad” intervened and arrested Pietro La Fata, among

         In April 1925, the press reported on the shooting death of Giovanni Alfredi, a
recent arrival from Portland, shot with a silencer at Main and Bryant streets. (Witnesses
saw a flash but heard no sound of gunfire). There was suspicion, never proved to
certainty, that maybe the victim had been involved with bootlegging in some way.390
Genaro Ferri, an Italian immigrant lately from Chicago, and said by police to be heavily
involved in the illegal liquor rackets, was shot to death in his Lombard street home on
November 24, 1928. Police claimed that Alfredo Scarisi had killed him in a dispute over
control of the rackets. Before the authorities had a chance to talk to Scarisi, however, his
murdered body was found with that of Vito Pileggi, a fellow gangster, on a road near
Sacramento. A week after the Scarisi killing, Mario Filipppi was shot to death in the
basement of his restaurant at 18 Sacramento Street. Joe Brasci was arrested for the crime
but was released for lack of evidence. In July 1929 Joe Bocca, known as “the Sicilian
Strong Man,” and believed to be a member of the gang that killed Scarisi, was found shot
and stabbed to death in his auto, it‟s motor running and lights on, in the then sparsely
settled sand dunes at 39th and Noriega. After Bocca‟s killing, Italian gang-related killings
declined for a while
         Lane attributes the dramatic decrease in Italian homicides in Philadelphia between
the first decade of the century and the 1920s to their assimilation into the industrial
economy, as he does for the Irish a generation earlier.391 And San Francisco‟s vaunted,
and much deserved, reputation for greeting newcomers tolerantly also was a factor. The
reception the turn-of-the-twentieth century Italians received in San Franciscans is
analogous in a way to that described for the Irish in an earlier chapter. There doesn‟t
seem to have been the high level of antipathy visited on newcomers of any type in San
Francisco that often seems to be the case in some eastern cities. That factor may account
in part for reduced feelings of alienation which may in turn account for less criminal
violence by the newcomer group.
          While not disregarding the assimilation argument, we can also look at other
factors that contributed variously to declining homicide rates. For one thing, the rates in
San Francisco went down across the board during the 1920s, suggesting that the cause
was more than the assimilation of any one group. As will be recalled, the Chinese rate
declined dramatically during the same period, and no one would argue that the Chinese
were assimilated into the broader economy at that time.
         As with the Chinese, and indeed the Irish in the late nineteenth century, the
changing nature of immigration had something to do with the downturn in San Francisco
in the 1920s and beyond. In the case of the Italians, it had to do with a dramatic change in
the flow of immigration. In the earlier, high-murder period--the period up to 1914--on
average 200,000 Italian immigrants a year arrived in the United States. By the latter
period--between 1922 and 1928--during which Lane reports such low rates, the annual
rate of arrival from Italy averaged 27,000 a year. By that time, the murderously disposed
members of earlier groups would have been pruned out of the immigrant community
either by imprisonment or execution. And as with the Chinese Triad gangsters, a new
crop of murderers would have had a difficult time getting here past the new immigration
restrictions. (The same sort of situation occurred following the much criticized Mariel
boat lift in 1980, by means of which Fidel Castro is reputed to have emptied Cuba‟s jails
and mental hospitals and dumped the inmates on the United States. In the years
immediately following the boat lift, Miami‟s homicide rate skyrocketed but as criminal

Marielitos found themselves in jail or dispersed around the country, and no more arrived,
their contribution to the city‟s homicide rate declined dramatically.)392
        It can also be argued that changing police practices may have had something to do
with the declines as well, at least in San Francisco. From the outset of this discussion, we
have considered the effect of law enforcement practices on rates of criminal violence.
The immediate reduction in Gold Rush era rates was in part effected by the vigilance
committees--law enforcement surrogates, if you will. Further reductions in the 1860s can
be associated in part with the hard-line enforcement methods of Chief Martin Burke.
Following increases in the 1870s, rates were further reduced in the closing decades of the
century, at a time when Police Department staffing was trebled and the patrol wagon
callbox system was introduced. Then, when 20 percent of the Police Department was
furloughed in the aftermath of the 1906 disaster, a crime wave followed.
        One argument against putting too much stock in improvements in police service
as a reason for reduced rates of criminal violence is that the police improvements in San
Francisco were a local phenomenon, while the noted reductions in violence and the
assimilation into the industrial economy occurred nationwide. But, as with many other
social phenomena, police practices follow fashions. The late nineteenth-century
introduction of improvements, such as the callbox/patrol wagon system, were
implemented around the nation following their introduction in Chicago in the early
1880s. It was much the same thing in the 1920s, at which time all departments adopted
aggressive patrol practices employing automobiles. The universality of this innovation
might help to explain why the rates declined consistently from city to city.
        One of the crimes that aroused particular concern in the early twentieth century
was the increased incidence of robbery. It is difficult to estimate the amount of robbery
with any precision in the pre-Uniform Crime Report (UCR) days prior to the late 1930s.
We can, however, use the incidence of robbery homicides as a rough guide to the amount
of robbery. In the period from 1880 to 1900, robbery homicides accounted for 3.8 percent
of homicide totals in San Francisco, not unlike the two to four percent found by
Monkkonen in nineteenth-century New York City.393 Between 1900 and 1920, that
percentage grew to 5.7, and in the following decade it almost doubled again to 10.2
percent of all homicides, before falling in the 1930s to 5.2 percent.
        In reporting on crime conditions nationally at the outset of Prohibition, the
Examiner listed as one of the causes of the increase in crime “The inability of the police
to cope with the increasing use of high powered automobiles for the escape of bandits,
and a more general knowledge of the use of death dealing weapons.” 394 What the paper
was reporting on was a profound change in nature of predatory crime, which has
influenced the way police respond to criminal violence down to the present. With the
introduction and proliferation of individually owned automobiles, criminals obtained a
heretofore unimagined mobility, allowing them to pull a robbery and be well on their way
before officers, almost all of whom were on foot, even knew that a crime had been
committed. In response, police departments began to equip themselves with automobiles
in the early decades of the century. But prior to the advent of radio communications, the
vehicles were often positioned at station houses from which they were dispatched in
response to calls for service.395
        Depending as it did upon telephoned notifications from the public that a crime
was in progress, followed by a telephone call from police headquarters to a district station

so that a car could be dispatched, the system was only marginally effective. The culprits
could still be on their way before the police mobilized to respond. In response to the 1919
crime wave, San Francisco Police Chief David White ordered a change. Instead of
keeping the vehicles in the stations awaiting a call about a crime, he ordered them out to
proactively patrol the streets from sunset to sunrise.396 Next, the department established
mobile "shotgun squads," teams of shotgun-armed detectives who prowled the city in
automobiles on the watch for emerging problems, with orders to keep in frequent
telephone contact with their headquarters, while.
         Michael Mitchell, who was later to become Chief of Police, described what the
job was like. One night in 1918, he reported, as he and his partner were informed, when
they called in, that a robbery had occurred at 17th and Sharon Streets.397 Knowing that
holdup men in the past had dumped their getaway cars near the Post Office on Seventh
Street, the officers went there, and sure enough, there was the robbery car. In the chase
that followed, according to Mitchell‟s description, “I shot the rear tire and we kept right
behind the stolen car.” The officer emptied his shotgun into the fleeing vehicle which
finally rolled to a stop. They they arrested the driver who had been struck in the back and
head with shotgun pellets. Nowhere in his account does Mitchell mention that any order
had been given to the car to stop.
         Such practices were in keeping with police theories of “crime prevention” at the
time. Detective Sergeant Thomas Hyland reported in 1924 on the activities of the Crime
Prevention detail. “To date we feel we have succeeded rather satisfactorily in ridding this
city of a large number of known „yeggs,‟ „thugs,‟ „stickup men,‟ and other human
„parasites.‟ We have done this through arrests on vagrancy charges and in other instances
by telling them that they were known to us for what they were, and that perhaps in some
other locality they might fare better.”398 San Francisco historian Jerry Flamm described
how it worked. “The police department efficiently prevented any influx of organized
crime, and the streets of the city were safe for its residents. A great deal of this security
was due to the then-enforceable „30 day Vag‟ law which enabled the cops to pick up and
hold anybody on „suspicion,‟ and to hold him or her as a vagrant. Felony suspects or
visiting organized crime figures could also be booked on a suspicion charge en route to
another city, ostensibly to enable police to inquire if they were wanted in the other
jurisdiction. Many times this ploy was used only to get them off the streets or to pressure
them into leaving town.” 399 (Actually the term was “$1,000 vag,” which required the
arrestee to post high bail to seek release, but the effect was as described by Flamm.
Repeated arrests could get very expensive.) The results of such methods, which today
would doubtless fail to pass constitutional scrutiny, likely had something to do with the
marked decline in robbery homicides that followed.
         Given the absence of complete crime records for the time, it would be impossible
to draw any direct causal connection between police practices and the incidence of
violent crime. But there is another, less direct, measure that provides a glimpse of
changing police practices juxtaposed with the incidence of at least one type of violent
crime. Table 6.1 shows the relationship between police killings of suspects and the
percentage of robbery homicides of the total homicides for the periods during which
motorized robberies began to emerge and proactive police practices were introduced.
Table 6.1 goes about here.

        Correlation is not causation, and we should not read too much into the
relationship between fatal police shootings and other factors.400 However, the dramatic
changes in the relationship between the two figures suggest that there may be some
causal relationship in this instance.401 San Francisco Police Chief Daniel O‟Brien
reported in October 1923, “Some three years ago the most dangerous menace that faced
all large cities was the sudden appearance of the auto bandit, who … specialized on
payroll holdups.” The department organized a bank detail, he said, which escorted
payrolls and bank transfers. In December, Deputy Chief William Quinn reported that
there had not been a bank robbery in San Francisco for a year.402
        Taken by themselves, what the figures in the table show, allowing for a lag time
between the stimulus (the robberies) and the response (strong police action), is that as
robbery homicides doubled in the early 1920s, the police increased their proactive stance,
to include the practice of running down and shooting bandit cars, a set of behaviors which
they continued to use even after the decline began. Eventually, in response to the
declining crimes, police actions were moderated. The move toward a more aggressive
police stance was not unique to San Francisco. The concern about robbery was national
in scope and the use of motorized shotgun patrols in response was universal. As we
embrace “community policing,” the current panacea for crime fighting, which revives the
concept of the nineteenth-century foot patrolman as a day-to-day part of the community,
this “militarization” of police departments in the 1920s is now seen as having gone down
the wrong path. That is all well and good. But it is useful to remember that the police
departments in the 1920s were confronted with a very real problem of motorized robbery
gangs against whom the “community policing” techniques then in vogue were
ineffective, and it was only by going mobile and engaging the bandits directly that
officers dealt with them effectively.
        Differing police capabilities seems to have something to do with the different
rates of crime by Italians in San Francisco and Chicago as well. In Prohibition-era
Chicago, reports Herbert Asbury--at least in the early years--the police were
“demoralized and helpless and the whole machinery of law-enforcement [was] in a
condition of collapse.” 403 On the other hand, in Milwaukee, according to Mark Haller, a
city where the police worked more closely with the community, the level of violence was
much lower. He more or less concluded that Chicago had more Prohibition-era violence
than Milwaukee because enforcement efforts in Chicago made for an uncertain situation,
which led to violence. In Milwaukee, on the other hand, the people didn't support the
anti- drinking measure and city officials facilitated the business as long as there was no
        Another aspect of the difference between Milwaukee and Chicago is described by
Wickersham in his report. Milwaukee, he wrote, “had its powerful political gangs, many
of them composed exclusively of credulous members of particular nationality groups. . . ”
A reform mayor sheared those leaders of power and established “direct informal contact
with large masses of the city‟s foreign-born residents.” Stern justice was administered
and as a result Milwaukee‟s Prohibition-era violence rates were much lower than those
elsewhere.404 Eventually Chicago authorities began to take aggressive action. The
Chicago Crime commission, outraged at all the killing, began to apply pressure in the
early 1930s and conditions began to improve.405

         While good news for Chicagoans, the crackdown boded ill for the West. It was
then that members of eastern gangs tried to spread their tentacles west.406 It is a point of
pride with the San Francisco Police Department that they kept organized crime out of San
Francisco during Prohibition. When it was reported that the eastern gangsters were on the
way, Chief William Quinn reissued orders to his men. “They will be met at ferry and
railroad stations and turned back,” he commanded, “or, if they slip by the cordon of
watching policemen, they will be clapped in jail. . . . Every suspicious character, whether
man or woman, must give a satisfactory account of himself or herself to the police or go
behind the bars. . . .” 407 According to a Police Committee Report of the San Francisco
Grand Jury, November 16, 1931, “Attention is called to the recent formation of a
„Gangster Squad‟ whose duties are to prevent racketeers or gangsters form securing a
foot-hold in San Francisco. The cities of New York and Chicago, in a drive to free their
communities of these individuals, have caused them to make an effort for transference of
their base of operation to the Pacific Coast. In their initial efforts they were met on arrival
by the Gangster Squad, recently created by Chief Quinn. The Chicago representatives
went so far as to make proposition to and sit in meeting with this squad with the net result
that they decided to, and did, leave town.” There doesn‟t seem to have been much, if any,
discussion at the time of the constitutionality of such practices and the public generally
seems to have acquiesced.
         In 1931, a group of easterners tried to gain a monopoly on the rackets by buying
the wholesale bottle and bootlegging supply houses in Northern California with a view to
jacking up prices in San Francisco. Their agents, by now established in Southern
California ,came out second-best in a gunfight with police in San Leandro when they
tried to hijack San Francisco liquor being shipped south.408 The San Francisco Police
Department, it was reported, came to the aid of San Francisco's "honest hard-working
         Perhaps the success of those efforts lulled police into a sense of apathy from
which they were awakened on May 18, 1932, when Luigi Malvese, another bootleg
gangster, was shot from ambush and killed in broad daylight while sitting in his
automobile in front of the Del Monte barber shop at 720 Columbus Avenue. Genaro
Campanello, (aka Onorino Caprano) was immediately named as the suspect. Unable to
find Campanello, the police brass did the next best thing. They removed the head of the
“Death Squad” and set out, in the words immortalized by Claude Rains‟ Captain Renault
in Casablanca, to “round up the usual suspects.” Captain Arthur Layne, commanding the
Central Police District (and now chiefly remembered as the straight-arrow maternal
grandfather of former Governor and present Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown) led the raids.
Officers under Layne‟s command swept through the Tenderloin, according to one press
account, picking up “gangsters, crooks, known and suspected, and undesirables
generally.” (Emphasis added.) Six patrol wagons full of arrestees were sent to the Hall of
Justice in the first haul. In the next several days they were joined by 1,000 more who
clogged the criminal justice processing mechanism.
         Those rounded up had nothing to do with the Malvese killing, but that wasn‟t
really the point of the exercise. Sebastian Fichera explains, “After a known racketeer and
bootlegger named Luigi Malvese was killed from ambush, a huge roundup of suspects
was carried out by the police. “These, the known hoodlums and drug addicts, were
interrogated, fingerprinted, photographed, and then released.” The suspect was never

found, he says, but he comments on the strong reaction in San Francisco to a crime that
would have been “shrugged off in other cities.”
         Chief Quinn explained in 1935 why there never had been gangsterism or
racketeering in San Francisco. “This city today stands out among the large cities of the
west as one of the few where gangsters have been unable to gain a foothold. Organized
crime does not exist here due to a small but efficient number of hard working police
officers. Not one merchant in San Francisco, large or small engaged in legitimate
business, has had to pay one cent to racketeers. "We watch the trains, the planes and the
boats,” he said. “We have a welcoming committee awaiting all such gentlemen from
other parts of the United States. We meet them, we entertain them but they don‟t like our
entertainment. They therefore seldom pay us a second visit." No one had to ask for an
explanation of what the “entertainment” might have been.
         Police pressure on the mobsters in Prohibition-era San Francisco was doubtless
more than purely altruistic. A few years later when Eugene “Pat” Brown – father of Jerry
and elected governor himself--was running for District Attorney in San Francisco, he
commented on the absence of organized crime in San Francisco. “There is no organized
crime in San Francisco,” he is reported to have said. “The crime is all organized by the
Police Department.”410 Thus, it could be argued, the police suppression of Prohibition era
gangsters was little more than one gang protecting its turf from outsiders. There is
probably some truth to that charge but withal, for however it came to be, San Francisco in
the 1920s and 1930s had a lower rate of criminal violence than almost any other large
American city – one that modern San Franciscans can well envy – and some of that
salutary condition can be credited to the aggressive activities of the Police Department.
         It would be disingenuous to suggest that there was no Italian organized crime in
San Francisco, however. In 1947 the murdered body of a Chicago gangster, Nick DeJohn,
was found in the trunk of a Chrysler Town and Country in San Francisco‟s Marina
District. After an extensive investigation, San Francisco police charged four men with the
crime, including Anthony Lima, reputed boss of San Francisco‟s La Cosa Nostra, and his
underboss, Michael Abati. 411 The charges were eventually dismissed when it was found
that the leading prosecution witness had perjured herself. Nonetheless there is little doubt
that the defendants had been involved in the killing. (Following the Luigi Malvese
killing, Francesco Lanza emerged as the head of the San Francisco La Cosa Nostra
families, according to standard accounts. His partner in a Fisherman‟s Wharf restaurant
was Guiseppe Alioto.412 Lanza was followed as leader upon his 1937 death by Anthony
Lima, who was implicated in the 1947 hit of Nick De John in San Francisco. He, in turn,
was replaced by Michael Abati in 1953. Abait was arrested at the Appalachian meeting
in 1957 along with his under boss Joseph Lanza, who succeeded him as boss when Abati
was deported to Italy in 1961.413 Since Lanza‟s death in 1989, the San Francisco Cosa
Nostra is considered dormant.)
         Reading between the lines from beginning to end, we can discern a pattern that
may explain in part the difference between the levels of violence in San Francisco and
eastern cities. Many of the Italian gangsters killed in San Francisco from the 1920s to the
1940s, were recent arrivals from elsewhere, suggesting that perhaps in San Francisco the
“Mustache Petes” got the better of the argument about who was to remain in charge. Still
the fact that even veteran police officers--and that is the case--are unfamiliar with the

leading actors, suggests that the mobsters could hardly have been involved to any great
extent in criminal activities.
         In Los Angeles it was a different story. The names of Bugsy Siegel, Mickey
Cohen, Johnny Stompanato, Louis Dragna--all gangsters with roots in the East--are well
known. Beginning in the 1930s, they took over Southern California operations. The
Kefauver Crime Commission in 1950 cited 50 gangland killings in Southern California in
the first half of the century. Such gangland killings in the then-more populous San
Francisco can be counted on the fingers of the two hands.414
         Part of the reduction in criminal violence during the 1920s and 1930s doubtless
can be traced to lower immigration levels, reduced first by World War I ,and later by
immigration acts placing quotas on newcomers from eastern and southern Europe.415 The
worldwide economic Depression of the 1930s depressed immigration further.416 Notably
it was in this era that the nation and San Francisco had the lowest homicide rates in its
history. There were many other variables at work but the reduction in immigration likely
gave the country time to absorb those who had come before.
         In conclusion, while Italian rates of criminal homicide in San Francisco were
higher than those of non-Italian whites in the first decades of the twentieth century, a
comparison between Italian crime experience in San Francisco and some other cities
suggests that it would be a misreading of the situation to claim that it was mistreatment
by the host society alone which created the high rates. And while it is not possible to
prove to an absolute certainty that differences in police practices between jurisdictions
influenced crime rates directly, when lowered rates are repeatedly associated with strong
police measures, we can begin to conclude that they have some positive effect.

         In December 1994, during a period when the city was afflicted by a spate of
black-on-black youth killings, the San Francisco Examiner published one of a series of
articles about African-American violence. One of those asked for his opinion on the
situation, Jomo MFusai, an employee of the Ujumia Project, a local youth agency, linked
black-on-black crime “primarily to the lingering effects of racism,” according to the
report. “The blame for our problems can never be on black folks,” said MFusai. “Blame
those who have reneged on the promise of justice and freedom.”417
         It is one thing to study nineteenth century Irish and Chinese violence, or that
involving Italian immigrants in the early twentieth century. The societal tensions in
which much of that violence occurred have been for the most part been quieted, and
enough time has passed that we can discuss the topics with a measure of objectivity. Not
so African-American violence. The story of African-American violence has not yet run
its course and the wounds remain raw. “The relationship of race and ethnicity to
homicide,” warns Eric Monkkonen, “can be a painful and sensitive topic.” 418 Indeed.
         To start with, any understanding of African-American violence must be informed
by the unique history of black people in America. The first Africans were brought here as
slaves rather than as willing immigrants, and it was not until the Civil War that blacks
were nominally freed from a life of servitude. There followed the Reconstruction period
and Jim Crow era in the South, during which discrimination and casual violence were
daily facts of life. During the “Great Migration,” more than a million blacks moved from
the southern countryside to the urban North where they were often greeted with open,
sometimes violent, hostility. It was not until the Civil Rights era of the 1960s that
African-Americans were guaranteed full citizenship. Because we have not yet attained
enough historical distance from which to view contemporary African-American violence
with clarity uncluttered by emotional baggage, any conclusions on the topic must of
necessity be provisional.
         This chapter will examine African-American criminal violence in San Francisco
from the Gold Rush to the late 1990s. The unique experience of blacks in the California
city offers a way to look at black violence beyond the usual North/South nexus. For one
thing, few blacks came to San Francisco in the nineteenth century compared to many
other cities. And San Francisco did not participate to any great extent in the first wave of
the “Great Migration,” which resulted in a somewhat different kind of urban experience.
It will be found that any argument that assigns the reasons for black violence simply to
racism is inadequate. The chapter will also address intergroup violence between blacks
and whites.
         Figure 7.1 shows the homicide rates for African-American in San Francisco from
1865 to 1940, compared to white rates for the same period. (Victims)
         Figure 7.1 goes about here
         As it patently obvious, nineteenth and early twentieth-century black homicide
rates fluctuated wildly and at much higher levels than that of white residents of San
Francisco. At first glance, the comparative rates seem similar to those found in many
other urban settings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Roger Lane
found rates of indictment for blacks to be five times those of whites in late nineteenth-

century Philadelphia.419 Clare McKanna, who also uses indictments as his basis for
comparison in his Homicide Race and Justice in the American West, reports that the rate
of black indictments in Douglas County, Nebraska (Omaha) between 1880 and 1920 was
ten times that of whites.420 Between 1875 and 1909, Chicago had a black homicide rate of
incidence six times that of whites.421 In nineteenth-century New York, black and white
rates tracked together rather closely until 1875, when they began to diverge rather
         Before getting too far with such comparisons, though, at least those involving San
Francisco, we should revisit once again the argument about the “fallacy of small
numbers.” All during the period shown on the graph, San Francisco‟s African-Americans
comprised less than one percent of the city‟s population. Consequently, the African-
American homicide rate of 25 per 100,000 shown for the period for 1880-1884--a rate
equivalent to the high rates found in many late twentieth-century cities--was based on the
only two homicides occurring during the entire half -decade. The rate then declined to
nothing between 1890-1894, during which time no black homicides were registered. We
are reminded of Dykstra‟s Dodge City of the 1880s, when a single homicide made the
difference between a crime wave and nothing.423 In all, in San Francisco for the period
from 1850 to 1940, black homicides averaged about one for each year and a half. In
purely statistical terms, it might mean that it was more hazardous to be a black than white
in San Francisco but it would be a stretch to compare the black experience of that time to
that afflicting America‟s inner cities in recent decades.
         Few blacks joined the California Gold Rush; for obvious reasons, most African-
Americans in the ante-bellum era were in no position to make individual travel decisions.
The 464 “negroes and mulattos” counted in 1852 San Francisco census constituted 1.2
percent of the total population. By 1860, the group made up 2 percent of the city‟s
residents. Thereafter the black proportion of the population declined and never achieved
more than one percent of the total again until the 1940s.
         In the very early days, black San Franciscans seem to have been more sinned
against than sinning. One of the very first killings in Gold Rush San Francisco was that of
an unnamed black porter whose only crime was being employed in the drinking tent
where he was killed by the drunken Chilean, Cerelia. In September 1853, a black man
named Wheeler, a former member of John Charles Fremont‟s exploration expedition, was
found near the Mission Road with his skull crushed. His killer was never found.
         The first recorded killing by an African-American in San Francisco was in mid-
1853 when a black man by the name of Obadiah Paylin was sentenced to San Quentin on
a conviction of homicide.424 We don‟t know the particulars of the offense because it
doesn‟t seem to have been covered in the contemporary press. Given the sentence
received, it could not have been a case that would have attracted much attention
whoever was involved. Paylin was sentenced to only two years, a level of sentencing
typically reserved at the time for homicides arising out of the heat of passion, such as
those in a saloon or gambling hall affrays.
         The circumstances of the 19 killings with black victims in the nineteenth century
for which the details are known were of the sort we have become accustomed to. The
most common circumstance was what we would now call intimate partner killings (27
percent). Several involved drunken disputes, usually between people who were
apparently acquainted. Two resulted from fights over women, one man was poisoned in a

