The Charlotte News

Sunday, August 6, 1939


Site Ed. Note: For a somewhat sterner sounding view from Cash on capital crime than that contained below in "Grey Mouse", albeit on quite different facts, see "Life's Price", May 15, 1940, as well as "Chivalry", May 30, 1940.

(Further Note, added July, 2005): The question here is begged: Is a life--any life, even one of dubious worth at the present--worth no more than ultimate retribution for the theft of 20 cents? Especially in a time of vast unemployment and institutionalized discrimination. Many states in recent times have encountered much the same moral question in exacting life sentences on a third-strike felony conviction for some petty property crime.

Cash is right, of course. The fault is with a system of punishment which, theoretically and historically under our system, has as one of its principal tenets, rehabilitation, in addition to the other two R's, retribution, and, when possible, restitution. Stress retribution more than rehabilitation and inevitably the fourth R looms large, recidivism.

The immediate cure can come from more and more ultimate retribution, of course; but that is short-sighted and ultimately a dismal failure in the long haul, only encouraging the behavior in others as a form of rebellion, (for just look at what they did to old Art over there across the road and over 20 cents)--or, moreover, abject survival, (a man's got to eat)--against a callous society no longer concerned with the problems inherent in the cycle of generational poverty.

The ultimate answer lies, as always, in better education, meaning not only better facilities but, most of all, better, more highly paid, motivated, and qualified teachers, better integration of society, greater effort on the part of each member of the community toward that end--each parent, each student, each citizen. Each of us must do our part to see that Art does not need to break into someone's house to steal 20 cents.

But for Art, some will say, it's the thrill of the hunt in part, the thrill of not getting caught which motivates his stealing, as surely as his aching belly. Maybe it is that in part, but that came only after Art got bent by those societal pliers when some good teacher should have been teaching him the moral inherent in Measure for Measure, or its equivalent, and for an hour after school if necessary, not sending him to the principal and guidance counsellor to suffer berating for occasional acting out or truancy, finally in frustration sending him home on suspension, so that he could have that much more time to slip out and learn his "trade" at a tender age...

So, some will ask, what to do about Art after the poor education failed him or, as you wish, he failed himself. Well, Measure for Measure is still there, you see, still fresh as always, for you to read and to impart to Art, at your leisure. He's an adult; he can understand. Make no mistake. He can understand. And you might even learn things along the way salutary to your own soul, for Art's sake.

Ah, it's a vicious cycle, this life we live, but as great teachers always know and echo, "Where there's a will, there's a way," for the good to be brought out in each, not just in Art, but also in those from whom Art stole as well, and, ultimately, in all of society. It happens.


Mr. Mussolini Cleans Out The Wicked Authors

It is scarcely wonderful to find H. G. Wells, Thomas Mann, Emil Ludwig, Arnold Zweig, Jacob Wasserman, and other moderns on the list of authors whose works have been officially forbidden in Italy. All of them are or were democratic liberals in outlook, and opposed to dictators.

But it is a little hard to know how Balzac, a good authoritarian, got on the list. Or Poe, or good old Bocaccio, whose Decameron has been the most treasured jewel of Italian literature for more than five centuries. Is Italy actually at length turning Puritanical? And harder still it is to understand the ban on Machiavelli, who is plainly Benito Mussolini's teacher and master, and in praise of whom Benito once wrote a monograph. And what on earth is wrong with old cigar-smoking George Sand save that she was a dead ringer for Benito's own daughter, Countess Edda Ciano?

But stranger than any of these is the fact that Edgar Wallace, and all Buffalo Bill and Nick Carter stories are under the ban, too. A sad, dull land that Italy is getting to be when there can be no more laughter over the sad tale of Rustico and his undoing by the little maid, Abilech, and when little boys must give up their loved Neeck da Cart and visions of chasing Indians in the wild strange American land, when the tired business man must read himself to sleep with pap about the greatness of Benito instead of happily sitting up all night with Mr. Wallace.

Grey Mouse

Despite His Long Record, Execution Is Dubious

Governor Hoey's reprieve of the "Grey Mouse"--the Negro Arthur Morris, under sentence of death for first-degree burglary--suggests, despite the official denials, that he has some lingering doubt about the execution of men for this crime.

Certainly the state at large has always exhibited that doubt. The death penalty is assessed against the crime in no other state of the union. And though a few men have actually been executed in North Carolina, public opinion has generally been strong enough to result in a commutation.

The circumstances in this case are particularly aggravated. The Negro is charged with having committed about 50 burglaries in his life. And after escaping from a prison camp at Durham where he was serving a 50-year sentence, he committed several more including the one which won him the death penalty, before he was recaptured.

Nevertheless, the execution of a man for burglaries in which no one was injured save in his property (he got 20 cents in the burglary which netted him his ticket to the gas chamber) is a dubious performance. And when Governor Hoey argues that "the prison cure has failed" because the fellow once escaped, he is begging the question. It rather looks to us as though the failure there belongs on other heads than that of the Negro.

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