saloon. One man killed his father, another killed a man for revenge and in 1899, a black
jockey at the Ingleside Racetrack killed another after a long-running dispute.
         It is more or less a truism that the vast majority of homicide is intraracial. Says
one recent scholar of minority violence “Criminologists and other social scientists have
made accusations and perpetuated myths that minorities, particularly African-Americans,
„select‟ or „choose‟ Euro-Americans as their victims of crime ( Wilbanks, 1985). Even
the most casual examination shows that most crimes are intraracial and involve harm
inflicted upon a member of the perpetrator‟s own racial/ethnic subgroup.” 425 Another
claims that “It has long been a misconception that whites are most likely to be victims of
black crime, to the point that many whites are irrationally afraid of blacks. 426
         That may be true as a general rule but there are exceptions. In the Reconstruction
era South, a vastly disproportionate amount of homicide resulted from white attacks on
blacks.427 Conversely, much of the homicide recorded in late nineteenth century and early
twentieth century urban America was disproportionately black on white. Clare McKanna
found that 32.3 percent of blacks indicted for homicide in Omaha between 1880 and 1920
had whites as victims. The comparable figure for whites killing outside their racial group
was 4 percent. 428 In Chicago between 1875 and 1890, between one-quarter and one-third
of African-American killers murdered white victims.429 In nineteenth-century New York
Monkkonen counts six blacks killed by whites and 18 whites killed by blacks. 430
         Such was certainly the case in San Francisco. There were five killings of blacks
by non-Latino whites in nineteenth-century San Francisco and seven cases in which
blacks killed whites. The first white-on-black killing occurred on May 3, 1856, when
William Wilson killed a black man, a steward on the steamship on which they were both
employed. In August 1860, William Brown, a “night soil” contractor, killed a black
employee named Sam Johnson. In May 1872 ,Mary Montgomery killed her black
common law husband. And in 1887 William Penman, a white, shot Joseph Wilson, a
black man, in a Market Street saloon after Wilson pulled a knife on him.
          The most notorious case of a white-on-black homicide in nineteenth-century San
Francisco was that of Robert Schell, who killed George Gordon, a black, in October
1861. Gordon‟s wife had observed Schell stealing from her store and reported him to the
police. The police questioned Schell but could not proceed further on the uncorroborated
testimony of a black. (When the 1849 state Constitution was drawn up, slavery was
outlawed in California but a law was enacted at the first legislature that prohibited blacks
from giving uncorroborated testimony against whites.) The outraged Schell, a southerner,
then went to George Gordon‟s place of business, where he stabbed him fatally. In the
end, without the testimony of blacks who were present, Schell was convicted of second-
degree murder and sentenced to ten years in San Quentin Prison. (The prohibition of
testimony by blacks against whites was removed in 1863.)
         The first and perhaps most notable black-on-white killing in nineteenth century
San Francisco was that of Albinius Billman by Moses Tate. In the early morning hours of
February 22, 1859 Albinius Billman, a white man, was beaten to death when he answered
the door to his South of Market residence. Suspicion soon focused on Moses Tate, the
former slave of Billman‟s new wife, Mary Ann, who had accompanied her to California
from their native Arkansas. It was clear to all that Mrs. Billman had put Tate up to the
killing, yet the prosecution was impaired by the then legal prohibition on blacks testifying
against whites. African-American witnesses, who could have given evidence implicating

Mary Ann in the killing, were not allowed to testify against her. Mrs. Billman went free
and Tate went to San Quentin on a life sentence. Tate was released several years later in a
general pardon.431
         There were others. In 1872, a black man named Jacob Wilkerson was sentenced
to 45 years for killing his white paramour. The next year Arthur King, a black man, was
convicted of killing a crippled white “Barbary Coaster,” James Dowdy, in the Bull Run
saloon. Three of the remaining six killings of whites by blacks were intimate partner
homicides involving black men and white women. The other case of black-on-white
killing was that of Martin Kinich, a waiter in a Brannan Street restaurant, who was killed
by a black customer named Cleveland Williams. Overall, African-Americans were
responsible as perpetrators in 19 of the 1014 criminal homicides committed in nineteenth-
century San Francisco.
         It is another truism that when interracial homicides occurred no matter what the
victim/perpetrator relationship was, the fault lay on the white side of the equation.
McKanna claims that black-on-white homicide in Omaha tended to be the result of the
usual saloon encounters, while white-on- black killings were often the product of racial
animus.432 In his study of New York Eric, Monkkonen determined that whites were at
fault in every racially motivated incident.433 And in late nineteenth-century Chicago,
according Jeffrey Adler, killings of whites by blacks were “disproportionately sparked by
white aggression.”434 That doesn‟t seem to have been the case in nineteenth century San
Francisco, except in the incident when James Dowdy, a crippled “Barbary Coaster” was
killed by a black man in saloon after Dowdy shouted a racial epithet at him.
         No case better illustrates the difference in San Francisco‟s attitude toward race
compared to other cities than that of Lloyd Bell. Bell, a black man, who had a problem
with John Ryan, the white barkeeper at a Drumm Street boarding house for seaman. On
October 6, 1873 Bell went there and, finding a man sleeping on a bench who he thought
to be Ryan, attacked him with an axe, almost severing his head with a single blow. It
turned out he had killed the wrong man, a customer named Owen Gillen who was
sleeping off a drunk. Bell was sentenced to San Quentin for seven years, but after an
appeal which resulted in a second trial he was convicted and sentenced to a one-year
term. After serving his term, Bell returned to the waterfront where in September 1877, he
murdered his landlady in a dispute over rent. Bell was again convicted and sent to San
Quentin but was later transferred to the State Insane Asylum at Stockton where he spent
the remainder of his days. This at a time when blacks were being chased down and killed
in other parts of the country.
         Much of the discussion of minority homicide centers on the post-sentencing
treatment of blacks by the white-dominated justice system. Based on the higher
conviction rate of blacks than whites, Clare McKanna concluded that blacks were
mistreated by the justice system in Omaha between 1880 and 1920.435 And Monkkonen
found that blacks were six times more likely to hang for homicide than whites in
nineteenth-century New York City.436 During a similar period in San Francisco, blacks,
with one percent of the population, accounted for two percent of the homicide victims,
3.3 percent of those convicted and sentenced on homicide charges and, most
dramatically, 8.3 percent of those from San Francisco who were executed. On the face of
it, those numbers would seem to suggest a pattern of disparate, discriminatory treatment,

but given the small number of executions under consideration, three of a total of 35, we
must take a closer look at the actual cases involved.
         All three of the black men hanged for homicide in San Francisco had killed
women. In July 1859, Albert Lee traveled from Mariposa to San Francisco, where he
murdered his ex-wife who had refused his request to reconcile. Lee was tried and
convicted of first-degree murder over defense protestations that he was insane. The case
was reviewed by the State Supreme court and the judgment was affirmed. Almost two
years later, in March 1861, he was hanged in the County Jail yard. In December 1860, in
an eerily similar case, a black man named John Clarkson cut the throat of a black woman
named Caroline Park, who had spurned his romantic advances. He too was hanged. The
third black man executed was Steve Jones, hanged for the 1883 murder of his white
former live-in girl friend. After a jury trial in Department 12 of the San Francisco
Superior Court, Jones was found guilty of first-degree murder. On March 20 1885 he was
hanged in the County Jail.
         In general, nineteenth-century San Franciscans did not take kindly to killing
women. Fully one-third of those hanged during the period went to the gallows for killing
women. But not all who killed women hanged. If it was a conventional case, rising out of
heat of passion in the midst of a domestic dispute, whether black or white, the penalty on
conviction was something less than capital punishment. But if, on the other hand, it was
demonstrated that the perpetrator had planned the killing, the death penalty was invoked.
In each of the above cases, the perpetrator had demonstrated to the satisfaction of the
jury, either by previous actions or statements that he intended to commit the crime. As
with the Irish and the Chinese who were executed, the disposition of black homicide
cases can be shown to have had more to do with the nature of the case than the race of the
          To a large extent, San Francisco missed out on the first wave of the Great
Migration which was to change the demographic face of urban America, and during
which the rates of black homicide increased generally in American cities. 437 In
McKanna‟s, Omaha the black rate almost doubled from the 1890s to the first decade of
the 1900s (from 32.6 to 56.8).438 In Chicago, the black rate of 28 per 100,000 in 1890
grew to 57 by 1920.439 Black homicide increased in San Francisco during the same period
as well. From an average annual rate of 11.7 in the period from 1895 to 1899, it grew to
51.6 in the five years from 1915 to 1919.
         In the fifteen years preceding the 1906 earthquake and fire, the African-American
community suffered three homicides. In the 15 years following the disaster, by which
time the black population had doubled (from 1,800 to 3,800), the community suffered 16
homicides, more than five times that in the earlier period.440 The 38 African-American
homicides in the first four decades of the twentieth century translates into approximately
one homicide a year, again hardly creating a climate of violence comparable to American
cities in the second half of the century.
         McKanna attributes the surge of black homicide in Omaha during the early
twentieth century to the importation of a subculture of violence from the South.441
Chicago‟s increases, according to Jeffrey Adler, can be traced to behaviors the
newcomers brought with them and their mistreatment by the host society.442 Doubtless
the same forces were at work in San Francisco and elsewhere to help account for the
increases. But it would be more difficult to make the case, at least for San Francisco, that

the large increase was due to the treatment by the host society. Race relations were better
than those in the East.
         The story of race relations in many eastern cities in the early decades of the
twentieth century was the story of communal riots and housing restrictions that forced
newly arrived blacks into crowded housing. There was never the high level of anti-black
enmity in San Francisco in the early decades of the twentieth century that obtained
elsewhere. Still during the first four decades of the century, whites accounted for one-
third (8 of 24) of the victims of black homicide in cases for which the racial identity of
the perpetrators are known. Yet only one black man was killed by a white in San
Francisco in 1903 and not another until 1943.443 There were a few fatal difficulties
between striking white working men and blacks brought in by management to break the
strikes, but San Francisco never experienced the large-scale racial disorders that afflicted
many eastern cities following the Great Migration. Prior to World War II, there was never
any exclusively black neighborhood in San Francisco.
         During World War II and beyond, during the second wave of the Great Migration
--which included San Francisco--the African-American population of San Francisco,
fueled by the wartime influx to work in the defense industry, and then by the post-war
immigration, grew from 4,800, (still less than one percent of the population), to 43,000
by 1950. Not all were welcomed by their own. Jeffrey Adler cites example in Chicago in
the first great migration that, “Even African-American newspapers expressed concern,
much of which reflected the class-based anxieties of long-time residents.” 444Albert S.
Broussard reports “According to one historian of urban history, World War II brought to
northern cities such as Chicago a black migrant who differed in many respects from the
one who came during the Great Migration. These new settlers were less educated, less
sophisticated and urbane, and thus were more likely to become involved in racial
disturbances. Because of these characteristics, they were also less likely to find
employment during the postwar era and had far greater difficulty escaping the ghetto.”
    Neither did they have the contacts that eased others into post-war jobs. Under these
circumstances it‟s hard to see how things could have gone smoothly.
         The African-American population of San Francisco doubled in the second half of
the 1940s over that of the first half-decade, with an average of 18,420 blacks in 1940
through 1944 and 37,730 in second period.446 By 1970, with a population of 96,000,
blacks accounted for one in seven San Franciscans, enough to address any concerns about
insufficient numbers and to allow for meaningful comparisons with other groups. 447
         Beginning in the 1960s, urban Americans found themselves in the grip of a
seemingly unprecedented wave of criminal violence. From an annual homicide rate of
4.7 per 100,000 in 1960, the national homicide rate more than doubled to 10.7 in 1980.
The increases were most pronounced in the nation‟s cities. In San Francisco, the average
annual homicide rate rose from 5.9 for the period from 1960-64 to 18.5 for the last half of
of the 1970s, before staring an interrupted decline toward the end of the century.
Figure 7.2 shows the fluctuations of San Francisco‟s homicide rate compared to those of
the state and nation as a whole from 1960 to 2000.
Figure 7.2 goes about here.

        It was the increase in the late 1960s which in large part spawned a myriad of
studies of criminal violence in America, resulting in a host of explanations for subsequent

increases and declines in homicide rates. Among the many explanations for changes in
overall rates is the argument that homicide rates are closely connected to demographic
changes in society. It was during this period that a post-World War II “baby boom” came
of age, creating a bulge in the population of the most murder-prone age group. As with
any theory, not all students of the subject agree.448 In any case, also as with any criminal
violence phenomenon, no one variable can explain the complex manifestation.
         The most significant feature of the rate rise in San Francisco and other urban
centers in the late 1960s and 1970s, as displayed in Figure 7.3 for San Francisco, is that
much of the increase was driven by very high rates of homicide by the black community
which by now comprised a substantial portion of the city‟s population.
         Figure 7.3 goes about here.
         A number of reasons have been advanced to explain disproportionate rates of
black violence. Recent writers on the subject cite the release of suppressed black rage as
contributing to the upsurge in homicide in the late 1960s.449 Others have discussed the
breakdown of the black family and the disaster created by the prevalence of absent
fathers.450 Fatherless black families offer an extreme variation on the theme that
newcomer youths culturally separated from their old-country fathers tend to turn more
readily than others to a life of crime and violence.
         One overarching explanation for disproportionate black violence is that offered by
the “subculture of violence” theory, already encountered, which posits that the roots of
black violence can be traced to their American origins in the rural South. The culture of
violence, says Fox Butterfield, “grew out of the proud culture that flourished in the
antebellum rural South, a tradition shaped by whites long before it was adopted and
recast by some blacks in reaction to their plight.”451 Roger Lane has addressed the topic
as well, and agrees that the conditions leading to the formation of a culture of violence
“began with slavery and, for most blacks continued under other forms of agricultural
dependency….” 452 However, he continues, “the patterns of criminality were most
strongly formed under the conditions of formal freedom, in the city.” In that instance, in
         The fluctuations in black rates in San Francisco, as shown on the graph at Figure
7.3 supports Roger Lane‟s idea that homicide rates for minority newcomers are closely
tied to assimilation into the industrial economy, up to a point, at least.453 During the war
years, the black homicide rate was low. Then in the late 1940s the rate spiked as unskilled
African-Americans – the “last hired and first fired” of common usage--found themselves
out of work. The fact that African-Americans in San Francisco had three times the
homicide rate of non-blacks, even in the full-employment early war years, suggests that
we must also look elsewhere than to their treatment in San Francisco for the origins of the
violent behavior. Then in the 1950s, according to this theory, the maturing industrial
economy provided employment for the marginally skilled newcomers, sending the rates
down again. Again, as the industrial economy shrunk in the 1960s, homicide rates began
to rise.454
         The very magnitude of the amount of black homicide can mask the fact that the
rates increased for both whites and blacks, not just in San Francisco or even urban
America, but in the industrialized world generally. Among the reasons offered to explain
this worldwide phenomenon is the emergence of an attitudinal change affecting all
groups. As suggested by Ted Gurr, there “may be a cultural shift which has loosened the

inhibitions against interpersonal violence. . . ” for everyone in the 1960s. 455 Part of that
cultural shift had to do with changing attitudes toward drugs. In San Francisco, narcotics
involvement as a circumstance in homicide cases shows up in the early 1960s as a
circumstance in 1.3% of the total. By the late 1960s narcotics was a contributing factor in
7.0% of criminal homicides and by the end of the next decade it accounted for 9.1% of
the homicides in San Francisco. (We must be cautious in making absolute statements
about the role of narcotics in homicide rates, however, because the factor is susceptible to
manipulation by persons assigning the circumstances. Could it be that there were more
narcotics-related homicides in earlier periods but that these went unnoticed because there
was no public interest? That is doubtful because even in the 1940s and 1950s anything to
do with “dope fiends” commanded a great deal of press attention.) 456
         Another factor to be considered is the changes in the laws relating to police
practices, notably the police ability to intrude into the lives of criminal suspects. In the
face of rising crime rates in the late 1950s, the San Francisco Police Department
instituted an “S (for saturation) Squad,” much like the “Shotgun” or “Crime Prevention”
squads of old. This time, though, there was solid opposition to the idea. 457 The S-Squad
was allowed to proceed, but the times were changing in a climate of increasing judicial
scrutiny of police practices which had been tacitly tolerated since the founding of the
American police service. There followed a series of legal interpretations taht
fundamentally changed the way the police could conduct their business. 458 Enforcement
of vagrancy laws, used with such effectiveness by everyone from Chief Martin Burke in
the 1860s to Jack Manion in the 1920s and Chief William Quinn‟s men in the 1930s were
no longer permissible.459 It would be difficult to sustain a logical argument against such
progressive innovations, which assured the individual‟s right against improper police
practices, but still it must be recognized that the improvements did not come without a
         On October 20, 1973, Officer Bruce Marovich was assigned to a patrol car in the
North Beach district with his partner, Ben McAllister. At Chestnut near Powell streets rhe
officers came upon a van with two African-American men standing nearby, one at the
driver‟s door, the other at the rear entrance to the cargo compartment. The officers
stopped to check on the situation. One of the men approached the patrol vehicle and
offered that he had just completed repairing a flat tire. The men were well dressed in suits
and ties, hardly the apparel of auto boosters, so the officers moved on. What the officers
had no way of knowing at the time – and no legal way of finding out – was that Richard
and Quita Hague were being held at knife point by the mens‟ confederates in the rear of
the van.
         As soon as the officers departed, the men entered the van and drove to 25th and
Minnesota streets in the industrial section of the city. There they attacked the Hagues
with a machete as part of an initiation rite to a murderously radical faction of an African-
American religious group. Richard Hague survived but his wife was not so lucky.
Anyone who has met San Francisco Police Lieutenant Bruce Marovich (now retired)
knows that he is not the sort to back away from trouble--and he never was.461 We can be
sure, however, that his counterparts in earlier police generations would have checked out
the interior of that van, out of curiosity, if nothing else. But since the procedural changes
were ordered in the 1960s, police officers have had it drummed into them that they must
not overstep judicially mandated constitutional limits. In the six months following Quita

Hague‟s brutal murder, 14 more white victims would die in San Francisco at the cult‟s
hands, in a series of attacks that came to be called the Zebra murders.
        Is it legitimate to argue that the judicially imposed restrictions have had an effect
on the increasing homicide rates? Police historian David Johnson has said that, “with the
decline in restraints on criminal behavior since the early 1960s, violent robberies have
been on the increase.”462 Roger Lane adds that “the civil rights earned by the hard work
of some, such as the freedom to walk the streets and visit shops without harassment, has
made burglary and shoplifting easier for others.”463 With the 15 Zebra victims in mind –
none of whom would have died if officers pushed beyond the limits of the law and
searched the van in October 1973--might we add homicide to the list as well?
        The inter-racial aspect of the Zebra case is especially troubling. It remains true, as
asserted by others, that the majority of violent crimes are intragroup.464 That said, during
the period of high homicide rates following the 1960s, a disproportionately large amount
of the violence was black on white. Nationwide between 1976-1999 blacks were six
times more likely to be homicide victims and eight times more likely to be its
perpetrators. Twenty percent of stranger-to-stranger homicides are black on white and 5.1
percent are white on black.465 Wolfgang showed in the early 1950s that it was three
times more likely for whites to be killed by blacks than the reverse. The percentage of
black victims of white offenders was infinitesimal, understandably so considering the
comparatively smaller pool of potential black victims.
         Of white murder victims in San Francisco in 1969 for which the race of the
perpetrator is known, 55 percent were killed by blacks. (For the period from 1975 to
1994, this figure averaged 27.4 percent. That is on average 27 percent of the non-Latino
white victims for whom the perpetrator is known were killed by blacks). To put the
numbers in terms of those used by McKanna in his study of Omaha, blacks in late-
twentieth century San Francisco killed outside their own racial group in 23 percent of the
cases for which the identity of the perpetrator is known, compared to 12 percent for
whites. If African-Americans fled the interracial killings that characterized the post-
Reconstruction era South as soon as they could, so too did white Americans in the latter
part of the twentieth century begin to flee from the cities where they had increasingly
become the targets of interracial homicide. “In the late twentieth century it is whites who
fear blacks downtown at night, just as historically it was blacks who feared whites.” 466
        As shown in Table 7.1, the disproportionate black-on-white nature of interracial
homicide doubtless carries over to those cases for which no perpetrator is identified by
Table 7.1 goes about here.

       The first two columns of Table 7.1 show the number of black on white and white
on black homicides between 1960 and 1990 for which the offender/victim relationship is
known for selected categories. The second two columns show the number of instances in
the same categories for which the perpetrator is not known. Unless there is some
inexplicable reverse in the victim/perpetrator relationship between cases in which the
perpetrators are known, and those in which not, it seems pretty clear that a
disproportionate amount of homicide in which the perpetrator is not identified was
committed by African-Americans.

        Another possibility should be considered in the mix of factors accounting for the
upsurge of homicide by young African-Americans in the 1960s. We have seen with Irish
and Italians in earlier periods that some of the increases in violence in those eras can be
traced to the second-generation hoodlums, those not fully assimilated into the new
society but out of sorts with the values of the older members of their community. It was
during the 1960s that the children of the 1940s African-American immigrants from the
rural South began to come of age elsewhere in urban America. Was part of the upsurge of
violence by young black males analogous to the increased violence by the sons of Irish
and Italian immigrants of earlier periods, who -- alienated from their parents‟ values and
not yet fully assimilated into the new society -- sometimes turned to violent crime? We
are deficient in definitive proof upon which to build a homicide theory based on this
factor but it does offer an intriguing avenue of future research.
        In any event, in the mid-to late 1980s San Francisco‟s homicide rate began to
decline, for blacks as well as whites. “If the relative deprivation argument is correct,”
reported Ted Gurr in 1989, “black victimization rates also should have begun to decline
as a result of the political and legal assault on racial discrimination in the 1960s.”467 And,
he goes on to report, based on Center for Disease Control statistics, that is exactly what
happened between 1970 and 1983. That is what happened in San Francisco as well.
Homicide rates for both African-Americans and whites were in decline. By the mid-
1980s the average annual homicide rate for the city as a whole declined from 18.5 in the
five-year period of 1975-79 to 14.5 in1980-84 period. The African-American rate
dropped from 52.2 to 35.6.468 Presumably, African-Americans were following a familiar
pattern forged by earlier groups of newcomers to the city--high rates at first, followed by
a decline and assimilation into the larger community.
        Then in the end of the 1980s the rates began to go up again. In the period from
1985 to 1989, the black homicide rate rose again to 45.5 and in the 1990-94 period
peaked at 56.2. A number of factors have been identified as causing the increase in
homicide rates generally. Some blamed the increase on another bulge in the most murder-
prone group of young males. In commenting on the high murder rate in Oakland and
other cities, cites James A. Fox, the Dean of the College of Criminal Justice at
Northeastern University in Boston, as saying, “This is nothing compared to what‟s going
to happen the rest of the decade.” He attributed the situation to the presence of more
weapons, the behavior-altering rather than mind-altering drugs, and to a casual attitude
toward violence. 469 Others pointed to the proliferation of firearms, particularly in the
hands of the young.470
        Some looked at the reduction of programs while some claimed that the strict
enforcement of federal narcotics laws drove young men to other kinds of crime. In
commenting on an increase in violent juvenile crime, Terry Twing, president of the San
Francisco Juvenile Probation Officers Union said that the decrease in drug dealing
brought about by federal efforts targeting international cocaine traffic have contributed to
the increase in other types of crime. People want money, he said, and when they can‟t get
it from dealing drugs, they will rob to get it. 471 As always, there were a number of other
factors offered to explain the increase. The most common explanation had to do with the
proliferation of crack cocaine and youth gangs. Commenting on a 1986 rise of 6.7 percent
in the state‟s homicide rate, Attorney General John Van de Camp attributed the increase

to a “surge of drug and gang related killings.” In most cities, young black men are
causing and bearing the brunt of the increase.472
         Neighborhood youth leader, Joseph Marshall Jr., questioned the central place
given to drugs. There weren‟t any Crips or Bloods in San Francisco, he pointed out, but
there were plenty of turf warriors in neighborhoods like Hunters Point and Fillmore and
Sunnydale.473 According to one neighborhood youth in 1989, putting his spin on the
situation, “In most of the news, they're always talking about it's over dope turf. But you
know what it really starts over? Words.” 474 There were three black gang-related killings
in San Francisco in all of 1988--it appeared as though the city would be spared the worst
of the violence that was plaguing other communities. Then in December, teenage
offenders on routine holiday pass from Log Cabin Ranch school for chronic offenders
were linked to 11 shootings in San Francisco in which 14 were injured. 475 Then
conditions deteriorated.
         Marshall dates the eruption of gang violence in San Francisco to the March 15,
1989, killing of Peter Lee (Edrick Carr), which amounted to a call to arms. Young men in
the Sunnydale area believed that he had been killed by gangsters from Hunters Point.
Over the next year the violence see-sawed back and forth between the various turf gangs.
“The authorities tended to regard the youth violence that came out of Sunnydale as
economically motivated, but that was very narrow perspective" says Marshall. “the
marketing of crack represented just one front in a much larger, deeper conflict based on
turf.” 476 After Lee‟s funeral, Sunnydale began wearing Sunnydale (San Diego Padres)
baseball caps. Hunters Point gang members special ordered HP caps and sewed each
youth‟s name on starter jackets. Two months after Peter Lee was killed, two Hunters
Point youths were killed and the killings see-sawed back and forth over the next year
with the Sunnydale and Fillmore gangs at war. “From about 1988 to 1990,” says
Marshall,” it seemed entire city was fractured into teenage guerilla nations.”477
         In 1993, when a member of the Oakdale gang stepped on a Harbor Road gang
member‟s shoes at a party – or it might have been the other way around, nobody seems to
rememb for sure--a series of tit-for-tat killings followed. The first casualty was Larry
Blankenship, 20, a hanger-on of the Harbor Road gang, who was run down and killed by
gunfire on August 13, 1993 at mid-day on Kirkwood Street. Someone noticed a van used
in the killing as similar to one owned by Donnell August, an Oakdale gang associate. It is
unclear whether August was present at Blankenship‟s killing but the Harbor Road group
thought he was.478 There followed six attempts on August‟s life until he was finally killed
on March 27, 1995, but only after a young grandmother watching her children was shot
and killed in one attempt. A few hours after August's killing, police were called to
Northridge Road to investigate another drive-by shooting thought to be in retaliation for
his execution killing. Public tolerance for intraracial in the African-American community
seemed bottomless.
          By mid-May 1995, there were 32 unsolved black-on-black murders in the
Bayview-Hunters Point-Double Rock neighborhoods. In late May, the most murderous
week in the year occurred, with five people killed. First was Arturo Davis, killed at Day
Street playground on May 22 after a pickup basketball game. Thirty hours later, Geizel
Johnson, 26, was killed in an ambush outside his Bay View home. Then within 48 hours,
Pierre Avilla was shot on May 25 behind a walkway at end of Kirkwood Street. And two

hours later and four blocks away, Marcell Love was found dead on the sidewalk near
Newcomb Street.
         It was then that officers took a page out of a much older San Francisco Police
Department playbook, and formed the Crime Response Unit to Stop Homicide (CRUSH),
best described as an updated version of the old Shotgun or Crime Prevention Squad of
old.479 Over the next two years, members of the CRUSH unit would make more than 700
felony arrests and seize more than 200 weapons, thus preventing who knows how many
homicides. By March 1997, the stories were piling up about suspects being rousted
without warrants and that the officers were trampling on people‟s rights. Said Public
Defender Jeff Brown,” This was the cowboy unit of the Police Department. It was
supposed to use the rough stuff against the rough guys.”480 According to Assistant Public
Defender Shelia O‟Gara, “it appeared to us they that they were transferring the most
volatile cops to the unit.” “In the guise of this search for homicide suspects, they have
become door kickers, the illegal searchers the guys that just don‟t care and their
commanders don‟t appear to be particularly fastidious as to how it‟s done.”481 In May
1997, the unit was quietly disbanded. The official departmental position was that their
mission had been accomplished. The implicit judgment of the press was that tough
measures work as long as the pressure is kept on. Said Public Defender Brown, “They got
out just in time before the ax was dropped on them.” In its year-end wrap up story , the
Examiner wrote of the CRUSH unit, “For a while it seemed to work. Killings dropped in
Hunters Point and other predominately black neighborhoods in the southeast section of
San Francisco.” But then the report goes on. They rose again in the fall “as the intensity
of the police effort waned.”482 In 1996, there were 83 homicides in San Francisco (a 12.6
percent reduction) and in 1997 the total dropped to 60.
        From 1992 through 1995, black homicides numbered on average 45 a year. In the
four years from 1996 to the end of the century, they numbered an average of 25 a year, a
decline of 44.4 percent. The overall decline in the half-decade following the unit‟s
formation was from 524 to 360 homicides, a 31.2 percent reduction. The reporter for The
SF Weekly who rode with unit members for a week wrote a generally favorable, even
adulatory account of his experience, adding, “Most of the time while I was riding with
CRUSH, the unit respected the Fourth Amendment rights of the people they rousted, but
sometimes in the legitimate pursuit of killers they appeared to cross the line.” 483 In
1995, 51 percent of homicide victims in San Francisco were black. By 1997 the
proportion of black homicide victims had returned to 40 percent. In the end, the CRUSH
Unit solved 28 killings and made more than 500 arrests.484 For all of that, black homicide
rates remained disproportionately high.

Violent Rainbow
        While concerns about black violence persisted, other factors came into play as
well. Newcomers continued to arrive in San Francisco during the final decades of the
twentieth century. The largest proportion of the new San Franciscans were “people of
color,” most of whom originated in Asian countries. The non-Latino white portion of San
Francisco‟s population, 80 percent in 1960, declined to less than half by the century‟s
end. In 1960, Asians comprised 7.8 percent of the city‟s residents. By 2000, following
changes in immigration laws that eliminated formerly discriminatory quotas, one in three
San Franciscans was Asian, 64 percent of whom traced their origins to China.485 Table
8.1 illustrates the change.
Table 8.1 goes about here.

         It was during this period that concerns about Asian violence again arose as a
prominent matter of concern. In 1960, San Francisco‟s Chinese youth community was
held up as an example of law-abiding behavior for the rest of society. “Chinatown is no
longer the chaotic no man‟s land of a ghetto in transition,” historian Richard Dillon wrote
in 1962. “The quarter is so law-abiding today that sociologists study it in hopes of finding
a cure for the increasing lawlessness of other areas of the city, state, and nation.”486 In
September 1977, after a dramatic series of gang killings by Chinese youths, one faction
of the young gangsters invaded the Golden Dragon Restaurant on Washington Street and
murderously sprayed the premises with gunfire in what came to be called the “Golden
Dragon Massacre.” The upsurge in Chinese youth violence can best be explained in terms
of the type of immigrants who came and to internal disagreements in the Chinese
community between the newcomers and the established community.
        The first group of late-twentieth century Asians to take advantage of the changed
immigration regulations and migrate to San Francisco in substantial numbers were
residents of Hong Kong.487 Many were professionals who came under preferential quotas
which allowed immigration by people with specialized skills not found in sufficient
numbers in the American workforce. This group assimilated fairly well into the existing
economic environment. Others who came were blue-collar workers and their families,
who, because of language difficulties and the structure of Chinese American society,
were forced to take low-paid employment in Chinatown restaurants and sewing factories.
The elders, grateful to be here, hunkered down and worked long, hard hours to meet the
exorbitant rents sometimes charged by their Chinatown landlords. (As with the Irish,
Italians, and blacks of earlier migrations, there are always countrymen who will take
economic advantage of “greenhorn” newcomers.)
        Many of the young male children of the immigrants did not cope so well. At odds
with their parents, who were absent for long hours working in sweatshops and
restaurants, and not fully accepted by the American Born Chinese who they met in the
city‟s schools, the young immigrants dropped out and began to hang around street corners
in the manner of the street gangs with whom some of them had been affiliated in Hong
Kong.488 It was in this climate that a number of young Chinese formed a group which
they called the Wah Ching (Chinese Youth) in 1966.489 According to one version of
events, they were a legitimate youth organization, rebuffed by Chinatown elders in their

attempts to better their lot. Among the list of causes for the “structure of present-day
Chinatown” which presumably contributed to criminogenic conditions there, Takagi and
Platt include “brutal labor practices” and “extralegal repression.” 490
         It was also noted early on that many members of the youth organization were
recruited by adult tongs to protect underground gambling. With their foot in the door, the
group moved into extortion and robbery of gamblers.491 After an internal dispute, a
faction calling themselves the Chung Ching Yee (Loyalty and Righteousness) split off
under the leadership of Macao-born Joe Fong. Between 1969 and mid 1972, police
logged in 12 Asian gang homicides as the factions vied for a larger piece of the lucrative
gambling rackets.492 In 1972, following the Sunset District murder of a Chinatown youth
worker, and with the strong support of the Chinese community leaders who encouraged
the free administration of some “curbstone” justice, the police turned up the heat and
mounted a series of sweeps in Chinatown to net Chinese gangsters.493 But following
brutality complaints and claims that the activity was damaging the tourist industry, the
sweeps were suspended.494 The killings continued, attended by sensational coverage in
the daily press, and by mid-1977, 14 more Asian gang killings were logged into the
Police Department murder book.
         On Saturday September 4,1977, three masked Chun Ching Yee members entered
the Gold Dragon Restaurant at 822 Washington Street. The street-wise gangsters present
hit the floor, and in the ensuing fusillade, five people were killed and 11 wounded, none
of them gangsters. Two weeks later, after two Chun Ching Yee members were killed in
reprisal attacks, the “Chinatown Squad” was reinstituted.495 In deference to late
twentieth-century ethnic sensibilities, the racial identifier was omitted from the unit‟s
title; this time it was called by the race neutral name,“Gang Task Force.” Over the next
half-year police put together a case that resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of
ten members of the Chung Ching Yee, effectively putting an end to their existence as a
player in the Chinatown gang scene. 496
          Thereafter the killing declined and the Wah Ching emerged as the dominant gang
presence in Chinatown.497 In the late 1980s the Wah Ching‟s hegemony was challenged
by a criminal group newly arrived from Hong Kong. In anticipation of the 1997 mainland
takeover of Hong Kong, the Wo Hop To Triad began to move its operations out of the
British colony, relocating some of them in the United States.498 That attempted
realignment, mounted by Hong Kong-based Peter Chong, was reflected in the gang
homicide rate in Chinatown. In the decade between 1978 and 1987, after the Chun Ching
Yee was suppressed, San Francisco logged in only two definite Asian gang killings. In
the next five years, to the end of 1992, the homicide detail logged in 14 more Asian gang
killings as the Wo Hop To fought it out with the Wah Ching for control of the Chinatown
rackets. By 1993, Chong virtually controlled gambling and protection rackets in the Bay
Area. That year, though, based on the work of a federal/local task force, Chong and his
confederates were indicted on a number of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
Oranizations (RICO) Act charges, which broke the back of his effort to take over
Chinatown vice.499
         The late twentiet-century flare-up in Chinatown was no replay of the murderous
late nineteenth-century gang conflicts to control Chinatown. In fact, despite the dramatic
nature of the gang killings, the overall crime rate among the Chinese remained much
lower than that of the overall society. At no time during the last half of the twentieth

century did Chinese homicide rates even begin to approach those of the overall society.
In the half decade of 1975-1979, when the Wah Ching and the Chung Ching Yee were
fighting over control of the rackets, the Chinese rate of 9.2 was half that of the overall
city rate of 18.5. In 1995-1999, after the Wo Hop To was thwarted in its efforts to
dominate Chinatown vice, the Chinese community had a homicide rate of 4.8 compared
to a rate of 9.1 for the city as a whole.
         The social and economic landscape had changed in Chinatown from the
nineteenth century in other ways as well. For one thing, in the earlier period, most of the
newcomers were men with all that portends for the homicide rate for any group. Families
began to arrivethe late twentieth century ,and by the century‟s end there were as many
women as men. Except for the marginally criminal characters who came in the early
years and the out-and-out gangsters who tried to insinuate themselves into the community
in the 1990s, the newcomer community was comprised of a different kind of immigrant
than was found in earlier migrations. According a recent press account, “Much of the
1990s immigration, especially from Asia, was spurred by explosive job growth in Silicon
Valley‟s high technology sector . . . Asian immigrants are relatively well educated.
Immigrants from India are the best-educated immigrants, and those from Taiwan and the
Philippines have very high levels of education as well. Immigrant poverty doesn‟t exist to
the same extent here as in other parts of the state.” 500 And unlike the situation in the late
nineteenth century, when criminal tongs were able to dominate Chinatown, their late
twentieth-century counterparts were confronted in San Francisco with a mature Chinese
establishment, familiar with the levers of power, who worked with authorities committed
to foiling the gangsters.
         The situation in Latino San Francisco was in some ways similar to that of the
Asians. There had always been a noticeable Latino presence in San Francisco, even after
the first non-native inhabitants of San Francisco were inundated by successive waves of
non-Latino newcomers, located principally in the “Latin Quarter” in North Beach and the
remnants of the even earlier settlements around the old Mexican Mission on Dolores
Street. A Latino presence was also noticeable in the records of criminality but not to any
degree that would justify a great deal of special attention. It was during the latter part of
the twentieth century that the Latino population began to grow again. From a population
of about 13,000 in 1950 (1.6 percent of the total), Latinos grew to 6.8 percent by 1960
(52,000). At the century‟s end Latino residents comprised 14 percent of the city‟s
population (109,000). The Latino populations of most California cities were largely
Mexican in origin. In San Francisco, fueled by a large mid-century influx of political
refugees, San Francisco‟s Latino community had a large proportion of Central American
residents. In San Francisco 40percent of Latinos trace their origins to Mexico but the
majority, 53 percent, Cite central and South American countries as their place of origin.
(Los Angeles has just about the reverse, with 75 percent citing Mexico as their place of
origin and 22 percent claiming Central or South America.)
         During the last two decades of the century, concerns about Latino criminal
violence--much of it committed, as with other new ethnic arrivals, by youthful street
gangs--commanded official and public attention.501 While in some ways similar to Asian
gangs in their hostility to other Latino gangs, there were differences as well. Asian gangs,
again not unlike the nineteenth-century tongs, were more likely to have an economic
dimension to their activities than other types of ethnic gangs. In Latino gangs, on the

other hand, economic considerations, if apparent at all, were secondary. Said Police
Sergeant David Horton, a veteran San Francisco gang investigator, in a 1991 interview,
“They‟re [Latino gangs] not like Compton‟s or Oakland‟s gangs who fight over who is
going to control narcotics or extortion. Here it‟s a macho, tough guy thing. Who‟s
tougher? They‟re always fighting for that number one spot.” 502
        By the 1990s, there were perhaps 500 Latino youth gangsters in San Francisco,
from the inner Mission district to the county line, who divided themselves into two basic
groups, the Surenos (Southerners), who sported the color blue, and the Nortenos
(Northerners) who favored the color red. The North and South designations ostensibly
refer to the geographic orientation of the rival groups, either northerners (from Mexico)
and southerners (from Central America), or Northern Californian against Southern
Californians, depending on whose definition one prefers. Actually, the basis of
organization is by neighborhood of residence, no matter where the members might have
originated. (It seems to be a universal impulse manifested by all groups to divide into two
factions which hate each other.)
        During the entire 1980s, police logged in only four Latino gang killings in San
Francisco. The next decade it was 30. Typical in its apparent senselessness was the case
of Bayron Alvarado Martinez. The 13-year-old was one of a group of Latino youths
picked up by the police on January 11, 1991, and taken to Mission Police Station for
investigation. Released shortly thereafter, Martinez and his friends were walking away
from the station when they were accosted by two armed, masked youths. Martinez‟s
group ran, but Martinez tripped and fell, and tried to hide himself under a parked car. The
assailants dragged him out from under the car, kicked him, and shot him in the back
fatally before escaping in an auto parked nearby. It was then revealed that just hours
before his killing, young Martinez had been initiated into the 11th Street Gang. Police
arrested two members of the rival Bryant street gang who had been identified by
witnesses on the scene. A few days later the witnesses recanted and the case went
         The killing continued with painful regularity and even increased in the following
years. In May 1993, the Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Mission District were marred
by several gang-related stabbings and shootings over the holiday weekend. 503 In June
1994, when Ernesto Navas, 15, a member of the 18th Street Gang was hooted with some
of his friends from a passing Mission Street bus by members of the 22nd Street gang,
Navas and his friends chased the bus to its stop at 24th and Potrero streets, throwing
bottles and sticks. As they approached the bus, Navas was shot fatally. Two young
members of the 22nd and Bryant street gang were arrested.504 In 1995 there were several
more killings, all seemingly senseless to the outsider. By the century‟s end, the numbers
of Latino gang homicides declined, a fact police attribute to the passage of the “Gang
Violence and Juvenile Crime Prevention Act of 1998,” which provided enhanced
penalties for gang crimes and those involving weapons.
         As with the Chinese--for all the concerns voiced about Latino homicide in the
1990s – the actual rate for the community as a whole ran consistently below the overall
rate, at least until the last decade of the century. 505 In the period from 1990 to 1994, by
which time we have a fairly good reading on the dimensions of the Latino population, the
Latino homicide rate was 17.6 compared to their 14 percent of population. In the 1995-

1999 period, the 14 percent Latino population accounted for 19 percent of the homicide
         In the end, San Francisco may not be the best place to study Latino homicide.
Certainly the city never has suffered the levels of Latino violence, gang originated or
otherwise, as suffered by Latino communities in Southern California. 507 In the first three
years of the twenty-first century, Latino San Franciscans, with 14 percent of the
population, account for 14 percent of the city‟s homicide victims. Statewide, where they
comprise 30 percent of the population, Latinos makeup 45 percent of the homicide
victims, one and a half times their representation in society.
          One factor, as suggested earlier, which may account for the relatively low level
of Latino homicide in San Francisco was the internal diversity of the Latino community.
Many of the Central American refugees, like those who fled from Cuba about the same
time and settled in Florida, were middle-class opponents of repressive regimes. Equipped
with economic and occupational skills, these newcomers were better able to adjust to life
in the new environment than were the impoverished marginally skilled agricultural
workers who made up much of the immigration from Mexico and contributed to most of
the immigration to other parts of the State.
         What all this bodes for the future is uncertain. If the assimilation of African-
Americans into urban society has not yet fully run its course, that of the late twentieth
century influx of Latinos can hardly be said to have begun, particularly as related to the
children of the new immigrants.508 Ramiro Martinez contends that Latino homicide rates
are lower than would otherwise be expected.509 But anecdotal accounts of criminality
encountered in the daily press would seem to point to disproportionate amounts of
criminal misconduct by the newcomers. Any analysis to determine whether Latino
criminal violence can be attributed to their treatment by the host community rather than
behaviors resident in their own communities will have to recognize that homicide rates in
Mexico and some other Latin American countries are from two to three times those in the
United States.510 If the pattern of the young children of immigrants--alienated from their
parents and not as yet fully comfortable with the new society--reasserts itself, as it did
with some earlier groups, we may be on the cusp of a wave of Latino criminality. Only
time will tell.
         Getting back to the homicides by ethnic gangs generally, the crimes that
dominated concerns in the late twentieth century, the question remains: why did the
homicide rates increase generally in the late 1980s and early 1990s? With reference to
African-American rates, homicide detective – and later Chief of Police--Earl Sanders
joined Jomo Mfusai in suggesting that racism had to do with it. (In the article in the SF
Weeklly, Sanders is quoted as saying that racism played a part in the killings and
commented that if there had been this many unsolved homicides in North Beach there
would have been a massive task force right away. The police looked the other way for
half a century, nurturing a code of silence in poor black areas.)511
         The argument runs that societal lack of concern for the homicide deaths of young
blacks contributed to the proliferation of the killings. While, as has been demonstrated,
police and public apathy can contribute to increased rates of violence, it is not so certain
that the reasons are necessarily rooted in racial antipathy. The apathy regarding homicide
in latter-day urban American inner cities is similar to that found among nineteenth-
century San Franciscans--or residents of Bodie, Philadelphia, and other cities, for that

matter--who failed to become alarmed when young thugs were murdering each other in
saloons and gambling halls--as long as the violence did not involve the larger community.
And the perpetrators in those instances were for the most part white.
          One of the traditional ways to measure the treatment of minorities by the majority
society--employed by Clare McKanna and others, as well as for other groups in this
study--is to compare their rate of incarceration to the amount of homicide occurring in the
community. It is difficult to make the case that African-Americans and other people of
color were disproportionately punished in late-twentieth-century San Francisco. Indeed,
their rates of punishment correspond closely to the rates of homicide in their various
communities. From 1982 through the end of the century, people of color were responsible
for 72.9 percent of the homicide in which the racial or ethnic identity of the offenders is
known. According to the State Department of Justice, 34.8 percent of those convicted for
homicide in San Francisco between 1982 and the end of 1999 were non-Latino white, 5.6
percent were Latinos, and slightly more than 50 percent were African-Americans.512
During the same period, the corresponding ethnic breakdown of perpetrators for those
cases in which a perpetrator was identified is non- Latino whites, 24.6; Latino 15.1
percent; and black 46.7. There is the usual problem with identifying who is Latino but
that said, the one group we know to be over-represented among those convicted is non-
Latino whites.
         The widespread emergence of violent youth gangs out of different ethnic groups
at about the same time suggests that they were all responding to some common impulse.
Chinese, Latino, and African-American youth gangs shared many common features.
They were almost all comprised of single young males, the traditional population base of
violent young males in all societies. To varying degrees, the gang members were
alienated by the cultural divide between their own community and the society at large.
The gangs spent a great deal of time and murderous energy, like the hoodlum gangs and
warring tongs of nineteenth-century San Francisco, competing with those of their own
kind for precedence in the world they inhabited.513 Given their different histories and
relationships with the host societies, it is difficult to support minority maltreatment as the
genesis of the violent behavior.
         Joseph Marshall, co-founder of the Omega Boys Club, offers an interesting
explanation to account for the sudden rise of gang killings in the black community in the
1980s and early 1990s. Without offering it as the sole reason for the increase, Marshall
points out that the big increase followed the showing of the movie “Colors,” which
dramatized--if not encouraged--youth gang killings.514 At first blush, such a claim would
seem more suitable emanating from some group bent on suppressing first amendment
rights, but maybe Marshall is on to something.515 Ramiro Martinez suggests that “media-
created events may have exacerbated some gang homicides,” in the Latino community he
studied in Chicago. Again, while not offering it as a definitive explanation for the
increase in gang violence, Martinez offers it as one possible explanation. On one
occasion in Chicago, he reports, irresponsible news accounts about Latino gang activity
not only perpetuated the myth of the violent Latino gangbanger but may have actually
fueled increased recruitment.516
         The same sort of thing was credited with contributing to crime in the Asian
community about the same time. After the murderous raid by young Vietnamese
gangsters of an electronic store in Sacramento in 1994, Andrew Lam wrote, “To many

Vietnamese living in Sacramento these Hong Kong videos are the real culprit in the Good
Guys shootings. Gangster films like John Woo‟s „A Better Tomorrow‟ and „Bullet in the
Head‟ were the rage among Vietnamese youth in the late 1980s. It was in re-enacting
these gang shooting scenes, some speculate, that the gunmen coolly flipped coins to
decide which of the hostages would take the first bullet.” 517 The common experience of
the phenomenon in different ethnic communities suggests that we cannot discount the
media as a contributing factor to the youth gang violence.
         By the end of the century, in any event, homicide rates were down overall. The
national homicide rate for 1999, after decades of troubling increase, was 5.7 per 100,000
population, the lowest since 1966, when the rate was 5.6. Perhaps most dramatic were
reports from New York, the nation‟s largest city, where homicides declined more than 50
percent from 1992 to 1996 (from 1,995 to 984 homicides. In California, the homicide rate
declined from 12.1 per 100,000 in 1990 to 5.9 per in 1999.)
         A number of commentators pointed to the booming technology economy (and
corresponding high employment) as a major contributing factor for the decline. Others
said it was the changing post-Baby Boom demographic face of America which saw
smaller number of young males, the most murder-prone group in any society. Others
pointed to the effect of various law enforcement programs as having an effect. Law and
order advocates pointed to the “Giuliani miracle” which, by the enforcement of “quality
of life” violations in New York City, had brought the rate down. Others – often criminal
justice officials – said it was “three strikes and you‟re out” legislation which excised the
murder-prone from American society and placed them in jail. 518
         More liberal observers said it was community based-policing by the 85,000 new
officers provided by former President Clinton‟s 1994 anti-crime initiative that put
officers in closer touch with the communities they served. Some said it was better control
of firearms.519 One study argues that the legalization of abortion 20 years earlier reduced
the number of unwanted births, which previously resulted in much of the murder-prone
population of young males.520 Whatever the reason for the decline, it would be hard to
support the argument – in keeping with the theory that minority crime is traceable to
mistreatment by the majority community – that the majority community did anything
much differently in the early 1990s with regard to minority communities than they did in
the early 1980s. We can be sure that the disagreement will continue.
         Some still seem unwilling to accept that police enforcement can have a decided
affect on homicide rates. In response to a reporter‟s question about the district‟s homicide
rate in 1998, Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry replied “I‟m not going to let murder
be the gauge since we‟re not responsible for murders, can‟t stop murders.”521 One
argument against the idea of the efforts of the police as a universal factor to explain the
late-twentieth century reduction is that police responses are uneven, different from one
jurisdiction to another, and thus not suitable to explain widespread crime rate
fluctuations. But as shown in the late nineteenth and early-twentieth century police
innovations to address violent crime, police departments in different locales often
implemented the same sorts of procedures. That was also the case in late-twentieth
century urban America. Perhaps best known is the dramatic decrease in homicide rates in
New York brought about, it is claimed, by strong enforcement measures.
         Perhaps East Palo Alto, a small, mostly minority city on the San Francisco
Peninsula provides the best local example of what can be done. In 1992 the city‟s 42

homicides (in a city of 24,000) gave it an astounding criminal homicide rate of 175.4 per
100,000, earning it the unquestionable title that year as the nation‟s homicide capital.522
In late 1992, the police chiefs from two adjoining cities, Palo Alto and Menlo Park,
loaned officers to a joint three-city task force to help suppress the street drug trade in East
Palo Alto. County Sheriff Don Horsely added 20 deputy sheriffs to the effort and the
California Highway Patrol provided around-the-clock support to the enforcement efforts.
In 1993 the rate was down to 33 per 100,000 (8 cases).523 By the year 2000, the rate had
declined to 16.9, less than one-tenth of its 1992 high. 524
        Much has been made of the city‟s economic turnaround in the decade between
1990 and 2000. “Experts agree,” said a press report a decade later, “that one of the
strongest forces that pushed the number down to its lowest level since 1966,. . . is the
roaring economy that long ago reshaped San Mateo and has finally begun to influence the
small mid peninsula city of East Palo Alto.” 525 Doubtless, economic improvement is a
factor and, as always, there were other forces at work as well, and we must account for
the police intervention as an important factor. We would expect any change attributable
to economic improvement to have been gradual. The fact that the numbers declined
abruptly suggests the introduction of some more dramatic factor.
        (One does not encounter mention of another factor in most explanations for the
changed circumstance, but it was quite pronounced. Of the 23,451 population of East
Palo Alto in the 1990 census, 36 percent were listed as Latino, 42 percent were black, 9
percent Asian and Pacific Islanders, and 12 percent were non-Latino whites. By 2000,
with a total count of 29,506, the makeup of the population had changed markedly. By the
century‟s end, Latinos increased to 59 percent of the total. Blacks declined to about
23percent, and non-Latino whites to 7 percent. Asians and Pacific Islanders were about
11 percent.)526
        But the police don‟t operate in a vacuum. In the end, as with the Black Hand
assaults on the Italian community in the early twentieth century, the police must depend
on the cooperation and help in the victimized community. That too they received in San
Francisco‟s African-American community in the late twentieth century. When a beloved
black community leader was killed in gang crossfire in 1993, the reverend Amos Brown
said, “We want the community cleaned up, and we want you to know we will support
whatever it takes,” Brown told police.” We want police sweeps of those bad actors
(dealing drugs) with their pit bulldogs and pistols.” Some, fearing that all young black
males would be targeted by the sweeps, disagreed. Rev. Brown wasn‟t buying that line.
“The police know who the bad actors are,” he said, “and that‟s the group that should be
targeted.” It was with this sort of community support that police departments all over the
United States began to take a stronger stance toward crime. 527
(The Reverend Brown‟s hard line approach to black violence in the 1990s was not unique
to San Francisco. African-American Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris declared Oakland to be
under siege by violent criminals, and said that maybe emergency powers should be called
for. Practices under consideration were checkpoints to search for weapons and drugs, and
police barricades in high-crime neighborhoods. 528 In 1994, Atlanta Constitution editor
Cynthia Tucker reported that citizens of Robert Taylor homes in Chicago wanted to allow
police officers to randomly search their apartments and those of their neighbors. When
Georgia voters were presented with a chance to vote in a tough “two strikes and you‟re
out” amendment to the state constitution in November 1995, civil rights activists were

vocal in their disagreement with the measure, saying that the measure was unfair to black
men who commit a disproportionate amount of crime. But few blacks paid these leaders
any attention, said Tucker. Struggling black neighborhoods, she said, overwhelmed by
thugs who rob and rape, murder and maim, have started to ignore their leaders on the
subject of crime. The measure passed easily, with nearly 60 percent of black voters
supporting it.) And the results nationwide could be measured in the declining homicide
          Similar strong enforcement postures were evident in other large cities around the
country as well. In Detroit, the evidence of strong police measures emerges out of
complaints that the Detroit police were over-arresting in homicide cases. Using dragnets
and mass arrests of witnesses, police arrested 1,310 people in 430 murders cases in 1998.
This three to one ratio of arrests to incidents was far higher than in other American cities.
The same year Chicago made 753 arrests for 703 murders and Philadelphia arrested 309
or 380 homicides. According to one prominent criminologist cited in the Chronicle of
April 4, 2001 the criticism may reflect shifting attitudes toward police behavior. “Ten
years ago, crime was at record highs,” he said. “The public said “Bring down the crime
rate. Do what you have to do.”530 And former Chicago police Superintendent Leroy
Martin, an African America, raised the hackles of the American Civil liberties Union
when he suggested, “We need to take look at it (the Constitution) maybe from time to
time, to curtail some of these rights because they have gotten us into a position where
we‟re living in an armed camp.” He said, “lifting the provision against random searches
of people would help police do a better job.”531.
         As has been shown in the preceding chapters, a number of groups of minority
newcomers have arrived in San Francisco in the last 150 years, many of which had
disproportionate involvement in criminal violence to some degree or another. In most
instances, that involvement with criminal violence followed a similar trajectory. Violent
Australian criminals earned that group a reputation for disproportionate criminality
during San Francisco‟s turbulent Gold Rush founding. After a few exemplary hangings,
and the departure of a large part of their population to return to the Australian gold strike,
Australians as the typical example for criminally violent offenders in San Francisco
disappeared from the scene. Latino newcomers were similarly overrepresented in the
criminal dockets of the early boomtown city, but that representation declined as well as
their percentage of the population declined in the decades that followed.
         Irish, Chinese, and Italian newcomers, who at one time all figured prominently in
the story of criminal violence, had, by the middle decades of the twentieth century,
become unremarkably peaceable. More recently Chinese and Latino violence increased
as new waves of immigrants arrived, but have since resumed their low levels in San
Francisco, although the latest chapter on Latino criminal violence is even now being
written. 532
         In the end, those who believe that criminal violence by newcomer groups can be
traced to their treatment by the host society doubtless remain unconvinced by any
arguments to the contrary, just as those who are certain that the seeds of man‟s violent
propensities lie exclusively in his national or ethnic character will remain unconvinced
that mistreatment is a principal factor. But after looking at 150 years of criminal violence
in one city we are left with the understanding that both factors were at work. On balance
though, elevated rates of criminal violence probably had more to do with behaviors in the

offending group than is generally believed. Improving conditions and better acceptance
by the host group have had something to do with declining rates, but equally important, if
not more so, it is changed behaviors on the part of the newcomer society that brought the
rates down. And the activities of law enforcement agencies helped to some extent in
bringing about those behavioral changes.

        I spent my early youth in a working-class district of San Francisco in the 1940s.
One of the neighborhood kids – we can call him Jimmy Harrigan--was the son of a dock
worker. Jimmy was more adventurous than the rest of us, always dreaming up some sort
of minor mischief and, brilliantly--to our way of thinking--worming his way out of
responsibility if caught. It so happened that after one of his misadventures, a police
officer delivered Jimmy home to the expected righteous wrath of his parents. In those
days and in that neighborhood we tried mightily to avoid being taken home by the police;
the consequences could be painful.
         Jimmy‟s father worked nights on the waterfront and was home during the day
when the officer arrived with Jimmy. What makes the event stand out in memory is the
reaction of Mr. Harrigan when the officer brought Jimmy home. Instead of chastising
Jimmy, as would certainly have happened to any of the rest of us in similar
circumstances, Mr. Harrigan upbraided the officer, telling him he should have more
important things to do than interfere with the harmless mischief of his boy.
         It wasn't until much later that I understood why Mr. Harrigan might have
resented the officer‟s intrusion into his family‟s affairs. It had been only a few years since
the violent 1934 waterfront strike, during which police officers shot several of Mr.
Harrigan‟s longshoremen colleagues, two of them fatally. Mr. Harrigan‟s enmity toward
the police, whatever its effect on Jimmy, was understandable.
        I later had occasion to reflect on effect the childhood encounter between Jimmy,
his father, and the police officer might have had to do with shaping Jimmy's adult
character. Some years later, Jimmy fatally shot one supermarket employee and cut the
throat of another with a broken bottle in a fit of rage during a botched holdup attempt.
I‟m sure there was more to it than that, but at the time of the robbery/homicide I couldn't
help but flash back to that incident with the police and wonder whether Jimmy had been
set on the wrong path that afternoon when his father took his side against a societal
authority figure.
         As the twenty-first century began, overall homicide rates remained about the
same as for the closing decade of the twentieth century.533 The annual average rate for the
period from 2000 through 2003 was 8.2, compared to 8.7 for the last four years of the
preceding decade. The rate was still much lower than the equivalent period for the early
1990s, which had an average annual rate of 14.6. Within the overall figures, however,
some variations can be identified.
        Table 9.1.displays homicide victims by race and ethnicity as a percentage of the
total reported homicides for the three equivalent four year time periods being considered.
Table 9.1 goes about here
        The first thing to be noticed is that the number and percentages of the total of non-
Latino white homicide victims declined evenly from period to period. And with 43
percent of the population against a 22 percent victimization rate, they were
underrepresented. A number of variables help to explain these phenomena. For one thing
non-Latino whites declined as a percentage of the total population between 1990 and
2000 (from 46 to 43 percent of total). Also with an aging population whites would be less
likely to find themselves in situations where homicides are most likely to occur.
        The rates for both Latinos and Asians blipped up a bit in the closing years of the
century, as discussed in an earlier chapter, during a period of high gang activity. Both

groups settled down a bit in early twenty-first century. Latino homicide was fairly
proportionate to their group‟s representation in the community.534 Asians, with
approximately one-third of the population and 12 percent of the homicide victims, were
very much underrepresented.
        African-Americans who saw their percentage of the victim pool decline from 42
percent to 39 percent from the beginning of the 1990s to the end of the decade, realized a
sharp increase to 49 percent in the opening years of the new century, this at a time when
the group declined from 11 to 9 percent of the population. Why is that? Doubtless there
is residual rage attributable to past mistreatment in some segments of the African-
American community, which manifests itself in the high rate of black-on-black homicide,
as well as disproportionate amounts of criminal violence visited by blacks on whites. But
there is more to it than that.
         In the introduction to this study, the question was asked whether it matters if the
behavior that results in high rates of criminal violence is chargeable to the host society in
which the minority newcomers find themselves. Or, we can ask, “Is there something in
the culture of the newcomer group itself, which causes the violence.” In effect, does it
matter whether “structural” conditions encountered in the new community explain the
violence, or, on the other hand, whether the violence can mostly be attributed to a
“subculture of violence,” created and fostered in a community by historic circumstances
which may or may not still be relevant. To the extent that the behavior is traceable to the
conduct of the host society, either by the practices of its police employees or other forces
imposed on the minority group, changes in the host society with relation to its treatment
of minorities can be expected to improve the situation. To the extent that the behavior
reposes in the culture of the group of newcomers – however it came to be there – matters
can only be improved by the cultural adaptation of that group to a less harmful set of
        Just as there is no single reason why homicide rates declined toward the end of
the new century, there is no one reason to explain the increase since the century‟s turn.
Part of the way out of the situation may lie in the need to change attitudes among some in
the victimized community. In a recent opinion piece, African-American columnist Earl
Ofari Hutchison reported that “many studies have confirmed that the punishment Blacks
receive when the victim is white is far more severe than if the victim is Black.” 535 “The
implicit message,” Hutchison continues, “is that Black lives are expendable. This
perceived devaluation of Black lives by racism has encouraged disrespect for the law, and
has forced many Blacks to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others.”
Hutchison was referring to a 1999 Amnesty International report which declared that the
“system for administering the death penalty in the United States is fraught with racial
prejudice.” 536
        Not everyone agrees with that position. Capital punishment is one of those
subjects – like abortion and gun control – with passionate advocates on both sides of the
issue which contend with dueling studies, supported by complicated statistical
formulations, to support their diametrically opposite views on the topic.
        In California, based on their contribution to the homicide rate, blacks are under-
represented on death row. According to a California Department of Corrections Summary
published on March 31, 2002, non-Latino whites comprised 41.1 percent of death row
inmates, African-Americans made up 34. 4 percent and Latinos constituted 19.0

percent.537 These figures are proportionately comparable to rates of punishment and
crime incidence vis a vis ethnicity and race reported in the previous chapter.
         Without getting too far into the debate about punishment and crime, suffice it to
say that if the belief that blacks are disproportionately punished, is untrue, it is a
dangerous myth that can ignite rage leading to violence. And if a nominal leader like
MFusai says that black violence can be traced exclusively to white failures, and if it is
constantly reported that blacks are disproportionately punished, what can we expect but
that some young black men lash out.538 One is forced to wonder if those who refuse to
accept the facts and continue to cultivate feelings of grievance in the black community
are unwittingly contributing to the problem. If the above formulation is correct, change
on the part of the majority community will not be enough to stem the violence. The way
many blacks view crime and punishment must also change. To admit publicly the
shortcomings within a minority community risks playing into the hands of racists by
admitting what is really going on.539 But Clarence Page, Chicago Tribune columnist,
warns there are real consequences of failure to deal with the world as we find it. Page,
who can hardly be accused of being an appeaser, cites the high public visibility given to
white/minority crimes but the corresponding disinclination to discuss crimes by
minorities against whites, concluding that such double standards “may alleviate racial
tensions in the short run but generate inaccurate stereotypes with negative long-run
         One of the consequences of failing to deal with reality and take the measures
necessary to really solve the problem may be the high homicide rates such as those now
being experienced in Oakland, California.541 As long as a sense of grievance dictates the
terms of the discussion and the acceptable responses to street homicides, there is little
hope for resolution. “It‟s time to quit blaming everybody else for the problems in our
communities,” says Kerman Maddox, African-American businessman and teacher, who
urges black leaders to meet the issue of black-on-black violence head-on.542 There are
some indications that Oakland‟s black leaders are beginning to look past blaming the
larger society for the black community‟s problems as well.543 There remains work to be
done. In response to a rising homicide rate in 2003, Oakland police called on Alameda
County Sheriff‟s deputies and California Highway Patrol officers to beef up patrols on
high-crime areas, particularly on the weekends. Oakland City Councilman Larry Reid,
whose East Oakland District encompasses the most violent area, approves of the
increased patrols. However, he says, “I‟m waiting for the community to say, „We‟re fed
up and say, „We‟re not going to take this anymore.‟” But, he adds, “It hasn‟t happened
         Perhaps Bill Cosby‟s contribution to the conversation augurs well for the future.
During remarks at Howard University on May 17, 2004, America‟s beloved humorist
advised his fellow African-Americans to tone down blaming the police and to come to
grips with undesirable behaviors by some in the black underclass. As might be expected
some African-Americans feared that his remarks played into the hands of racists, but
others, notably NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, joined Cosby in calling for some
“tough love” to address the problems.545

Appendix 1
         Crime, according to one useful definition, is any act of commission or omission
“in violation of a law commanding or forbidding it,” to which a penalty involving fine,
imprisonment, or death is attached. 546 That definition embraces a broad variety of
activities, ranging from petty theft of a candy bar, to insider stock trading (much in the
news these days), to the ultimate act of unlawfully taking the life of another human being.
         One definitional breakdown, that used by the U.S. Department of Justice in its
annual compilation of crime in the United States (Uniform Crime Report or UCR), is to
divide crimes into those usually or potentially accompanied by violence (murder and non-
negligent manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and property
crimes which, while considered serious, do not usually involve personal violence
(burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and more recently, arson). 547
         It was the seeming upsurge of violence thought to threaten the citizenry‟s
collective personal safety that commanded national attention in the late 1960s, setting in
motion the massive examination which has since ensued. For that reason, most of the
studies on “crime” conducted in the last several decades, including this one, have focused
on crimes of violence. When researchers began to look to the past, they found that usable
records for most types of crimes were spotty at best. One notable exception was the crime
of homicide. Most societies have attempted to record the “ultimate” crime in some way,
albeit often in ways that make the records less than totally useful to modern researchers.
Because homicide records are most available, homicide is most often used as an index of
the amount of violent crime occurring generally in a society. 548
         For the sake of precision, some definitional issues must be addressed further. In
common usage, the terms “murder” and “homicide” are often used interchangeably. They
do not mean the same thing. Murder can be defined generally, in its simplest
manifestation, as the unlawful killing of another human being with “malice
aforethought.” Homicide is a much broader term and includes both criminal and non-
criminal categories. Non-criminal homicides include killings in self-defense, justifiable
homicides (as when a police officer lawfully kills a person in the line of duty), excusable
homicides, accidents (most vehicular accidents) and those executed by legal process.
Criminal homicide, on the other hand, the category used by the UCR to measure and
compare crime in its annual report, is comprised of murders and non-negligent
manslaughters. For purposes of uniformity of comparison with other times and places,
criminal homicide, as defined in the UCR, is the appropriate choice.
         Beyond that, problems remain for the scholar who wishes to compare modern
rates as compiled by the Justice Department and those from times past. Until the
development of the UCR in the 1930s, even homicide statistics were saved in ways that
make comparisons difficult, and those records that were retained, even for homicide, are
often incomplete. In the absence of full information, researchers have adopted a number
of creative accommodations to the fill the void. 549
          Theodore Ferdinand used arrest figures in his study of Boston homicide,
presumably all he had available.550 Arrest figures for nineteenth-century crime, while
widely available, often do not reflect the actual incidence of crime of any type. On the
one hand, they result in an undercount in those cases in which no arrest is made. The

other side of the problem occurs when multiple arrests are made for the same event. As
sometimes happens in high-profile cases, police “throw the book” at suspects to placate
public feelings. On several occasions in San Francisco in 1890s, prizefighters died in the
ring at a time when there was a lot of disagreement about whether boxing should be
permitted for a purse. On one occasion, eight people were arrested for homicide in one
case, everyone from the promoter to the water boy. Forever after, arrest figures used to
measure the amount of homicide for that year would be inflated by 25 percent.
         Roger Lane addressed the problem by using indictments as a comparative
measure of homicide in his studies of Philadelphia. This practice--as Lane was among the
first to point out--suffers from the same problem as arrests. 551 The use of indictments as
a measure of homicide presumably gets rid of the excessive numbers caused by mass
arrests that are thinned out before prosecution proceeds, but fails to get rid of the problem
of an undercount based on cases where the perpetrator(s) avoid arrest or commit suicide.
It often happened – even in the nineteenth century – that perpetrators were not identified,
let alone arrested and charged. The San Francisco district attorney reported filing six
homicide indictments (one manslaughter and five murder) in the first six months of 1883.
During the same period, by actual count, there were nine criminal homicides, fifty
percent more than those for which indictments were filed. As recently as the 1950s, as
many as 90% of homicides were solved, assuring a high rate of indictments.552 A few
decades earlier, however, when Brearly looked at the same phenomenon, he found a
failure-to-solve rate of 36 percent in Chicago in 1926 and 1927, a rate no doubt
attributable to the large number of unsolved gangland killings during Prohibition.553
          In our own time the problem is aggravated still more because in as few as 50
percent of homicide cases was a perpetrator even identified. In San Francisco in 1995
only 29 complaints were filed by the district attorney in the 100 cases of homicide.
Despite our nostalgic ruminations about the good old days of the nineteenth century
when, according to some, justice practitioners knew how to get the job done, it wasn‟t
always a sure thing. Out of 22 known homicides in San Francisco in 1876, ten went
unsolved. 554 So, of necessity, if arrests or indictments were used as the measure of
homicide that year, almost half of the cases would not have been counted. Indictments
and arrests, then, may be useful to show trends in homicide, but the problem comes in
when the figures based on this sort of source are compared with those from sources with
a more accurate count.
         Another source of information on homicide is the record of conviction and
sentences in court proceedings. These are often available in court records which tend to
be collected more completely than records of incidence kept by law enforcement
agencies. But conviction and penalty data share the same problem as that on arrests an
indictments in that they further reduce the number of cases considered. While still of
some utility, the reduced number of incidents doesn‟t allow for comparison with modern
records of incidence.
         By general agreement, the best, most complete source of data on the incidence of
homicide is the records of coroner‟s inquests listing the particulars on the victim and the
circumstances of the death. Coroner‟s records are not without problems of their own. In
July 1916, a period during which coroner‟s records in San Francisco remain intact, ten
named persons are known to have died in the Preparedness Day bombing, yet only six of
those are logged into the Coroner‟s Register. In his history of Marin County, California,

J. P. Munro-Fraser lists 31 homicides as having been committed between 1856 and
1880.555 The Coroner‟s Inquest Book for Marin County, however, which purports to
show all the inquests in cases from 1857 to 1910, includes only 13 (41.9 percent) of the
known cases, calling into question, for Marin County at least, the adequacy of record
keeping or record retention.556
        Some researchers, like Clare McKanna and John Boessenecker, tend to count all
homicides, including police shootings and executions, in their homicide counts. They also
include extralegal lynchings. But if homicide rates are to be compared with current rates,
they should to the extent possible be based on the same criteria. While technically
criminal homicides, lynchings--which were particularly common in early California--
inflate homicide rates in a way that makes the comparisons strained. The 47 lynchings
that occurred in California in 1854 translate into a rate of over 15 per 100,000 of
population by themselves. There was quite enough criminal homicide in California in
1854 without piling on the extralegal hangings, particularly when homicide rates are
compared from jurisdictions to jurisdiction.
        And why should such extralegal killings be used to add to the homicide rates
which are called up to justify their practice in the first place? Some researchers, Eric
Monkonnen and Roger McGrath among them, restrict their counts to criminal homicides
as defined by the Department of Justice. Monkkonen also excludes riot-caused deaths
which, if included for the 100-plus deaths in the 1863 draft riot, would distort any
comparison of what are essentially inter-personal crimes. A more horrific example would
be the 3,000 deaths in the World Trade Center terror attack in September 2001. They
were, by definition, all criminal homicides, and they happened in New York City, but
they should not be included in urban crime statistics that are being compared to other
jurisdictions. To the extent that the data is available, this study follows the criteria
employed by McGrath and Monkkonen in counting “criminal homicides” as defined in
the UCR. Where necessary, I also consider information on convictions and penalties.
Where available, and usable for comparison purposes, I also consider other types of
violent crimes, such as robbery, to make needed points.

Appendix 2
         San Francisco presents a unique problem to anyone trying to count nineteenth-
century homicides, a problem beyond that found in other jurisdictions. Most city records,
including coroners‟ registers, were destroyed in the devastating fire that followed the
great 1906 Earthquake. The only official statistics available for San Francisco in the
1850s, except for a scattering of arrest tabulations, are occasional newspaper reports from
City Sextons, citing the numbers of “killed and murdered” for a few years. It was thus
necessary to survey daily newspapers for the entire decade to obtain information about
the incidence of homicide in those years.557
         Beginning in the 1860s and continuing into the early twentieth century, the county
coroner issued annual reports, surviving in bound Municipal Reports, which contain
annual tallies of the number of homicides (murders and manslaughters) for most years.558
While these records do not contain the detailed information of inquest records they do set
out the total number of homicides in a given year according to the coroner‟s estimate for
that year.559 Overlaying these coroner‟s tallies for the years from 1857 through 1877, are
annual entries in city directories, which cite notable events for the year, including
murders. The number of such entries squares fairly closely with those obtained from
other sources.560
         Fairly complete Health Department annual summaries exist for the period from
the mid-1870s through the mid-1890s. In addition to providing a check on annual totals
arrived at from other sources, the Health Department statistics also provide information
on the ages of decedents as well as gender and race. When considered together with
selective readings of daily newspapers from 1860 through 1879 to cover gaps in the
statistics and to obtain details on the circumstances of individual cases, a fairly complete
picture of homicide emerges for the period.
          From 1880-1890, the San Francisco Daily Call published annual articles which
included the particulars on each homicide occurring in the year just past. The numbers of
homicides in these articles generally compared favorably with the numbers in coroner‟s
tallies.561 The absence of such annual compilations forced a full reading of daily issues of
local newspapers for the period from 1890 through 1905. Again the total number of cases
encountered compares favorably, in general, with the totals given in the coroners‟ tallies.
         Coroners‟ registers, showing victim information and the circumstances of their
demise, remain intact for the period following 1906. Coroners‟ records were examined
for the period up through 1939, and were supplemented with a judicious reading of
newspaper accounts of selected cases. For the period from 1940 to 2000, the San
Francisco Police Department Murder Book was used. This document, from which data is
drawn to report the city‟s homicide experience to the FBI for inclusion in the annual
Uniform Crime Report, contains information on the particulars of each homicide
committed in a given year.
         I compiled the information from these various sources into a data base of the
almost 7,000 criminal homicides which occurred in San Francisco from 1849 to 2000.
Are all San Francisco criminal homicides from that period included? The short answer is
no. No type of source can assure a full count. And there are enough indirect nineteenth
century newspaper references to homicides, for which the particulars, including dates, are

not known, to suggest that I didn‟t capture absolutely all of them. And there were
doubtless some undetected homicides as well.562
         Even modern counts, from which FBI figures are built, sometimes show curious
anomalies.563 As with anything assembled by humans, there are bound to be omissions
and imperfections, but the numbers here constitute a fair reading of homicide in San
Francisco in the last 150 years. And that will have to serve until such time as all records
of the past are digitized.
        No single book can aim to accomplish more than to begin to explore every aspect
of a century and a half of criminal violence in a major city. The foregoing study has thus
been restricted mainly to two lines of inquiry: the involvement of minority newcomers in
violent crime and what effect enforcement practices have had on the phenomenon. So
that others can carry the discussion further by addressing other aspects of the topic -- or
refuting or supporting the conclusions rendered here -- the database which forms the
foundation of the study has been archived at Ohio State University‟s Criminal Justice
Research Center.


    Personal correspondence with Eric Monkkonen.
    Ferdinand, “The Criminal Patterns of Boston since 1849,” American Journal of

Sociology 73 (July 1967) : 84-89.
    Lane, Violent Death in the City, 56-60.
    Butterfield, All God’s Children, 8.
    Vandal, Southern Violence p. 123
    McGrath, Gunfighters Hiwaymen and Vigilantes, Violence on the Frontier.
    McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice. He also studied Omaha Nebraska whose

population grew from 32,000 to 150,000 between 1880 and 1920, but its rate during those

years approximated those found in large eastern cities.
    Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 323..
    The rate disparity becomes seemingly even more confused when modern homicide rates

--with which historical rates are often compared-- are added to the mix. By the end of the

twentieth century, the national homicide rate was less than 6 per 100,000. Within that

figure, urban rates varied greatly, from 2.8 in San Jose California in 1999, to more than

40 in Washington D.C. and Detroit, cities which a few years ago had rates exceeding 70.

Rates in other cities in 1999 included Chicago 22.7, New York 8.9, Los Angeles11.6, and

San Francisco 8.5
     Courtwright, Violent Land, 13.
     Bellesiles, Arming America, 354.

     Mann, Unequal Justice passim, Tonry, Malign Neglect, passim, Martinez, Latino

Homicide, passim, and many others.
     Monkkonen, “Diverging Homicide Rates: England and the United States, 1850-1875,”

in Violence in America: The History of Crime Vol.1, Ted Robert Gurr (ed), 88. Lane

Violent Death in the City, 102-4, Woodham–Smith, The Great Hunger, 252.
      Dykstra, Cattle Towns, 114
      Daniels, Coming to America, 109.
     Graham, in Unguarded Gates, 103 quotes historian John Higham as claiming that

“immigrants are an unsettling force wherever they appear.”
     Myers, The History of Bigotry in the United States, 110.
     Wickersham, Commision Report No. 10, Crime and the Foreign born, 27.
     Lane, Violent Death in the City, 102-103.
     Eric Monkkonen attributes the relatively low level of homicide in Philadelphia to the

presence of the “Pennsylvania Dutch.” Monkkonen. “Diverging Homicide Rates:

England and the United States, 1850-1875, 99.
     Jewish gangsters did participate in Prohibiton-era violence but not to the same extent as

     In keeping with Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) practice, criminal homicide includes

murders and non-negligent manslaughters.
     Gurr, Violence in America Volume 1, 21.
     Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, 65. See also Mann, Unequal Justice, 74. Not all

agree. Proponents of biology as at least a partial explanation for violence have gained

some ground in recent years. See Courtwright, Violent Land, and Pinker, The Blank Slate.

     Crime in the United States 2001 Uniform Crime Reports, v.
     Wickersham, Crime and the Foreign Born, 416. See also Ramiro Martinez Jr. and

Matthew T. Lee, "On Immigration and Crime,” National Institute of Justice Criminal

Justice 2000: The Nature of Crime: Continuity and Change, vol. 1 , Gary La Free, Robert

J. Bursik Jr., James F. Short Jr., and Ralph B. Taylor (eds.) Washington D.C.: National

Institute of Justice, 2000), who assert that "the bulk of empirical studies conducted over

the past century have found that immigrants are typically underrepresented in criminal

     Monkkonen, “Diverging Homicide Rates: England and the United States, 1850-1875,”

6. Lane in Murder in America, 188, reports that homicide rates for immigrant Italians

during the first decade of the twentieth century were twice those of African-Americans

and twenty times that of non-Italian whites. And we would be hard put to convince the

residents of Boston in the 1840s when crime rates skyrocketed following the arrival of

large numbers of Irish famine immigrants that immigrants were not disproportionately

criminal. Woodham–Smith, The Great Hunger,252.
     Lane, Murder in America, 348.
     McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 45.
     Adler, “The Negro Would Be More Than an Angel to Withstand Such Treatment:

African American Homicide in Chicago, 1875 –1910,” in Lethal Imagination: Violence

and Brutality in American History, Michael A. Bellesiles (ed), 309 . So does Martinez in

Latino Homicide, 31.
     Lane, Murder in America,183.

     Stephen F. Messner and Richard Rosenfeld. “Social Structure and Homicide: Theory

and Research,” in Smith and Zahn (eds), Homicide a Sourcebook of Social Research,.

     Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, xiv.
     McKanna, Race and Homicide in Nineteenth Century California, 2.
     Hawkins “What Can We Learn From Data Disaggregation? The Case of Homicide and

African Americans,” Smith and Zahn, (eds), in Homicide A Sourcebook of Social

Research, 200.
     This is not to say that the societies from which the immigrants came were necessarily

and quantifiably homicidal. Rather, there were elements in those societies which, when

they found themselves in the new environment, were conducive to the growth of

homicidal violence.
     Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, xiii.
     Daniels, Coming to America, 3.
     Ibid., Daniels says on p. 238 that we used to ignore the Chinese as immigrants with the

“sojourner” argument. Now, he says, “few scholars any longer deny the relevance of the

Afro-American and Asian American experience for immigration history.”
     The substantial Encyclopedia of Chinese Overseas, Lynn Pan (ed), discusses the

various rebellions which afflicted nineteenth century Chinese but has no entry for

“crime” in its index.
     Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor: The Story of the Overseas Chinese, 19.
     Matthew C. Yeager, Immigrants and Criminality: A Meta Survey.

     Lane, Murder in America, 135.
     Sherman L.Ricards and George M. Blackburn “The Sydney Ducks: a Demographic

Analysis,” Pacific Historical Review XLII, February 1973.
     Mexicans In Gold Rush San Francisco, say Soule, Gihon et al, in their Annals of San

Francisco, 472, “in proportion to their numbers show more criminals in courts of any

than any other class.”
     Heizer and Almquist, The Other Californians, 147
     Powell, “Crime As A Function of Anomie,” in The Journal of Criminal Law,

Criminology and Police Science vol. 57, No. 2 (1966)
     Lane, Murder in America,183. “No ethnic group in the later nineteenth or early

twentieth century, neither the Jews fleeing the pogroms nor the Italians devastated by

cholera, was as desperate as the mid-century Irish, or as collectively pugnacious.”
     In special State Senate committee hearings in San Francisco in 1876 in April 1873,

Matthew Karcher, former chief of police of Sacramento, testified that “The Pacific Coast

has become a Botany Bay to which the criminal classes of China are brought in large

numbers. . . .” Chinese Immigration; Its Social, Moral, and Political Effect., 28.
     Douglas“20” Police Journal,. June 1926.
     Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.
     Gottfredson and Hirschi, A General Theory of Crime, 270.
     Terry McCarthy, “The Gang Buster,” Time, January 19, 2004. “Economics and

demographics are influences, not causes,” says Bratton. “It is a great disservice to the

poor to say they lose jobs and so become criminals.” See also Fox Butterfield “Crime

Fighting‟s About-face” New York Times, January 19, 1997. Malcolm Gladwell The

Tipping Point, 141 ascribes the “tipping point” in New York‟s dramatic decline to the

adoption of James Q. Wilson‟s “broken window” theory by means of which police

enforcement of even minor violations changed the “context” in which crime occurs.
     Crime in America, 1995, iv.
     Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 339.
     Tonry, Walker, Flowers, and Kennedy all devote chapters to the topic. However, says

Wilbanks, The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System, 4, "Though volumes have been

written on the topics of racism and crime, the literature examining the connection

between the two is sparse."
     Graham and Gurr (eds). VIOLENCE IN AMERICA, xi.
     Alta, January 3,5, 1851
     According to one modern account “There were several gangs in San Francisco at the

time.. . .Worst among these groups was the „Sydney Ducks,‟ a group of former Australian

convicts. It is believed they were responsible for large majority of the six fires that swept

the city between 1849 and 1851, until broken up by the Vigilantes.” San Francisco

Examiner, June 3, 1986
     “When in 1851,” according to one recent account, “it was reported that the number of

murders in the raw port of San Francisco had reached over one hundred, many committed

by robber bands such as the Sydney Ducks . . . . a committee of vigilance was

established.” Lane, Murder in America, 135.

     Mullen. Let Justice be Done, passim. Lane, a student of Philadelphia, is not to be

faulted. The legend has so insinuated itself into the fabric of the San Francisco‟s history

that it will probably never be extirpated.
     Los Angeles, with a homicide rate approaching ten times that of Gold Rush San

Francisco – and by contemporary accounts, not much robbery -- did not feel the need to

organize a vigilance committees like that in San Francisco.
     The same cannot be said for California generally. For reasons discussed in the next

chapter, the-non urban sections of California contributed the highest non-war-time

homicide rate in the nation‟s history.
     See Courtwright. Violent Land, passim. There are some exceptions. Monkkonen in

Murder in New York City, 102, found that the ages of nineteenth century New York

murderers were distributed more evenly across the age spectrum.
     Thompson and West, History of Nevada: 1881, 340. Their analysis embraces and

anticipates the arguments contained in any number of recent studies of frontier violence.

Walter Nugent in “Frontiers and Empires in the Late Nineteenth Century,” The Western

Historical Quarterly Volume XX November 1989 Number 4, distinguishes between

Type I peaceful farming frontier communities with balanced gender distribution and the

more violent Type II mining and cattle settlements which tended to be predominately

composed of unattached young males.
     Ethington, The Public City, 47, claims that 98 percent of the town‟s population was

male in 1849.

     Peterson Del Mar, Beaten Down, 51. See also Pinker Blank Slate, 333. who says that

“and Canada may be more peaceable than its neighbor in part because its government

[read justice system] outraced its people to the land.”
     McGrath, “A Violent Birth: Disorder, Crime and Law Enforcement, 1849-1890.”

Taming the Elephant: Politics Government, and Law in Pioneer California. (eds.) John

F. Burns and Richard J. Orsi., 28.
     Lane, Murder in America, 113
     And in that case, the principal defendant seems not to have been guilty after all. On

October 15, 1852 the pro-vigilante Alta reported that disclosures had been made tending

to show that Hall was innocent of the crime. There may have been others. Whittaker in

his confession (Williams The Papers of the Committee of Vigilance 1851, 474) speculates

that a man found dead named Gallagher may have been poisoned. Jenkins was

comforting the widow Connolly with undue haste after her husband died suddenly. Such

speculation about any group could be spun into a crime wave.
     Monaghan, Australians and the Gold Rush, 15.
     Ibid., 154.
     The Alta in late January 1850 reported that “someone, probably one of the most

desperate scoundrels of England who have been serving the Queen," -- set a fire on

Washington Street above Kearny. Following the fifth great fire, the California Courier

commented on June 16,1851 "immigrants from Sydney have been able to burn the city

over our heads four or five times. . . ."
     Mullen “Torching Old Time San Francisco” Californians Magazine. Jan/Feb 1991

     Ricards and Blackburn, “The Sydney Ducks,” Pacific Historical Review (February

1973). The only discernible evidence they present to show that the Australians were not

criminally disposed was the fact that Australians tended to be older than other immigrants

and tended more often to be married. Those factors, as a general rule, usually point to

lower rates of criminality but even a cursory examination of the activities of members of

the Australian community at that time would call that generalization into question.
     Senkewicz, Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco, 77-81.
     Of the Ducks, says Bateson in Gold Fleet for California, 119, “They were a minority, a

troublesome minority, but their brutal deeds were so widely publicized that responsible

Australians, with every intention of hard work and endeavor, found themselves shunned

and held in contempt on their arrival in California.”
     Mann, Unequal Justice, xi. See also Wilbanks, The Myth Of A Racist Criminal Justice

System, 59, who says people, including minorities, are more concerned about street crime

than white collar crime. "The average black (as well as white) citizen lives in fear of

muggers, robbers, and burglars, not price fixers, bribers, and embezzlers."
     Every piece in Gurr‟s 1989 Criminal Violence deals with criminal homicide and its

     Ibid., 14. “Contributors to this volume,” says Gurr, “reaffirm the common view that

homicide is the offense recorded most consistently over time and among jurisdictions. . .”
     Before the introduction of Uniform Crime Reporting in the 1920s and 30s, crime

reporting was very spotty, particularly for crimes other than homicide.
     “Homicides are one of the best benchmarks for examining the criminal justice system

because they are among the most clear cut best-reported and serious crimes,” according

to William Geller, as quoted by Seth Rosenfeld in the San Francisco Chronicle

December 6, 1999.
     When Kimbely Peace, 25, was gunned down in the Bernal Housing projects on March

13, 1995, her father, Andrew, was outraged. Society doesn‟t do enough to control crime

in the African American community, he charged. “They just don‟t care,” he fumed. “It‟s

just a dead black woman.”
     Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, 1:122.
     In 1989, the last year for which the San Francisco Police Department published

statistics on intergroup crime relationships, 69 percent of white robbery victims were

victimized by blacks. (9 percent of black victims were robbed by whites.) San Francisco

Police Department CABLE Incident Activity Report 1989.
     McGrath, “A Violent Birth,” 56. There were no more incidents for almost a year then

after another small spate of street robberies at the end of 1879 and beginning of 1880, the

Daily Free Press suggested that citizens go armed and form a committee of vigilance

such had been formed in other mining camps.
     Lane, “On the Social Meaning of Homicide Trends in America,” In Gurr, Violence in

America, 55.
     Lane, Violent Death in the City, 84.
     McGrath. Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes, 176-7 and 248-9
     Bell, Reminiscences of a Ranger, 14 Bell is well known to have embellished his stories.

In this instance, given his track record, if that was the case he could be expected to

exaggerate in the other direction.
      Monkkonen, Murder in New York, 107.

     Notably, none of those hanged by the first Committee of Vigilance was charged with a

homicide in San Francisco; they were all thieves. James Stuart probably killed a man in

Yuba County but technically that was none of San Francisco‟s concern. Vigilance

committees do not concern themselves excessively with technicalities. The point is that if

they were after simple murderers they had plenty of examples closer to home.
     Robbery is defined as taking goods from the person of another “by force or fear.”
     Alta, October 10, 1850. Williams, Papers, 266.
     Alta, December 13, 1850
     The rates in either case were ridiculously low by modern standards, attesting further to

our predecessor‟s absence of toleration for that type of crime. McGrath compares the

rates he found in Bodie to the rates of 1,140 in New York in 1980. The 1980 rate for San

Francisco was 1,161. But the Gold Rush rate in San Francisco was very high for the time.
      Gustav Bergenroth, “The First Vigilante Committee in California.” Magazine of

History, extra number -- No. 151, p, 143-49. Tarrytown, New Your: William Abbatt,

1929 as mentioned in Adams, The Disputed Lands, 259.
      No mention is made of the police. Under the best of circumstances there would have

been no foot patrols that far from the central business district.
      When the justice system was organized, no thought had been given to the

establishment of a detective police to follow up on crimes. This function was assigned to

the San Francisco police department in 1853.
      Soule et al, Annals, 324.
      Alta, February 21, 1851.
      San Francisco Evening Picayune, January 6, 1851.

      Viewed objectively, well removed from the emotion of the moment, it‟s hard to see

what else the judge could have done legally, but vigilance committees tend not to be

swayed by such technicalities.
      In the “Official Announcement of the Committee of Vigilance,” published on June

13, 1851, just after Jenkins‟ hanged, the committee addresses robberies and arson fires

but makes no mention of homicide, (Mary Williams History of the Committee of

Vigilance 1851, 459). The legend of 100 homicides was concocted after the fact to lend

support to the extrajudicial proceedings.
      Monaghan, Australians and the Gold Rush, 154.
      Bancroft, California Inter Pocula, 235. On August 5, 1850 the San Francisco Board

of Aldermen enacted a resolution which prohibited aliens from engaging in draying,

driving hackney coaches, rowing boats for the conveyance of passengers, or selling

spirituous liquors.
      Hughes, The Fatal Shore, 159.
      Ibid., 356. The small percentage of Australian born defendants reverses what many

have found to be the case elsewhere where children are more criminal than their parents.

Hughes xiii says “the post-colonial history of Australia utterly exploded the theory of

genetic criminal inheritance. Here was a community of people, handpicked over decades

for their „criminal propensities‟ and for no other reason, whose offspring turned out to

form one of the most law-abiding societies in the world.”
      Monaghan, Australians and the Gold Rush, 121. For the last three months of 1849 and

first three months of 1850, 12.5 percent of emigrants from Sydney and 21 percent of

those from Tasmania were ex-convicts. Although Senkewicz, Vigilantes in Gold Rush

San Francisco, 79, adds the modifier “only” to these figures, the nineteen percent of the

male immigrants so classified amounts to a large percentage of ex-convicts in any

community. Roscoe Pound is supposed to have commented that if as little as fifteen

percent of a society refuses to play by the group‟s rules, that society will disintegrate.
      Williams, Papers, 469.
      Ibid., 227.
       Monaghan, Australians and the Gold Rush,154. Also says Monaghan, “It is notable

that some of the upper-class Australians . . . either helped, or were members of, the

committees that met incoming vessels and prohibited some of their own countrymen from

      Referring to Sydney-town, the near contemporary Annals pointed out, 566, “Even the

police hardly dared to enter there; and if they attempted to apprehend some known

individuals, it was always in a numerous, strongly armed company. Seldom, however,

were arrests made. The lawless inhabitants of the place united to save their luckless

brothers, and generally managed to drive the assailants away.”
      In possible defense of the officers, according to Theodore Hittell, "Stuart's confession

endeavored to involve various other persons against whom he evidently held grudges. No

one [at the time] put much faith in his statement on account of its source and its mean and

treacherous spirit." Hittell, History of California 3:324.
      Williams, Papers, 322.
      Alta, August 25, 1851.
      Commenting on the November 1850 killing of Michael McMahon by Arthur

O‟Connor, the Alta remarked that such incidents were becoming common and suggested

the passage of an ordinance requiring each gambling house to maintain one or more

policemen at its own expense, not so much to stop the assaults but to arrest the offenders.

Whether any such practice would have been effective is problematical. Officer Phineas

Blunt in his journal entry for Thursday, November 28, 1850 mentioned that “Two

policeman were present yet Arthur [O‟Connor] was not arrested.” Blunt Journal entry for

Wednesday November 28, 1850.
      Ibid., 47.
      Ibid., 51.
      Ibid., 48 and 68. See also Nugent “Frontiers and Empires in the Late Nineteenth

century,” 403. “Because of the early presence of governmental authority (especially the

Mounted Police), Canadian frontiers escaped the violence that marred some of the

American ones. The Canadian experience shows that the social pathology of the United

State‟s Type II frontiers were not an inevitable consequence of the demography.”
      Del Mar, Beaten Down, 52.
      Ibid., 49.
      Monkkonen, in “Diverging Homicide Rates,” 93. Fisher in Joey the Hitman: The

Autobiography of a Mafia Killer, on, 20, asserts that England is the only western country

without organized crime, and attributes that phenomenon in part to the uniformity of laws

and the promptness with which justice is administered. His assertion may be overstating

the case but there is something to the argument.
      Del Mar, Beaten Down, 50.
      Alta, June 19, 1851.
      San Francisco Picayune, July 18,1851.

      And the figure for the latter year was inflated by the commission of 38 burglaries by

one two man team in February and March 1852 which ended with the burglars‟ arrest.
      Wolfgang, Patterns in Criminal Homicide, 191.
      Thompson and West, History of Nevada: 1881, 431-3.
      The formation of the vigilance committee in 1851 coincided with the news of the great

Australian gold strike and many Australians returned home. There remained about 2500

in San Francisco in 1852 but they did not make the same pronounced mark on the

criminal justice record that they had prior to the establishment of the committee.
      Townsend, The California Diary of General E.D. Townsend. Malcolm Edwards (ed),

      Alta, December 11, 1852.
      Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, 1:746. More recently this interpretation turns up as “Jose

Forner (sic) was apprehended and executed for a crime that probably would have gone

unnoticed had he come from Pike County[Missouri] rather than Valencia in old Spain”

Watkins and Olmstead, Mirror of the Dream, 47.
      McKanna, Race and Homicide, 108.
      Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, 3.
      Martinez tends to agree with that general assessment. Any over-representations of

Latinos in criminal statistics, he says, “appear to be linked more to differences in

structural conditions across areas where immigrants settle rather than to cultural

traditions of the immigrant groups.” Martinez, Latino Homicide, 31.
      Castillo and Camarillo, Furia y Muerte: Los Bandidos Chicanos, 2.

      Hietter, “A Surprising Amount of Justice: The Experience of Mexican and Racial

Minority Defendants Charged with Serious Crimes in Arizona, 1865-1920,” Pacific

Historical Review Volume 70 Number 2, May 2001,186, reports that “Mexicans received

relatively fair treatment far more often than most scholars have acknowledged.”
      Wilbanks, The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System, 21, says that if we accept

black crime as determined by white behavior toward them then logically the white

behavior is equally determined by some source outside themselves.
      There is simply insufficient information to discern any relationship between the Latino

immigrants and the police department specifically in San Francisco, so the treatment of

the newcomers by the justice system generally will be assumed to reflect that of police

      This formulation ignores the Indian population. While an important part of the

criminal justice story of the state, Indians do not play a large role in the story of

American San Francisco.
      Eldredge, The Beginnings of San Francisco, 202.
      Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, 1:162,agrees. "There were then no jails, no juries, no

sheriff, law processes or courts," he wrote of the period prior to the American arrival,

"conscience and public opinion were law and justice held an evenly balanced rule.”
      Private correspondence. In fairness to the Latinos, it must be noted, he also calculates

a rate of 206.1 in the seven years following the American conquest.
      Robert Dykstra, “Field Notes Overdosing on Dodge City,” Western Historical

Quarterly, Winter 1996, 510.

      Dykstra, Cattle Towns, 144, points out that there was only an average of 1.5

homicides per year in the supposedly murderous Kansas cattle towns in the 1870s. Those

who disagree with his conclusions point out that this translates into an annual rate of 160

per 100,000 in 1878 Dodge City. McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 8.
      William Heath Davis. Seventy Five Years in California, 288-89. San Francisco‟s

population broke down to about 60/40 non-Latino white to Latino
      Mullen, “Crime Politics and Punishment in Mexican San Francisco,” The

Californians, Jan/Feb 1990.
      Mann, Unequal Justice: A Question of Color, 11. “Latino Americans [Mexicans,

Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and other Latino Americans] have generally been examined as an

entity, with a resultant loss of the cultural nuances of each group, The Diversity of these

groups and the scant data available on each subgroup limit any in depth discussion of

each one.”
      Carlos U. Lopez, Chileans in California: A Study of the 1850, 1852, & 1860 Census.
      Monaghan, Chile Peru and the Gold Rush,57.
      Ibid., 20.
      In California in the 1990s, for example, the urban rate averaged 9.1 per 100,000

compared to 4.5 for rural areas. California Department of Justice Statistics.
      As late as the 1920s, California‟s rural rate (8.18) exceeded the 7.98 urban rate. H.C.

Brearly, Homicide in the United States, 153.
      Lane, Murder in America, 296. Through most of the history of America and England,

cities generally were more peaceable than the countryside and had lower murder rates.
      Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 19.

      Shover, in Chico’s Lemm Ranch Murders and the Anti-Chinese Campaign of 1877, 11,

cites Walter M. Fisher (The Californians London: McMillan, 1876) as commenting

“There is difficulty in accounting for the fact that a majority of rural Californians sleep

with a rifle in their bedroom, and a travel revolver in their pocket.” The first California

enactments prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons specifically exempted

travelers in transit.
      McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 163, reports very high rates in the seven

nineteenth century California counties he studied. However, he reports “Sacramento, the

most urban county, had the lowest [homicide] rate,” of the seven. Boessenecker

establishes a rate of 414 in Los Angeles County, a jurisdiction with a predominately rural

population of 8,500 in 1851. Boessenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke, 323.
      “Homicide Calendar for California for the Year 1854,” Daily California Chronicle

December 30, 1854. Also the Daily California Chronicle January 5, 1856. Homicides

and group killings involving Indians and lynchings were not counted for the purposes of

this exercise. This is a study of interpersonal violence and many of the killings of and by

Indians amounted to casualties in what was in effect a guerrilla war. Lynchings in this

context will be adjudged not so much as crimes but as the community response to crime.
      “Legend has it,” says Roger McGrath, “that the bandidos were old Californians

displaced by the arrival of thousands of Yankees. Actually, many of the bandidos were

recent arrivals from Mexico.” McGrath. “A Violent Birth, Disorder. And Law

Enforcement in the Gold Rush” Taming the Elephant, 28.
      Hittell, History of California 3:713. Lee Johnson, Roaring Camp, 32. Thornton,

Searching for Joaquin, 81,90.

      Clare V. McKanna “Ethnics and San Quentin Prison Registers: A Comment on

Methodology,” Journal Of Social History Carnegie-Mellon University 18, no. 3, 481.

According to one account, between 16 to 20 percent of San Quentin‟s inmates were

Spanish-speaking, “an extraordinarily high figure, even considering inflation to allow for

Yankee prejudice in law enforcement, because Latinos were then only roughly 10 % of

the population.” Jean Sherrell “California Bandidos: A Yankee Perspective” The

Californians, May/June 1985, 11. Linda Parker found much the same thing in her 1992

study of three nineteenth century California counties. Indeed, she claims, the pattern of

disproportionate treatment persists. Linda S. Parker “Superior Court Treatment of Ethnics

Charged with Violent Crimes in Three California Counties, 1880-1910,” Southern

California Quarterly. Fall 1992, 243.
      Heizer and Almquist, The Other Californians, 147.
      Mirande, Gringo Justice, 25.
      Mann, Unequal Justice, 101. Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, 95.
      “Homicide Calendar for California for the Year 1854” Daily California Chronicle

December 30,1854. The Daily California Chronicle January 5, 1856.
      See Frederick Wirt, Power in the City., 245 “The flood of forty-niners diluted the

state‟s contingent of those of Spanish, Mexican, or Latin American origin. Succeeding

waves of Anglo immigrants thinned their proportion out even more. . . . ” It is estimated

that Mexicans constituted 15 percent of the state‟s population in 1850, and 12 percent in

      Heizer and Almquist, The Other Californians, 147.
      Soule et al, Annals, 472.

      Heizer and Almquist, The Other Californians, 147.
      Mullen, Let Justice Be Done.
      The authors of The Annals, 257, didn‟t think much better of anyone, it must be noted.

They also included descriptions of “Russians with furs and sables. . . .; great numbers of

tall, goat-chinned, smooth-cheeked, oily – locked, lank-visaged, tobacco-chewing, large-

limbed and featured, rough, care-worn, careless Americans from every State of the

Union, dressed independently in every variety of garb, not caring a fig what people

though of them, but determined to „do the thing handsomely,‟ and „go ahead;‟ fat,

conceited, comfortable Englishmen, who pretended to compete in shrewdness with the

subtle Yankee – as if it were the „manifest destiny‟ of Jonathan, everywhere, but

especially on his own ground., to Outshine John! There the were bands of gay, easy-

principled, philosophical Germans, Italian and Frenchmen of every cut and figure, their

faces covered with hair, and with strange habiliments on their person, and among whom

might be particularly remarked numbers of thick-lipped, hook-nosed,ox-eyed, cunning,

oily Jews.”
      McGrath, “A Violent Birth: Disorder, Crime, and Law Enforcement, 1849-1890”
      Boessenecker, “California Bandidos: Social Bandits or Sociopaths,” Southern

California Quarterly Winter 1998.
      The first two commitments to state prison on a homicide charge from San Francisco

were Latinos. Jose Contreras was sentenced to three years in state prison for the

November 1851 killing of a workmate in a drunken dispute and Dolores Martinez, a 19

year old prostitute from Mexico, was sentenced to one year in San Quentin for killing

another prostitute in a Kearny street dancing saloon. San Quentin Prison Register.
      Any estimate of rates by sub-groups in San Francisco in the early 1850s is necessarily

inexact due to the uncertainty about population figures. Thodore Hittell History of

California 3:412 estimates a population of 3000 “Spanish Americans” in his estimate of

50,000 as the San Francisco population in 1853. The 1852 census numbers 1500 Chileans

residing in San Francisco. We can never know for sure, but given the well known

departures for home in the early 1850s, the San Francisco Latino proportion of the

population was probably less than for the state as a whole. The number was probably

higher than Hittell estimates in the earlier years and lower in the later, which leaves his

proportion as a good working average upon which to estimate rates for the decade.
      McKanna in “Ethnics and San Quentin Prison Registers,” says “The prison register

data suggest that the treatment of minorities by the legal system seems to have been fairly

equal during the sentencing procedure.” Even though more Latinos were sentenced, he

says, they received the same sentences as whites for the same type of crime. “Prison

registers,” he continues, “however, must be used with a great deal of caution: they are

not, for example, a reliable indicator of crime rates.”
      Nancy J. Taniguchi in “Weaving a Different World: Women and the California Gold

Rush,” California History Summer 2000.
      In the first half of the decade between 1850 and 1854 San Francisco suffered five

robbery homicides in two of which perpetrators were clearly identified, one of which was

the Forni case The other was the case of Joseph Daniels who killed his business partner,

Peter Petit, in August 1849 in which the case was eventually dismissed by a court

because of legal insufficiencies. In the other cases perpetrators were never identified.
       Bancroft. Popular Tribunals 1:48
       Pitt, Decline of the Californios, 75.
       Wolfgang and Ferracuti, The Subculture of Violence, 281. To this day Mexico has a

national homicide rate three times that of the United States.
       Thornton, Searching for Joaquin, xii.
       Wirt, Power in the City, 245, estimates a Latino population of the state in 1870 at four

percent of the total. The figure was probably lower for San Francisco.
      Lloyd, Lights and Shades in San Francisco, 58.
       Gurr, Violence in America Vol.1,,35, cites Paul. L. Gilje as claiming that the Irish

“injected a more virulent strain of violence into the popular disorder.” “Irish immigrants,”

says Gurr, “appear with far greater than chance frequency in police records and accounts

of public disorder from the 1840s onward.”
       Lane, Violent Death in the City, 103.
       Lane, Murder in America, 117.
       Monkkonen, Murder in New York City, 138. Speaking of mid-nineteenth century New

York, Monkkonen says “At this juncture, it is reasonable to claim that young Irish and

German males were slaughtering each other in New York City, that at mid-century

homicide was an ethnic problem.”
       Elwin H. Powell, “Crime As A Function of Anomie,” in The Journal of Criminal Law,

Criminology and Police Science, vol. 57, No. 2 (1966)
      McCann, The Fighting Irish, 9.

      O Hogain, Celtic Warriors, 9. “Keltoi” the Greek word for “Celt” comes, according to

Daithi O Hogain, “from the Indo-European root *Kel (meaning „to strike‟). . . . The

original meaning of the term Celts would therefore appear to have been „warriors.‟”
      Ibid., 17.
      Wickersham, Crime and the Foreign Born., 71, Brearly Homicide,40-41. Matthew G.

Yeager Immigrants and Criminality: A Meta Survey. Ministry of Citizenship and

Immigration, Government of Canada, 1996, Samuel Walker, Cassia Spohn, and Miriam

LeLone. Mann, The Color of Justice, 75.
      It is a widely observed phenomenon. Handlin, The Uprooted, 162-3. Thrasher, The

Gang, 252 and 489. Sanchez Jankowski, Islands in the Streets. Jackson and McBride,

Understanding Street Gangs,10. Melissa Hung “Lost Generation” East Bay Express,

June 12, 2002. “Dr. Paul Nieuwbeerta, a criminologist with the Netherlands Institute for

the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement, notes that the Dutch have found in recent

years that the children of older immigrants tend to engage in more delinquent behavior

than their parents.” Personal correspondence.
      See Alejandro Portes, “For the Second Generation, One Step at a Time,” in

Reinventing the Melting Pot: The New Immigrants and What it Means to be An

American, 158-162. Portes ascribes the phenomenon to discrimination by the host society

and the fact that many newcomers are forced to live in neighborhoods imbued with

criminal pathologies which hold out attractions to their children.
      Monkkonen, Murder In New York City, 138 and 220.
      Lane ,Violent Death in the City, 103.

      Leyburn in The Scotch Irish, 332, claims that “the Scots who lived in Ulster before

they came to America simply were not, in background, religion, and many other aspects

of culture, identical with the Irish of the southern provinces of Leinster, Muster, and

Connaught. . . . .” See also Webb, Born Fighting, 15.
      Nisbett and Cohen, Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South, 8.
      Dinnerstien and Jaher, The Aliens, 7.
      Ibid., 79. “[N]o ethnic group of this period (1850s) except for the Indians and the

blacks, endured greater deprivation than the Irish” “The Irish were also overrepresented

in proportion to their percentage of the population in crime and poverty.”
      Burchell, San Francisco Irish, 184-5.
      Virginia City Nevada had 8 homicides in 18 months following the discovery, a

boomtown rate of 176 per 100,000, according to Roger McGrath in “Violence and

Lawlessness on the Western Frontier” in Gurr, Violence in America, 135.
      It was as recent as 1990 that Gottfredson and Hirschi made their assertion that “No

evidence exists that augmentation of police forces or equipment, differential patrol

strategies or differential intensities of surveillance have any effect on crime rates.” A

General Theory of Crime, 270.
      Dykstra, Cattle Towns, 114. “Primary responsibility for these homicides,” he says,

“must be laid to the lack of any systematic efforts to suppress violence in the as yet

municipally unorganized Communities.”
      Lane, Murder In America,182. Vandal, Rethinking Southern Violence, 134.
      Bancroft, Popular Tribunals, 2:641.
      Martin Burke Dictation, Bancroft Library

      His party declined to nominate him for reelection in 1866 in part because of his

implacable efforts to clean up the city‟s vice districts.
      The Chinese homicide rate had its own unique temporal trajectory during the

nineteenth century and is thus not included in this part of the discussion.
      The problem of identifying Irish men from their surnames alone is illustrated by the

names of the three Irish men hanged in the 1850s. We happen to know from other

sources, for instance, that the William Morris who killed Doak in San Francisco in 1858

was a Gaelic-speaking Catholic, born in Southern Ireland. But if we had only his surname

to go on, we would have to entertain the possibility that he could well have been from

another of the British Isles, and not what anyone would consider a member of the Irish

      One, and perhaps two, of the eight hanged by the vigilantes were Irish.
      Municipal reports, 1871-72.
      A number of origins of the word hoodlum have been advanced, but all trace its source

to San Francisco in the late 1860s and early 1870s. It is most likely to have derived from

the Bavarian German hodalump, which means exactly the same thing. Southern Germans

made up a large foreign language group in San Francisco in the 1870s, and many were

small merchants who kept combination grocery store/saloons favored by hoodlums with

their custom.
      Public perceptions about the prevalence of youth oriented violence are validated by

the age trends reflected in the San Quentin Prison Register. Twenty two percent of those

imprisoned for homicide in the 1860s from San Francisco were under 30 years of age.

During the 1870s that proportion more than doubled to than 45.6 percent
       In response to assertions that Chinese themselves were racist, Chen in Chinese in San

Francisco, 1850-1943, 30, asserts that the Chinese had a sense of cultural superiority but

since their biases were directed at all non-Chinese people, they cannot be construed as

      Sowell, Migration And Cultures: A World View, 28 and 227. Horowitz, The Deadly

Ethnic Riot, 3. Sowell, Ethnic America, 133. McClain, in In Search of Equality, 10,

accepts Theodore Hittell‟s argument that the antipathy toward California‟s Chinese was

largely economic in its origins, saying “Beneath all the surface rationalizations,” the

gravamen of the complaints aginst the Chinese was that “they worked too hard (often for

less pay than others were willing to accept), saved too much, and spent too little.” They

also looked and behved differently from the majority population.
      Alta, July 8, 1851.
      Shearer, The Pacific Tourist, 281.
      Rodman Paul, "The Origin of the Chinese Issue in California." in Dinnerstein and

Jaher. The Aliens, 164. "Beyond all these social differentiations the Chinese established

for themselves a peculiar economic position." See also Chua, World on Fire: How

Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability.
      After the troubles in 1876 and 1877, the numbers fell off to a yearly average of

slightly more than 9,000 a year in the period between 1877 and 1881. In 1882, the year

the Exclusion law suspending the immigration of laborers was enacted, 39,500 Chinese

newcomers got in under the wire. Thereafter the average annual rate declined.

      Swain in The New White Nationalists, 120, cites Donald, Green, Robert,Abelson and

Andrew Rich in “Defending Neighborhoods, Integration and Racially Motivated Crime.”

American Journal of Sociology 104 (1998) 372-403. “Green and colleagues argue that

demographic change is more likely to bring about racial and ethnic violence than

downturns in the economy as dominant groups succumb to an impulse to defend

neighborhoods and areas they consider their territory.”
      “The Chinese formed a distinct class which enriched itself at the expense of the

country,” noted one contemporary observer, “abstracting a large portion of its latent

wealth without contributing in a degree commensurate with their numbers to the

prosperity of the community of which they formed a part.” J.D. Borthwick. “Three years

in California,” in Milo Quaife, Pictures of Gold Rush California, 237.
      Chen Chinese in San Francisco, 217. and 262-3. Chen disagrees with the idea of the

Chinese as “sojourners,” explaining that the traveling “back and forth across the ocean,”

which characterized Chinese immigrant behavior from the start really spoke to the “trans-

Pacific” nature of their community.
      Chinese Immigration: Its Social, Moral, and Political Effect. Matthew Karcher ex-

chief of police for Sacramento testified that the presence of the Chinese are largely

responsible for the Hoodlum problem. “[I]n other countries boys find employment in this

light work, but here it is done by the Chinese.”
      One of the most notable nineteenth century street gangs, the Telegraph Hill

Rockrollers, earned its name for rolling large stones down the hill on Chinese

laundrymen crossing the streets down below.
      Lloyd, Lights and Shades, 297.

      Thistletons‟s Illustrated Jolly Giant, May 22, 1875.
      San Francisco Chronicle, November 25, 1869.
      Daniels. Coming To America,, 109 –10. German immigrants just about matched the

Irish in numbers in the first great wave of European immigration in the nineteenth

century. In all 2.5 million Irish immigrated to the United States between 1850 and 1890.

During the same period 3.7 million came from German States.
      Monkonnen, Murder In New York City, 138. Lane Violent Death In the City, 103.

Jeffrey S. Adler. “We‟ve Got a Right To Fight; We‟re Married”: Ethnicity, Race, And

Domestic Homicide In Chicago, 1875-1920.”
      The coroner in 1885 issued a report of the nativity of the 142 homicide victims

between July 1,1879 and June 30 1885. Of the 142, 25 (17.6%) were shown as being born

in Ireland. This at a time when Irish born constituted 13 percent of the total population.

Municipal Reports 1880-1885.
      Coroners tabulations in Municipal Reports.
      San Quentin Prison Register.
      Carolyn Conley, in her study of criminal violence in late nineteenth century Ireland

found “some degree of alcohol consumption seems to have been present in almost every

case.” See “Irish Criminal Records,” Eire-Ireland (Spring 1993), 103.
      These are all from the cases for which suspects are convicted and sentenced so we can

be sure of their nativity
      Bayor Neighbors In Conflict, 2- 3.
      Dinnerstein and Jaher, The Aliens, 78. AlsoWickersham, Crime and the Foreign

Born, 41. Burchell, San Francisco Irish, 60.

      Conley, Melancholy Accidents, 1 and 214.
      Ibid., 8. The very title of Conley‟s book, Melancholy Accidents, which refers to the

Irish conception of what in the United States would clearly be criminal homicides as

“accidents” -- or behavior beyond the control of the perpetrator -- should warn us of the

strong possibility that the nineteenth century Irish might not have been too attentive to

reporting criminal violence to the authorities, particularly that which did not result in

      Ibid., 7. “Clearly, there were social sanctions in force against reporting crimes to the

authorities,” she reports of the period of her study. “Persons who testified for the

prosecution were often subjected to public condemnation, if not physical attack.”
      O‟Donnell, The Irish Faction Fighters of the 19th Century, 9. Perhaps significantly,

the practice got its start in Tipperary, William Morris‟ home county.
      Conley, Melancholy Accidents, 20, 36.
      Thrasher, The Gang, 212.
      Conley, Melancholy Accidents, 33. As one judge explained it,“A man might attack

another with his fists or with his walking stick but the use of the knife was a treacherous

and serious thing.” The jurist characterized the practice as “the importation from a

foreign country.”
      See Anthony R. Harris, Stephen H. Thomas, Gene A. Fisher, David J. Hirsch “Murder

and Medicine: The Lethality of Criminal Assault 1960-1999” Homicide Studies Volume

6, Number 2, May 2002. Homicide is usually a good index but for reasons shown below

(less use of traditional weapons of assault) not so useful in estimating the total amount of

Irish violence.

      Asbury, Barbary Coast, 158.
      Black, You Can’t Win, 152.
      Table 4.1 goes here

There seems to be something to the belief that Latinos were more inclined to use knives

than others, at least in earlier times. That may be accounted for by the fact that nineteenth

century Latinos both by tradition and economic circumstance would be less likely to have

a firearm. In modern times at least in San Francisco, Latinos are as likely to use firearms

as anyone else. And the Chinese, from early on were as adept at the use of firearms as

were others despite their association with lather‟s hatchets as a principal tool of

      Conley, Melancholy Accidents, 214. “[The Irish] homicide rate was well below that of

England and Wales. Premeditated murder was rare as were violent robbery and sexual

assaults.” “The bulk of Irish violence was personal,” she continues, which is more an

argument about the types of violence encountered than its amount. Based on her own

description of events in late nineteenth century Ireland there was obviously much more

non-fatal violence that did not make its way into the records. All observations, except for

the rate of actual homicides, would apply to the American Irish as well.
      Lane, Murder in America, 181.
      Ibid., 187. The Irish, once had the highest rate of any major group in Philadelphia .

Toward the century‟s end the rate of indictments among those with Irish surnames fell to

1.8 per 100,000 or well be low city wide average.
      Ibid., 186.
      Ibid., 183.

      Daniels, Coming to America, 141. And the gender ratios of Irish immigrants changed.

In the period from 1851 to 1880, the ratio of male to female immigrants was 1.14 to 1,

and from 1880 to 1910 the ratio shifted from .98 to 1. This would have had some effect

on homicide rates.
      Godfrey, Neighborhoods in Transition, 74.
      Meagher, Inventing Irish America, 26. Angela Bourke in The Burning of Bridget

Cleary, 6-11, describes the change from the “old” to the “new” Ireland during this period

in another context.
      Personal correspondence from Carolyn Conley. “Irish National Archives. Return of

Outrages Reported to the Constabulary Office, 1848-1878; 1879-1892. CSO ICR Volume

      Conley, “Irish Criminal Records, 1865-1892,” Eire-Ireland Spring 1993.
      Alta, July 7, 1866
      Table 5.1 goes here

It wasn‟t until the 1870s that the Chinese population was large enough to avoid charges

of “fallacy of small numbers.” But in this case the principle operates in the opposite

direction from what might be expected. The smaller population should militate in favor of

a higher rate when in fact the reverse is the case, suggesting an even greater upsurge in

Chinese homicide than the sharp upward movement on the graph would suggest.
      The conflict found fertile ground to grow and prosper in New World settlements. “The

first large scale Chinese tong war in America,” says C.Y. Lee in Days of the Tong Wars,

ix, “was fought between antiemporer elements and the Manchu loyalists.” This mutual

enmity can be discerned behind much of the criminal justice which followed in San

Francisco‟s Chinatown.
      The problem is illuminated by the career of Assing (Yuen Shen) who according to

Benson Tong (Unsubmissive Women,10) was both “the organizer of a hui-kuan and

leader of a protection ring.”
      Lamely, “Lineage Feuding in Southern Fujian and Eastern Guandong Under Qing

Rule,” Violence in China, Lipman and Harrell (eds.), 32. See also Pan, Sons of the Yellow

Emperor, 19. Brian Paciotti in “Homicide in Seattle‟s Chinatown, 1900-1940: Evaluating

the Influence of Social Organizations,” (Manuscript. To be published in Homicide

Studies. Sage Publications) writes that “there is substantial evidence that a particular set

of social organizations were brought to the U.S. by Chinese immigrants, and these likely

had a great impact on patterns of violence.” See also McIllwain, Organizing Crime in

Chinatown, 184.

      The first killing of a Chinese in San Francisco was by a white man. On October 10,

1853 two white men entered a Chinese washhouse on the Jackson street wharf and when

told they could not have their laundry without a ticket, one of the men shot the

laundryman through the heart. A man was arrested but released when his pregnant wife

swore that he was with her at the time. Two months after Ah Choy‟s murder, Sum Kow

and Yee Lum, two laundrymen were found robbed and murdered in their shack near the

Jackson Street lagoon. No killer was ever identified.

      Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America, 40. According to Selim Woodworth of the

17,969 Chinese who arrived by August 1852, only 14 were women. (Gentry, Madams of

San Francisco, 56) They were soon joined by others, chiefly prostitutes.
      This factor should be kept in mind when considering Fig 5.3. When white females are

removed from the equation to compensate for the absence of Chinese females compared

to white females in the population, the disparity between white and Chinese homicide

rates is diminished. Still, a vast gap remains. On average, as shown in table 5.3, from

1870 to 1930, the homicide rate for Chinese males ranged from three to five times that of

white males.

          Table 5.3 goes here.

      Sowell, Ethnic America, 138. In San Francisco, with all the relaxation of the usual

standards in the Gold Rush boom, the idea of a Chinese being serviced by a white

prostitute was out of the question.
      Chinese arrivals “were ripped off from the moment they landed” says Martin Booth,

The Dragon Syndicates, 296. Triads operating the travel agencies in China were in league

with confederates in San Francisco
      “There seems to be some secret societies among this [Chinese] people, by means of

which a few of their number grossly oppress their brethren.” Reported the contemporary

Annals, 385 “The police have attempted to interfere and protect the injured, though

seldom with much effect.”

      Asbury. Barbary Coast, 177. The backbone of Chinese prostitution was a system of

slavery. Some were kidnapped in china and some were sold by their parents as useless

      Municipal Reports, 1859-60 Some have tried to romanticize frontier prostitutes,

characterizing the prostitutes as embryonic entrepreneurs. "Entrepreneurship was almost

a mania in San Francisco during the Gold Rush years,” says one modern writer.

“Women's opportunities in prostitution paralleled men‟s opportunities in other frontier

occupations, and, like the men, many tried to go into business for themselves, giving up

prostitution to become madams or to buy and run gambling saloons or bar rooms."

Barnhart. The Fair But Frail, xi.
      Municipal Reports, 1864-65. Police chief Burke reports on Chinese prostitutes at

Jackson and Dupont and asks for the Board of Health to locate them elsewhere.
      Alta, January 16, 1866.
      A large part of Burke‟s opposition came from white property owners who profited

from renting premises which commanded high prices because of the use as vice resorts.
      Hart H. North, “Chinese Highbinder Societies in California,” California Historical

Society Quarterly Vol. XXVI Number 1, 19. Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America,

52. Booth, The Dragon Syndicates, 22-26 and 52. Nee and Nee, Longtime Californ’ 68,

Eve Armentrout-Ma, “Urban Chinese at the Sinitic Frontier: Social Organizations in

United States‟ Chinatowns, 1849-1898.” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1 (1983),

      Tsai, The Chinese Experience, 40. But George Anthony Pepper in If They Don’t Bring

Their Women With Them, 6-7, 124, contends that that instead of 70 percent of the women

being prostitutes as believed by some, it was no more than 50 percent. It is beyond the

scope of this work to discuss this topic at any length but for our purposes it is sufficient to

say that 50 percent of a population as prostitutes constitutes a great deal of prostitution in

a society where other groups show from three to five percent of their women as

      Mann, in Unequal Justice, 94 contends that prostitution caused crime. “Things were

no better in Malaya or Singapore,” reports Pan in Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 13,

describing conditions in Chinese brothels there which often resulted in violence.
      Monkkonen, Murder in New York City, 107. His figures for New York ranged from

two to five percent in the nineteenth century (about same as San Francisco at the time

      Actually, from the surrounding circumstances, it is probable, as found by Paciotti in

Seattle, the vast majority of Chinese homicides in San Francisco at the time were in some

way connected with tong activities. The disagregation used here is to identify those

Chinese homicides with economic characteristics. See also Tsai, The Chinese

Experience, 54, who lists economic motives and the preservation of clan prestige as the

most important causes of tong violence.
      In all, 25 women were killed out of 349 Chinese killings from 1850 to 1930 (7

percent). One does not kill a valuable commodity as long as it retains its value.
      Gong and Grant, Tong War!, 12, and Lee, Days of the Tong Wars, 98.

      Cao, Everything, 30.

      Lee, Days of the Tong Wars,56.

      Cao, Everything, 20. The tongs were trade unions that regulated businesses “so as to

avoid needless competition.” Is one man‟s “needless competition” an unjust restraint of

another‟s individual freedom?

      Mann, Unequal Justice, 94. It is this imbalance between men and women in the

Chinese community that “contributed heavily to their crime history.”
      McIllwain, Organizing Crime in Chinatown, 42.
      Charles A. Tracy, “Race Crime and Social Policy: The Chinese in Oregon, 1871-

1885” Crime and Social Justice Vol II (Winter 1980), 11-25.
      Mann, Unequal Justice, 94 Says that the presence of more women in 1930s brought

down the crime rates. But the ratio of men to women remained about the same in San

Francisco during that period. The ratio of Chinese men to women in the U.S. in 1920 was

3.5:1, in 1930 3:1 and 1940 2.9:1. Zhao, Remaking Chinese America, 9.
      Ibid. Some say it was due to “economy, kinship, and cultural values,” or that women

stayed home for reasons having to do with pressures within the Chinese society. Others

found that the principal factor was the “result of discriminatory legislation against the

Chinese in America.” (Peffer and Sucheng Chang.) According to Sandmeyer very few

women came because Chinese custom forbade it and, for the most part, men planned to

return to China. This invited the importation of prostitutes. It was more than custom. See

Lucy E. Sayler Laws Harsh as Tigers, 9. For several centuries before the Burlingame

treaty Chinese law had defined emigration as a crime punishable by death. In the early

eighteenth century, the Chinese emperor had banned emigration under penalty of death.

(Cao, Everything ., 10.) The Burlingame treaty put an end to that by providing for the free

mutual “migration and emigration of their citizens and subjects, respectively for purposes

of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents.”
      The memorialists also added that popular outbursts against the Chinese also

discouraged bringing their families, all of which gives rise to a “chicken and egg”

situation. In this instance the “egg” of self-exclusion would seem to take precedence over

the “chicken” of hostility created by the absence of families and their stabilizing

      It was the same with the Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asian countries. “Chinese

immigrants of the pre-World War I era [to Thailand] were at least 90 percent male, and

among the few females a significant proportion went into brothels.” Sowell, Migration

and Cultures, 146. The ratio of Chinese men to women was ten to one in the Philippines

in 1918, 208.
      In 1867 the Six Companies sent a letter to Police Chief Patrick Crowley offering to

help identify the Chinese women on incoming ships who are not really the wives of the

men they claimed to be.
      Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, 123. This has been interpreted by some to mean

protection from white racists. According to Thomas Emch “The Chinatown Murders,” in

Dickensheet, Great Crimes of San Francisco, 184, “the tongs were formed “to protect

members from oppression and injustices of the racist white bosses.” The oppression

which contributed to the growth of the tongs in San Francisco can be traced rather to the

leading Chinese families. Gong and Grant, Tong War!, 28.
      According to Cao, Everything, 20, a million Chinese lost their lives in the Taiping

rebellion. As bad as things were in California, conditions were better than at home.

      The People v. Hall Oct. T, 1854, California State Supreme Court. See McIllwain,

Organizing Crime in Chinatown, 31.

      Sayler, Laws Harsh as Tigers, xv. See also McClain, In Search of Equality, 3.

      McKanna, Race and Homicide in California, 37.
      More recently, as has been commented on by many, the solution rate for a number of

reasons has declined to about 50 percent in many jurisdictions. In the period between

1870 and 1930, 41 percent of Chinese homicides had no named suspects. During the

same period the percentage of unsolved cases for whites was 16.5 percent
      This study also considers those executed which accounts for the slight difference

between 60 and 64 percent.
      McKanna, Race and Homicide in California, 98.
      Tonry Malign Neglect, 49. Tonry says the same thing. “for nearly a decade there has

been a near consensus among scholars and policy analysts that most black punishment

disproportions result not from racial bias or discrimination within the system but from

patterns of black offending and blacks‟ criminal records.
      Chronicle, December 11,1875.
      Trial Transcript., 302
      The Jolly Giant on March 15, 1876 reported on a system of Chinese graft that reached

the office of the Chief of Police.
      Barth, Bitter Strength, 83.
      This sort of unholy alliance can in part be held responsible for some of the violence. In

an analogous situation reported by George Wickersham in another immigrant community

it seems to have been the case (Crime and the Foreign Born, 55-6) The Massachusetts

Immigration Commission noted in 1914 “Police corruption, which takes the form of

protection of criminals, enables an Italian, or sometimes criminals of other nationalities,

to develop in an Italian colony the “Black Hand” system of blackmail.”
      Lamely, “Lineage Feuding in Southern Fujian and Eastern Guandong Under Qing

Rule,” 6.
      Nee and Nee, Long Time Californ’, 68.
      Call, November 12,1896. There were contemporary reports, sometimes accompanied

with photographs, of some rather extreme forms of punishment employed in China at the

time. London Black and White Budget, December 8,1900. While the editorial tone of the

accompanying text points to a condescending attitude toward “the heathens,” the

photograph attests to the severity of the punishment. Recent reports of widespread

summary executions in modern China suggest a different approach to punishment than in

the United States. Whether severe penalties affect homicide rates remains a matter for

debate, but it was generally believed in the nineteenth century--by all parties--that they

did. In a January 15, 1915 letter to the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, printed in

the pidgin English in which it was received, How Some Yen and Ah Lee Sing sought to

explain the persistence of tong murders in San Francisco, “More Chinaman in Hongkong,

they have not tong war, because he catch the murder he hang them; money cannot buy

them out.”

      Examiner, January 25, 1897.
      Peterson Del Mar, Beaten Down, 10 and passim.

      Tsai, The Chinese Experience in America, 54, reports on a vicious tong war in San

Francisco in 1886 during which the Chinese legation says that the participants will be

deported and the relatives in Guangdong will be held responsible. These measures were

imposed he says and by 1900 violence in America‟s Chinatowns had declined

dramatically. After 1921, he claims, tong wars were virtually nonexistent. Would that it

were so.
      Gong and Grant, Tong War!, 195. Nine were killed in the “war,” but only three of

them were in San Francisco pointing to much higher rates if municipal boundaries are

      According to Manion, there were only 11 Chinese deaths in San Francisco that year.
      Dillon, Hatchetmen, xv, says “the Chinese exclusion act, … was a powerful third

force which cut down on the importation of fresh highbinders and which banished

gunmen.” As the hatchetmen killed off one another. Older men gained control of tongs
323 on Overseas Chinese.
      Thompson, Growth and Changes in California’s Population, 80. When confronted

with the ratio of 136 males to 100 females among native born Chinese, he found it

unbelievable. What he was looking at was the phenomenon of paper sons. The males

came and the females didn‟t.
      Douglas 20, July 1926, and Chronicle, April 9, 1941.
      Manion wasn‟t operating in an attitudinal vacuum. A Chronicle editorial of March 29,

1921, commenting on the prospect of yet another tong war, opined that the “Chinese as a

people have many admirable qualities, one evidence of their wisdom being their ability to

export great number of their undesirables.” “Every member of every tong should be

rounded up into the most unsanitary ship we can find and delivered anywhere on the

Chinese coast. Care should be taken to load at least two tongs on each ship and see to it

that both are well armed. There will be few to unload when the ship reaches its

      We have the exact date of the ultimatum. In December 1921, when it appeared that the

Suey Sing and Hip Sing tongs were about to break a recent peace agreement, Police Chief

Daniel O‟Brien instructed Manion to inform tong leaders that if the peace were broken,

the police would “put a fine comb to Chinatown and either attempt to have deported or

prosecute every known offender.” Chronicle, December 31, 1921.
      Brearly, Homicide, 98, cites a national rate of Chinese homicide in 1924 of 87.4 per

      Ivan Light, “From Vice District to Tourist Attraction: The Moral Career of American

Chinatowns, 1880-1940,” Pacific Historical Review, Volume XLIII August1974, 367-

      Examiner, October 20, 1921.
      In 1856 John Dougherty and William Scott were prosecuted for an unprovoked attack

on a Chinese man.(Bulletin, November 25, 1856) On September 15, 1864 the Bulletin

reported that “three little boys set three bull dogs on an unoffending Chinaman” at

Broadway and Sansome while adults looked on approvingly. Mark Twain, then a news

reporter in San Francisco, later reported that he left his employment with the Call because

the editor would not print a story he wrote about a group of hoodlums beating a Chinese

man and that a police officer present did nothing. Workmen rioted against competing

Chinese workers south of Market in 1867 prefiguring the larger 1877 anti-Chinese riot.

            People can be terrible. Less well known is an incident in Tientsin, China in 1870 when

an angry mob broke into an orphanage run by French Sisters of Charity and “raped

sixteen nuns, gouged out their eyes, sliced off their breasts, and chopped up their bodies

before throwing them into the flames of their mission.” Preston The Boxer Rebellion, 25.
            Shover, Chico’s Lemm Ranch Murders, 35.
            Encyclopedia of Violence, 233.
            Daniels, Coming to America, 249 says that “more of them did not do so (i.e. relate to

American as well as Chinese cultural patterns) was at least as much the fault of the

American Society that rejected them as it was due to the deep hold that Chinese culture

had on most of its members, even the emigrants.”



  Rate per 100K




                        1860-   1865-   1870-   1875-   1880-   1885-   1895-   1900-   1905-   1910-   1915-   1920-   1925-
                        1864    1869    1874    1879    1884    1889    1899    1904    1909    1914    1919    1924    1929

Table 5.1 Populations for selected ethnic and racial groups 1850-1930

Year                     White          Chinese        Black         Latino

1850                    26,000 (est.)     800 (est.)    200 (est)   3,000 (est.)
1860                    56,802           2,719         1,176          *
1870                   136,059          12,022         1,330          *
1880                   210,496          21,745         1,628          *
1890                   270,696          25,833         1,847          *
1900                   325,378          13,954         1,654          *
1910                   400,014          10,582         1,642          *
1920                   490,022           7,744         3,776          *
1930                   602,891          16,303         3,803          *

*Included in White

Table 5.2 Comparison between the percentage of Chinese in the population, percentage
of Chinese homicide incidence and percentage of those punished

             %of population       %of homicide         %of those punished
                                   by Chinese          hanged or imprisoned
1870s          8.7%                 23.9%                  19.6%
1880s          8.9%                 21.4%                   21.5%
1890s          6.1%                 27.2 %                  19.7%
1900s          3.2%                 16.2%                    6.4%
1910s          1.9%                   7.7%                   9.3%
1920s          2.1%                   4.4%                  11.4%

Table 5.3 Male Homicide Rates Chinese Compared to White

                        Chinese                        White

          1870s          38.6                          19.3
          1880s          23.2                          13.8
          1890s          30.8                          12.8
          1900s          50.0                          13.3
          1910s          74.7                          15.2
          1920s           24.1                          9.2


      Rolle, The Immigrant Upraised, 256.Three hundred Italians were counted in the 1850

census in the entire state. In 1852 there were 5000 or more each from France, Germany

and the British Isles in San Francisco alone.
      Cinel, San Francisco Italians, 104
      Beilharz, Lopez, We Were 49ers!, 107.
      In his Chicago study of domestic violence, “We‟ve got a right to fight; we‟re

married,” Jeffrey Adler chose not to use the data from the 1870s “because the number of

homicides in the city was not large enough to yield reliable rates.”
      See Adler “Halting the Slaughter of Innocents,” Social Science History 25.1, Spring

2001 and Gurr, Violence in America, 38. These two categories are not included in the San

Francisco and New York figures. See also Leigh B. Bienen and Brandon Rottinghaus,

“Learning from the Past: Understanding Homicide in Chicago, 1870-1930.” The Journal

of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol 92, Nos 3-4. 2002, 497.
      Adler, “Halting the Slaughter,” Much of the rate increase was Italian in Chicago.

Adler “The city‟s spiraling homicide level at least partially reflected the arrival and

subsequent adjustment period – of newcomers who were drawn from the European and

American groups that had high rates of violence and faced particular discrimination in

Chicago.” Rolle, The Immigrant Upraised, 259. There was little discrimination against

Italians in California.
      Adler, “Halting the Slaughter.” The homicide rate for Italian born residents of

Chicago in the 1910s was four times the overall level and ten times that of Germans.

      Lane, Murder in America, 189. The average rate was 1.3 per 100,000 population for

non-Italian whites, and 12.9 for blacks. Italians were convicted at a rate of 26.5 per

      Fosdick, Police Systems in the United States, 23.
      Brearly, Homicide, 41. To the extent that arrests, indictments and incarcerations are

used as the comparative measurement, it could be argued that discriminatory arrest and

prosecutorial practices contributed to the higher rates. But the numbers hold up for those

jurisdictions--San Francisco and Chicago--where the rates of incidence are available.
      Wickersham, Crime and the Foreign Born, 42 .
      Men outnumbered women among foreign born Italians almost two to one in 1910. See

Sowell, Ethnic America, 109.
      Though seen by some as a monolithic group, the Black Hand was rather a technique

employed by any number of small groups of thugs, hoping to profit from the success of

others. In that respect the thugs were not a great deal different from what we have found

in the Chinese community.
      Examiner, February 12, 1892. New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessey was killed

by one faction in an Italian criminal dispute. When the charges against the accused killers

were not sustained in court, a lynch mob invaded the jail and killed eleven Italians.
      Chronicle, January 27, 1914. Chronicle, February 7, 1914, Bulletin June 30, 1914.

September 6, 1915.Chronicle and Examiner December 24, 1915.
      These instances may have been part of the ethnic succession of fishermen from

Genoese to Sicilian. Early fishermen were Genoese; later they were supplanted by

Sicilians. Gumina, Italians of San Francisco p 81.

      San Francisco Call and Post, Oct 25, 1916.
      Duke, Celebrated Criminal Cases In America, 177.
      Adler, “Halting the Slaughter.” Discrimination had an effect in Chicago, at least short

      Hopkins, Our Lawless Police,339.
      Wickersham. Crime and the Foreign Born p,55-6. However, when Wickersham‟s

investigators interviewed San Francisco Italians a few years later they claimed no

mistreatment, and, said Wickersham, “there is practically no statistical evidence

indicative of discrimination either for or against the foreign born,” 171.
      Adler, “Halting the Slaughter” on p, 34-5 says that Chicago‟s spiraling homicide rate

was in part attributable to “newcomers drawn from European …groups that had high

rates of violence….” Rudolph J. Vecoli “Contadini in Chicago: A Critique of The

Uprooted,” in The Aliens, 218, says that Southern Italy had the highest rate of homicide

in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century. Lane, Murder in America, 229,348. Sicily

in the 1920s had a homicide rate of 22 per 100,000. It was largely in Southern Italy that

Wolfgang developed his subculture of violence theory.
      Vecoli, The Aliens, 221.
      Lane offers both a culture of violence and treatment by the host society to explain

Italian homicide. Lane Murder, 348 “Irish and Italians brought violent traditions with

them, Jews and Scandinavians did not.”
      Sowell Ethnic America, 101 says “As in the case of the Irish and others, conditions in

their original homeland continued to affect Italian Americans after generations of living

in America.”

      In the immediate aftermath of the quake, according to Gumina ( The Italians of San

Francisco, 31) from 500 to 600 Italians departed the city but as many as 6000 arrived to

help with the rebuilding.
      Ibid., 5.
      Ibid., 167.
      Meagher, Inventing Irish America,24.
      As will be shown later, blacks from the rural south during the 1940s and Chinese

immigrants in the 1960 were not always welcomed by their fellow blacks and Chinese.
      Sowell, Ethnic America, 108 “The northern Italians openly repudiated the southern

Italians – perhaps more forcefully than any other American group has repudiated others

of the same nationality.”
      Gumina, Italians, 5. Too few of the Southerners had the requisite agricultural skills,

“Consequently the new arrivals faced discrimination from American employers and from

the established Italian immigrants in the Colony who regarded the new arrivals as a threat

to the economy of the Italian economy.” See also Sebastian Fichera The Meaning of

Community, 133.
      Gumina, Italians, 6.
      Lord, The Italian in America, 91. Italian immigrants were discouraged from coming to

San Francisco by the strength of organized union labor. “There is, however, no desire on

the part of the leading Italians of the city,” Lord wrote in 1905, “to induce any influx of

immigration to seek employment within the city limits, as the organized labor unions

practically control the trades and are jealous of any intrusion of non-union labor. . . . ”
      Fichera, The Meaning of Community, 167.

      Dillon North Beach, 3. As late as 1904, 73 percent of Italians in California were

northerners. In 1935 according to Paul Radin, in his monograph The Italians of San

Francisco Their Adjustment and Acculturation, 36 percent of San Francisco Italians

traced their origins to Southern Italy or Sicily whereas 64 percent originated in Central or

Northern Italy. In Chicago, on the other hand, during the 1920s, as John Landesco

reported in his Organized Crime in Chicago, 108., Sicilians “compose the overwhelming

majority of the Italian population of Chicago.”
      Fichera, The Meaning of Community, 13,34,140 .
      Thrasher, The Gang, 205. In Chicago in the 1920s says Thrasher, “The police take a

rather fatalistic attitude toward this [Black Hand] type of killing on account of the lack of

cooperation by those who might give information.” This attitude was modified in 1926

when a drive to deport all alien gangsters commenced because of difficulty in finding

jurors. “It was said that the fear of vengeance at the hands of the gang deterred the

veniremen from serving on the jury.”
      Fichera, The Meaning of Community, 162.
      There were other problems though. Giuseppe Chantiarro was shot by an unknown man

at Green and Kearny Streets on January 30, 1918. He was shown to be a camorrist

wanted for killing Joseph Volpe 17 days earlier in New York . Speculation was that he

was followed out to San Francisco and killed.
      Fichera concludes that the gangsters in Chicago were beyond the reach of the law.

They delivered the vote and could keep the police out of their dives. In North beach,

however, community strength was the underworld‟s weakness, for gangsters never found

the kind of cover like in Chicago.

      Chronicle, February 6, 1917.
      Asbury, Gem of the Prairie, 231.
      Chicago Daily News, May 25,1913.
      In 1928 San Francisco Captain of Detectives Duncan Mattheson claimed that the 21

annual homicides in the city constituted the lowest per capita homicide rate in United

States. (Call, July 19, 1928).
      Examiner, August 2, 1925.
      Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 97.
      Asbury, Gem of the Prairie, 355.
      Owney Madden, New York‟s Irish gang leader cooperated with other emerging ethnic

gangsters, Italian Charles “Lucky” Luciano and Jewish Meyer Lansky, and lived to die of

old age in Hot Springs Arkansas. Consequently New York‟s Prohibition era homicide

rate was closer to that of San Francisco than Chicago. The ethnic succession was not

absolute. Indeed one can still find Irish gangs sharing some eastern cities with Italians

and those of other ethnic groups but the trend definitely occurred.

      Carl Sifakis attributes 500 murders in Detroit to the Purple Gang in his Encyclopedia

of American Crime, 595.
      Repetto, American Mafia, 223.
      Maas, The Valachi Papers, 113. The generational transition was not immediate but by

the end of the 1930s the vast majority of leaders of the national crime syndicate were

“Americanized,” either having been born on the United States or brought here as very

young children and raised here. Repetto American Mafia, 161.

      According to Ovid Demaris in The Last Mafioso,167, it was the La Fata gang who

killed Gaetano Ingrassia.
      Chronicle, April 10, 1925
      Lane, Murder, 183. See also Roots of Violence, 164.
      Martinez. Latino Homicide,104 says that “If immigration opponents are correct, the

appearance of Marielitos should have immediately influenced crime, an effect that should

persist even after the initial disruption in the ethnic communities, and turnovers in

population influenced most by the influx (i.e. Latinos)” The Marielitos did in fact have a

dramatic effect on the homicide rate. But they could only have had a continuing effect if

they remained in the community or were replaced by new arrivals. That did not happen.

Many spread throughout the country. (Some were arrested for criminal violence as far

away as San Francisco). With others imprisoned and with no new arrivals, their

contribution to Miami‟s homicide rate naturally fell off.
      Monkkonen, Murder, 107.
      Examiner, December 20, 1920.
      The image of Max Sennet‟s “Keystone Kops,” a group of uniformed officers rushing

out of the station house pell mell, and racing off to some emergency or other in an open

touring car, is an accurate, if humorously distorted representation of how the system

      Fosdick noticed the problem in 1919. In his American Police systems, 306, he

declared foot patrol obsolete except in some areas. This started the move away from

“community policing” and toward more auto patrol.

      Michael E. Mitchell, “A Night on the Shotgun Squad,” Police and Peace Officers

Journal, August 1941.
      “Douglas 20,” August 1924.
      Flamm, Hometown San Francisco, 33.
      Geller and Scott, in Deadly Force, 81, assert that “general population homicide levels

continue to be a weak predictor of police shooting rates over time.” But perhaps a

specific type of crime which is more amenable to police intervention, like robbery, may

offer a better basis for comparison.
      Douglas 20 Police Journal, October 1923 and December 1923.
      The Examiner, on November 24, 1921, reported that the San Francisco Police had an

armored car and machine gun and that they wanted nine more armored cars and three

more machine guns. Images of police vehicles with mounted machine guns are common

to many police departments of the era.
      Asbury,Gem of the Prairi, 339.
      Mark Haller, “Bootlegging: the Business and Politics of Violence,” in Gurr‟s (ed.)

Violence in America, Wickersham Crime and the Foreign Born, 178.
      Asbury Gem of the Prairie, 371-2. By the beginning of 1934 the commission

announced that since 1930, 15 public enemies had been convicted and nine died. Even

the police helped.
      Chronicle, July 25, 1931
      Ibid. February 2, 1930.
      Ibid.September 18,1931.
      Ibid. November 17, 1931.

      Rapoport, California Dreaming., 32.
      It was Guiseppe‟s brother, Mario, who was killed in 1917 by Antonio Lipari, a friend

of the Pedonas who killed his father-in-law Gaetano Ingrassia the year before.
      After Abati turned up at the famed Appalachian mob summit in 1957 it would have

been hard for him to sustain the argument that he was not “mobbed up.”
      Los Angeles, says Thomas Repetto (American Mafia, 203) “was a colony of the

eastern mobs.” This condition can be attributed in part to his assertion (209) that “in Los

Angeles, local law enforcement presented no barrier to gangsters.” Neither circumstance

can be attributed to San Francisco. San Francisco, quite simply, did not have the level of

organized crime at the time as found in many other large old American cities.
      Saylor, Laws Harsh as Tigers p 25. The Connecticut immigration commissioner

reported in 1885 that Italians only came as sojourners to make money and return home.

They crowded together and worked cheaper, she says, echoing earlier complaints about

the Chinese.
      Daniels, Coming to America. The table on 288 shows net immigration declined in the

years following the 1924 law. The yearly average was down to about 200,000 from about

500,000 in the years immediately preceding 1924. In 1931 immigration was down to

350,000 and thereafter there was a negative increase until 1935when it increased in the

low double digits until 1945. Between 1930 and 1940 San Francisco‟s population

increased by less than 200 people. Examiner, November 24, 1921
      Examiner, December 23,1994
      Monkkonen, Murder,134.

      Lane, Roots of Violence p, 142 –43.
      McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice p 64.
      Adler, “The Negro would be More than an Angel” in Bellesiles Lethal Imagination,

      Monkkonen, Murder in New York City, 139.
      Dykstra, “Overdosing on Dodge,” Western Historical Quarterly 27 (Winter 1996).

Monkkonen, who found much the same sort of situation in New York at approximately

the same period, concluded that the data “must be viewed with some caution.” Murder,

      San Quentin Prison Register
      Mann, Unequal Justice, 72,
      Flowers, Minorities and Criminality, 83.

      Gilles Vandal‟s study of reconstruction era Louisiana shows a disturbing amount of

interracial killing, predominately whites on blacks. Forty-five percent of the homicides in

rural Louisiana between 1866 and 1876 (n. ,393) were of blacks killed by whites. The

corresponding figure for blacks who killed whites was 3.2 percent (n. 99).
      McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 54-55.
      Adler, “The Negro Would Be More Than An Angel to Withstand Such Treatment,”

Bellesiles, Lethal Imagination, 299
      Monkkonen, Murder in New York, 142.
      Kevin Mullen. “Race Sex and Homicide in Old Time San Francisco” Peace Officers

Journal, March 1997.

      “Interracial killings involving white victims occurred mainly on black „turf‟ in and

around the red light district,” he claims, However, white violence “reflected the

mentality of the mob.” McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 76.
      Monkkonen, Murder, 149. Monkkonen credits four of the six white on black killings

in nineteenth century New York (excluding those committed during the 1863 riot) as

having possible racial motivations. He does say that there was little evidence of racial

animus as a strong pattern.
      Adler, “The Negro Would Be More Than an Angel to Withstand Such Treatment.”

Lethal Imagination, 300.
      McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice. P 76.
      Monkkonen, Murder in New York, 148.
      Chicago‟s African American population grew from 14,000 to 109,000 between 1890

and 1920. During the same period San Francisco‟s blacks, who numbered 1800 in 1890,

increased to 3700 by 1920. Those African-Americans who did head west during the Great

Migration tended to go to Los Angeles. In 1910, 44 percent of the state‟s blacks resided

in Los Angeles while 8 percent called San Francisco home.
      McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 64.
      Adler, “Halting the Slaughter of Innocents,” 34.
      This is about the same four to five times the general rate found by Jeffrey Adler in

Chicago. “We‟ve Got a Right to Fight: We‟re Married.” In the 1930s, Wickersham

(Crime and the Foreign Born, 119) has rates average rates per 100,000 for a group of

nine cities, including San Francisco, which show much higher per capita rates for blacks

compared to other groups. The homicide rate was 120.5 for African Americans over 15

years of age.
      McKanna, Homicide Race and Justice, 75.
      Adler, “Halting the Slaughter,” 34-5
      During the same period eight whites were killed by blacks, one third of those for

whom the racial identity of the perpetrators was identified as black .
      Adler, “We‟ve got a Right to Fight.”
      Albert s. Broussard, “In Search of the Promised Land,” in Lawrence B. de Graaf,

Kevin Mulroy, and Quintard Taylor (eds.) Seeking El Dorado, African Americans in

California, 194. Lotchin, The Bad City in the Good War, 128, addresses the same point.
      Broussard, “In Search of the Promised Land,” 190.
      The population in the second half of the decade was twice that of the first half. With

an average of 18,420 in 1940 through 1944 and 37,730 in second period. Broussard in “In

Search of the Promised Land,” 190
      Silberman, Criminal Justice, Criminal Violence, 31-32. Between 1960 and 1975 the

14-24 year old segment of population increased 63 percent. Also, Chronicle April 8,

1985, in which Steven R. Schlesinger, director of Bureau of Justice Statistics discounted

the effect of the age shift, pointing out that from 1960 to 1976 the crime rates increased

faster than the number of 14-to 24-year olds and that from 1978 to 1983 the rates

decreased faster than the number in that age group, See also Wilson Quarterly/Spring

1983,110. Gurr (ed.) Violence in America, 12. James Q. Wilson in Wall Street Journal,

August 17, 1999.

      Ira M. Leonard and Christopher C. Leonard “The Histiography of American

Violence,” in Homicide Studies Volume 7/Number 2 May 2003, 149. See also Minorities

and Crime, 76, in which Mann cites Harvard Professor Alvin Poussaint as suggesting

that African Americans kill other African Americans because of low self esteem and rage

turned inward, a rage attributable to the institutional racism to which they are subjected.
      Courtwright, Violent Land, 241.
      Butterfield, All God’s Children xvii.
      Lane, Roots of Violence, 4.
      Ibid., 166.
      Ibid. 168. See also Huel Washington article in January 9, 1995, Sun Reporter.
      Gurr, Violence in America, 16.
      Scott, Investigating Oakland Homicide reports that 54 percent of the homicides in her

study involved narcotics. The nature of the offense makes it hard to enforce against liquor

and brothels, and gambling (the latter at least until the internet) requires a fixed location.

Any local cop would know what‟s going on. Narcotics can be conducted anywhere and

so violations are harder to enforce against.
      Ernest Besig, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern

California, said “It‟s dangerous. If officers are given unlimited authority, we are sowing

the seeds of a police state.” After a ride-along with the officers, Mayor George

Christopher approved of the practice. But the handwriting was on the wall.
      The 1961 Mapp decision excluded evidence obtained in violation of the fourth

amendment and in 1966 the Miranda decision required officers that they must allow

suspects legal counsel.

      In 1958 the vagrancy law which had been used by everyone from Martin Burke to

Jack Manion was effectively eliminated from the police arsenal of enforcement tools.

Chronicle July 30, 1958.
      “Did Miranda (and similar decisions) make much of a difference to the police, or to the

other people they arrested?” asks Lawrence Freidman, Crime and Punishment in

American History, 303. The answer, with regard to Miranda at least, according to

Freidman, seems to be “not much.” But what of the other decisions which restricted the

opportunity for officers to search without a warrant?
      Twenty-five years later Lieutenant Bruce Marovich was still working the streets as

head of the night robbery investigation unit, the modern equivalent of the old “Shotgun

Squad,” out on patrol every night still looking for look for those who would do ill.
      Johnson, American Law Enforcement: A History, 128.
      Lane, Roots of Violence, 171.
      “We know that arrest and victimization rates are equally good indicators of the race of

the killers,” says Ted Gurr, (Violence in America., 15) “homicide in the United States has

always been 90 percent more or less intraracial, that is white on white and Black on

      Department of Justice Statistics.
      Lane, Murder in America, 322.
      Gurr Violence in America, 40.
      Table 7.2 goes here
       March 20, 1992 Chronicle . Also the paper on April 12, 1993 reported that the largest

wave of teenagers since baby boomers were due in the next seven years.

      The proliferation of guns in the hands of young inner city dwellers was seen as

contributing to the increased rates. According to one report, it was the increased use of

guns rather than chains and knives that contributed to the high gang homicide rate in Los

Angeles. University of Southern California sociologist, Malcolm Klein. ( Jane E. Stevens,

“Myths of Violence,” This World, San Francisco Examiner/Chronicle June 12, 1994.)
      Chronicle, May 10,1991. Also Examiner April 27, 1992. Professor Richard Bennett

of the American University attributes the increase to the cuts of programs which would

have prevented them. See also Pinker Blank Slate, 329 who ties the increased crime rates

to the appearance of crack cocaine on the scene, citing Jeff Grogger who said “Violence

is a way to enforce property rights [a desirable corner from which to sell crack] in the

absence of legal recourse.”
      “The numbers over the last five years reflect a dramatic increase in drug- and gang-

related homicides,” according to California Attorney General John Van de Kamp as

reported in the Chronicle January 13, 1988. In the Christian Science Monitor, April 9,

1990, Thomas Repetto, president of Citizens Crime Commission in New York, said

statistics show a concentration of homicide in drug infested areas. Crack cocaine is

considered a major reason for the record slayings and robberies.
      Marshal, Street Soldier, xxiv.
      Chronicle April 24, 1989. Another young man from a nearby neighborhood who

agrees that drug turfs are not the main source of tension said: “They‟re just seeing who‟s

      Ibid., January 13, 1988.
      Marshall Street Soldier, 70.

      Ibid., 73.
      The August case questions the pure economic explanation of ghetto homicide. His

killing was result of insult. This supports Joe Marshal‟s view and Malcolm Klien's

finding that "most gang violence is not linked to the sale of drugs, but to revenge for

insults -- "fighting words" -- or previous acts of violence." (This World Chronicle June

12, 1994).
      “Crime Unit to Stop Homicide,” SF Weekly November 22-28, 1995.
      Chronicle, March 24, 1997.
      Examiner, January 7, 1996
      San Francisco Weekly, November 22-28, 1995
      Examiner, February 16, 1998
      One in three were Asians, the largest non-Chinese groups were Filipinos and

Vietnamese. For purposes of consistency with the periods considered in earlier chapters,

during which almost all Asians originated in China, this study will restrict itself to the

Chinese except as otherwise specified.
      Dillon, Hatchetmen, 269.
      Ivan Light and Charles Choy Wong. “Protest or Work: Dilemmas of the Tourist

Industry in American Chinatowns,” in American Journal of Sociology Vol 80 No 6. May

1975. See Also Sowell, Ethnic America, 148.
      Personal correspondence with retired deputy police chief Diarmuid Philpot, who

served as Chinatown expert in the police department from the late 1960s until the late

1990s. There was a direct connection between both Wah Ching members and Joe Boys

and Triads. See also Pan, Sons of the Yellow Emperor, 350. In speaking of the post-1965

immigration from China, she states “there were even thugs specially recruited from Hong

Kong, smuggled into Canada and brought down to US cities to swell the ranks of gangs.”
      Thomas Emch, “The Chinatown Murders” in Dean Dickensheet (ed) Great Crimes of

San Francisco, 181. According to some, the turmoil in Chinatown in the 1970s was “an

open revolt against intolerable social conditions.” Shih-Shun Henry Tsai The Chinese

Experience in America says on, 167 that the Red guard accused the elders of exploiting

newcomers. In the background of the discord was the political split between the Mainland

Chinese and traditional groups with ties to Taiwan
      There are those who would argue that it was their treatment by the host society. Paul

Takagi and Tony Platt “Behind the Gilded Ghetto: An Analysis of Race, Class and Crime

in Chinatown” Crime and Social Justice Spring-Summer 1978, 22.
      Examiner, May 16, 1990, and Kolin Chin, Chinese Subculture and Criminality, 104,

reports that from 80 to 90 percent of merchants paid extortion at some time.
      See also Emch “The Chinatown Murders.” In 1974, police had been meeting with

New York and Hong Kong police.
      Sowell, Ethnic America, 151.
      Chronicle, October 25, 1972. Chronicle, November 10, 1972. See also Russ

Coughlan editorial in 1977. On October 7, he commented that the irony is that five years

ago this month police began to get tough with gangs but a few businessmen said that it

was hurting business and one claimed it was a police reign of terror.

      By operation of the law of cultural lag, the unit had finally been abolished in 1970,

after many fits and starts, long after Chinatown had become peaceable and on the eve of

the re-eruption of violence.
      Examiner, May 10, 1987.
      It is a truism that the absence of violence does not necessarily mean the absence of

organized crime. All it means is that the arrangements are satisfactory to all involved

until someone decides to disturb the pecking order.
      ATF Overview of Asian Organized Crime, 1993.
      Examiner, October 13, 1993.
      Chronicle, August 27, 2002. It is notable that the late twentieth century New York

Chinese community, overwhelmed by much larger numbers immigrants, had much more

gang violence than did San Francisco.
      Martinez, Latino Homicide, 1. “Heightened immigration coincided with the upsurge in

youth/gang and drug related homicide in the 1980s.”
      This phenomenon seems to be a constant with Latino gangs. “These kids are full of

animal mad,” a Latino gang member told Beatrice Griffith in 1947, “That‟s why they

fight each other. They can't fight the cops or the gavachos, their enemies, so to get the

mad from their blood they fight each other. . . . So these kids all take to hitting each other,

and some get killed and a lot get put in jail.” Beatrice Griffith, “Who Are the Pachucos?”

The Pacific Spectator (Summer 1947)
      Examiner, May 13, 1993.
      Chronicle, June 4, 1994.

      See Brian J. Godfrey Neighborhoods in Transition, 97. Because of different bases for

collection and different census definitions of what constituted a Latino, population

figures for the Latino population are mushy at best. Latinos were identified for this study,

as were Irish and Italians, on the basis of their surnames.
      The rate per 100,000 of Latino homicide victims in 1995-99 was 13.4 compared to 4.6

for Non-Latino whites, 41.3 for African Americans and 4.8 for Chinese. The overall rate

for the period was 9.1, placing Latinos above the average.
      Examiner, January 19, 1993. In 1984 there were 212 gang related killings in all of

Los Angeles County. By 1991 Latinos committed 65 percent of the 519 black and Latino

gang killings in Los Angeles County.
      Jacoby, Reinventing the Melting Pot, 21
      Martinez, Latino Homicide, 5.
      And complicating the issue further is the matter of illegal immigrants whose presence,

some contend, contributes greatly to Latino rates of violence.
      “Crime Unit to Stop Homicide,” SF Weekly November 22-28 1995.
      Special run by Department of Justice (DOJ) Criminal Statistics Bureau. The DOJ does

not isolate Asians under this data set. They are included under the “other” category which

totaled 7.4 percent of those convicted of homicide. The corresponding percentages for

incidence for which the ethnicity is known for the same period for San Francisco are:

Non-Latino whites 24.6 percent, African-Americans 46.7 percent, Latinos 15.2 percent,

Chinese 5.3 percent (All Asians 11.0 percent.)
      In the Chinese world it was the Wah Ching against the Chung Ching Yee, and later the

Wo Hop To. In the Latino gang world two factions emerged, the Surenos and Nortenos.

Blacks divided themselves in to two principal gangs emerged in the Oakdale and Hunters

Point neighborhoods.
      Marshal. Street Soldier, 70.
      Pinker, Blank Slate, 311 would disagree.
      Martinez. Latino Homicid, 89
      Andrew Lam in San Francisco Chronicle “This World,” April 17, 1994. See also

Brearly, 32-33.
      Jeff Jacoby in “More prisoners, less crime” in the Boston Globe as reported in

Chronicle August 29,2003, says that the downward trend in the 1980s began “not long

after the nationwide crackdown on crime. The dramatic drop in criminal activity followed

an equally dramatic boon in prison construction and a sharp surge in incarceration rates.”
      Dan Macallair, Executive Director of the Center on Juvenile Justice, counters the

claim of a Guiliani type “miracle” as contributing to the reduction by pointing out that the

homicide rates declined even more in San Francisco under the criminal justice leadership

of liberal District Attorney Terence Hallinan who favored diversion of offenders over

harsh penalties. “Beyond conviction rates – Diversion Reduces crime,” Chronicle,

October 30, 2003. That argument would be supportable if those were the only two factors

in play. Perhaps the strongest single correlate to reduced rates of criminal violence in the

1990s is the increase of the proportion of the relatively non-murderous Asians in the

population at the same time that the black population declined by almost 25 percent. As

always, no single factor explains everything.
      Daniel Altman “Provocative Economist at Chicago Awarded Prize.” New York Times

April 26, 2003.

      Washington Post, April 19, 1998. Said a former U.S. Attorney for the District, in the

same article “The police department‟s performance in fighting homicide has been so bad

for so long that it invites lawlessness.” And the reporter himself concluded, that as the

rate for young black males increased almost tenfold in 1991, “Mayor Marion Barry and

the D.C. Council evinced little sense of urgency.”
      Chronicle, January 1, 1994. San Francisco Examiner, February 28, 1995. The

following year, (after the implementation of a program which quadrupled preventive

street patrols by personnel loans from nearby communities,) the rate was reduced to a

more palatable 34.7.
      Chronicle, January 1, 1993. East Palo Alto was the nation‟s murder capital with a rate

of 175.4 per 100, compared to an estimated 89 for Washington and 46.7 for Oakland. It

was a drug dealing center and battleground for drug dealers feuding over the city‟s

booming narcotic trade
      The annual average number of homicides for the three years from 1990 through 1992

was 27. For the immediate three years following it was 5.6.

      Chronicle, January 2, 2001. “The economy is key,” a San Francisco State University

Professor of Criminology, is quoted as claiming. Stanford University Law Professor John

Donahue agrees. “The booming economy has provided legitimate employment

opportunities to some people who, without those, might end up lapsing into criminal

      Chronicle, January 2, 2001.
      Cynthia Tucker “Black Leaders are Blind to Black Crime.” Chronicle February 27,

1995. (We are reminded by events following the September 11, 2001 World Trade

Center bombing that public support for constitutional protections can adjust if a society

feels threatened enough.) The African American community has been threatened for

many years by the specter of homicide in ways that the larger community cannot

      Chronicle, March 20, 1992.
      Some have argued that it is inappropriate to draw general conclusions about

nationwide crime declines based on the experience of a single department. On that point

see Diane Cecilia Weber Warrior Cops the Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in

American Police Departments, Cato Briefing Paper No. 50, which reports on the general

militarization of American Police Departments. As in the 1920s, developments in

policing methods followed general trends.

      Chronicle, April 4, 2001
      Chronicle, April 22,1994
      There are strong indicators that Latino gang violence has recently been on the rise and

bodes still worse for the future. See Heather, McDonald, “The Immigrant Gang Plague,”

City Journal, Summer 2004.
      The homicide count did begin to trend upward in the early years of the century,

though, from its 2000 low of 59. The count was 64 in 2001, 68 in 2002, 70 in 2003, and

85 in 2004.
      Specialized students of Latino homicide might do well to compare circumstances in

the Latino community in San Francisco to that elsewhere in the state. While their

percentage of the homicide statistics in San Francisco is roughly comparable to their

percentage of the population, such is not the case elsewhere. On a statewide basis,

Latinos who make up about 30 percent of the population comprise 45 percent of the

homicide victims.
      Earl Ofari Hutchinson, “Black on Black – Why Inner-City Murder Rates Are Soaring,

Pacific News Service August 13, 2002
      To support its contention the group pointed out that 81 percent of the persons executed

from 1977 to 1998 were convicted of murdering a white person, although whites and

blacks are victims of homicide in almost equal numbers “Executions Racist, Amnesty

Study Finds,” The Arizona Republic May 18, 1999. The same Bureau of Justice statistics

used by Amnesty International contain the information which would suggest a very

different conclusion. According to Justice department figures for the period from 1976 to

1999, blacks commit a large percentage of felony murders (six out of ten) -- like those

during a robbery and rape -- the ones most likely to get you hanged.
      According to Bureau of Justice figures in 2001, 48 of the 66 executed in the United

States were white, 17 black and one was an American Indian. People of color made up

63. 4 percent of those convicted on homicide charges. http:/www.oj,,htm
      See Michael S. Williams “A Neigborhood not under siege – just underestimated,”

Chronicle, July 2, 2004. As the Reverend Williams urges his young charges to avoid

activities that will result in their imprisonment he reminds them that “if they smoke dope

in Bayview, they are regarded as „dope fiends‟ and „incorrigible criminals‟ who must be

dealt with by the „rule of law.‟ If they were to live in other parts of this grand metropolis,

they could engage in the same behavior and be regarded as being „chemically dependent‟

and „misunderstood individuals.‟”

      Earl Ofari Hutchison in “Why are Black Leaders Silent on Black Hate crimes.” March 6, 2000) says “a motley collection of white supremacist groups has

eagerly made black-on-white violence a wedge issue in their crusade to paint blacks as

the prime racial hate mongers in America.” But Swain, in the The New White Nationalism

In America,124, opines that one explanation for the “reluctance on the part of white

politicians and members of the media to label black-on-white crimes as racially

motivated for fear of generating mass retaliatory white violence.”
      Clarence Page. “Hate-Crime Laws Not for „Whites Only,‟”, July 16, 2000.
      One observer with a front row seat to the carnage in city is the Reverend Alvin

Dickson, pastor of the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church in the midst of the free fire

zone. “People are out there killing because they know they won‟t be caught,” says pastor

Dickson, “Oakland has been taken over by the drug dealers.” Chronicle September 15,

2002. Lloyd Vogelman, of the University of Witwatersand, studying the rising tide of

violence in South Africa in the early 1990s identified the same phenomenon. “one of the

main reasons crime is rising so fast is the criminal‟s confidence,” he said. “they perceive,

quite rightly, that there is little likelihood that they will be apprehended.” Chronicle, June

28, 1991.
      Kerman Maddox “Blood and Silence: Black-on-black violence must be faced head-

on,” Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2003.
      Shannon Reeves, the head of the Oakland NAACP and others are asking such

questions about the murder rate in Oakland. Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson reported

on the debate in Oakland on a proposed anti-loitering law in aftermaths of city‟s bloodiest

year in with 113 homicides, aimed at street corner drug dealers from which much of the

violence stems. He reported mixed feelings. Watchdog groups are wary but residents of

the affected neighborhoods are less concerned about civil liberties. Johnson comes down

on side of the residents.
      Jim Herron Zamora, Janine DeFao and Henry K. Lee. “A plea for help as bullets fly:

CHP, sheriff to aid Oakland‟s beleaguered police as city‟s homicide rate accelerates,”

Chronicle, September 7, 2003.
      Cynthia Tucker “Black America must debate its failings,” Chronicle, May 27, 2004.
      California State Penal Code Section 15.
      Crime in the United States 2001, vii
      Lane, Roots of Violence,134. According to Roger Lane, “The murder rate is the only

trustworthy measure of the comparative incidence of violence.”
      Harold J. Weiss Jr.. “Overdosing and Underestimating: A Look at a Violent and Not-

so-Violent American West.” In the Quarterly of the National Association for Outlaw and

Lawman History, Inc. Vol 27, No. 2 April June 2003 says, “Have western historical

writers used the same data base? Information about criminal homicide can be collected in

several different ways,” he reminds us, “those committed; those reported to the police;

those cleared by police arrests; those that resulted in indictments by a Grand Jury; those

that came to trial; those that ended in a court conviction; and those that involved prison

time. The figures about murders in the justice system will become more accurate as you

proceed through this list from beginning to end.”
      Theodore Ferdinand “The Criminal Patterns of Boston Since 1849.” The American

Journal of Sociology. 73, 1967: p, 688-98

      Lane, Murder in America, 115 cautions that indictment rates “must not be mistaken

for the actual number of homicides committed.”
      Wolfgang, Patterns in Criminal Homicide, 291.
      Brearly, Homicide, 132.
      Call, January 1, 1877.
      Munro-Fraser, History of Marin County, 238-56.
      Coroner‟s Inquest Book, Marin County.
      I would refer those who doubt newspapers as an adequate source of information about

nineteenth century homicide to my Let Justice Be Done: Crime and Politics in Early San

Francisco where the topic is discussed at some length.
      Held in bound volumes in the San Francisco History Center of the Main San Francisco

      The annual totals are sometimes distorted by the inclusion of some numbers of “pre-

natal infanticides” and deaths occurring during abortions, events which are not

considered in modern counts of criminal homicide. Fortunately, Coroner Levi Dorr

published a table in 1882 to illustrate the negative effects of unlicensed firearms which

contains total numbers of homicides and suicides by firearms and other means for each

year between 1862 and 1882. Municipal Reports 1881-1882, 56.
      The compilers quite obviously omitted most Chinese homicides. Fortunately, there are

occasional contemporary newspaper stories which compile lists of “Mongolian Murders.”
      The newspaper claimed that its figures were based on an examination of Coroner‟s


      In his 1881 report, the Coroner commented on the decline by two-thirds in Chinese

homicides compared to the previous year: “It is not proper to infer that this class of

murders have so remarkably decreased, in fact. There are circumstances, short of proof,

existing which lead to the belief that not a few cases of murder are concealed from the

proper authorities.” Municipal Reports 1880-1881, 201. And we can‟t be sure that all the

homicides are being detected in modern times. Chronicle, March 30, 2003. In 2003 a

man convicted of murder in San Francisco informed of four other undetected murders he

had committed in the city in the previous 20 years.
      In a sample month selected at random, January 1998, the Police Department murder

book names eight murder victims. In the Supplementary Homicide Report form for that

month, transmitted to the State Department of Justice for inclusion in the FBI annual

count, five homicides are noted in the summary section of the report. All eight victims

are listed in the sections for individual victims, so perhaps the count was readjusted. Even

so, one perpetrator shown as African American in the Murder book, was transformed into

a Latino in the material transmitted to the FBI and one African American victim was

converted to a white.

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