The Charlotte News

Friday, October 22, 1937


Site Ed. Note: This was likely the first by-lined piece by Cash to appear on the regular editorial page, as opposed to his usual forum to this point in time, the book-page. It would precede by nine days the beginning of his regular stint as Associate Editor, though it is apparent that he was already contributing several editorials to the daily column during October. "Prospectus" from the regular column of this day, for instance, is probably his.

Here, he tackles a subject which would become a regular part of the column for at least the ensuing couple of years, the consistent tension between enforcing generally laws against gambling, illicit trade in alcohol, and Blue laws prohibiting Sunday baseball, Sunday movies, and an endless list of other verboten activity of the kind on the Christian Sabbath, at the behest of the Mecklenburg Association for Law and Order, and the otherwise grotesque statistics on murder in the community, ranking Charlotte consistently tops in the nation at the time for per capita intentional homicide, as well the tendency to prosecute, at least to the full extent allowed by law, only white on white murder, or black on white murder, leaving the black community to fend for itself in the matter.

Cash consistently insisted, contrary to popular belief, that the rate of murder was not the result of slums and the black population in the community--doing so with ample proof from statistical abstracts on other cities of greater population, higher numbers of slums and African-Americans, yet lower murder rates--, but rather the tendencies on which this editorial expounds.

While Maflo Piddles

By W. J. Cash

WHENEVER I read accounts of MAFLO's mighty feats in locking up a pint-peddler or putting down gambling on the burning question of what hole a little mousie will choose to pop through, my thoughts always go off grimly to something else. I mean that, according to the report of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charlotte in 1936 had 55 cases of murder and non-negligent homicide.

That, I always recall, is almost exactly one-fourth as many cases as Chicago had, nearly a sixth as many as New York had. More than that, Charlotte's murder rate was three times the general rate for Southern towns with more than 10,000 people, nine times that of such towns in the Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast States, and fifty times that of such towns in the New England States! And finally, and worst of all, it was, according to the figures of the FBI report, the very highest rate for any town in the whole American country! The figures for the other major crimes of violence and for burglary and larceny showed much the same appalling result, too.

But what has MAFLO to do with these things? A good deal, I suspect. Or at least I suspect that there is a very definite correlation between the complex which has given rise to MAFLO and the fact that these things exist.

* * *

I am suggesting nothing so nonsensical, of course, as that the MAFLO complex is solely or even primarily responsible for it. The presence of the Negro and the presence of the slums are undoubtedly the mightiest factors in the case. But do not delude yourself too easily with the assumption that they explain the whole of it. The studies of such sociologists as Howard Odum show pretty plainly, indeed, that the Negro and the slums are inadequate for a full explanation of the generally high murder and violence rate in of the South at large. And certainly, they will not fully explain the case of Charlotte. For not more than a third of Charlotte's population is composed of blacks, whereas there are dozens of towns farther South which are more than half black. And Charlotte's slums, bad as they are, are not the worst slums in Dixie by a good deal.

* * *

So I advance the MAFLO complex of Charlotte as being a ponderable factor in the homicide equation. The thing works in two ways. One of those is the way Mr. Graham Doar was pointing out in his letter published on this page last Sunday. All sorts of piddling "moralities" which have no sanction in common-sense are written into law. And written into law, too, are all sorts of other things which, while sound enough morally for the individual, lie without the normal province of law--as temperance and chastity. We are going to have Prohibition and put down the licker traffic in face of the overwhelming evidence, piled up in these parts and in all the United States during the last eighteen years, that we can't. Yes, and in the face of evidence going straight back to Azilean man, we are going to exterminate gambling among us, down to and including the shooting of marbles for keeps.

* * *

And the outcome? Men simply refuse to be bound by highhanded Blue laws, and men, however lamentably, go on serving their appetites as they have served them world without memory, and as they promise to serve them world without end. "Laws" are broken by the wholesale; "laws" become a sly jest in the throat, a guffaw in the street. And once you have broken one law--it is easier to break another. And so the upshot is that the whole structure of law is weakened--that the general taboo is weakened--and that respect for the sum of it goes swooping down.

That is one way the MAFLO complex works out in practice. The other way is this: that it diverts and dissipates police energy. Adequate policing cannot by itself prevent murder and crimes of violence, but it plays a very big part in putting them down. And so far as numbers of policemen go, Charlotte is probably as adequately policed as the usual American town. But--has anybody heard of a town where they were so loaded down with laws to enforce?

There is nothing mysterious about the nature of a cop. For one thing he is simply a man with a job, anxious before everything else to keep it. And for another, he had as soon, everything else being equal, not get shot. If he knows that the great body of people who hold his fate in their hands do not really want a "law" enforced, and if in addition he knows that half the population of the county would be required actually to enforce it, he is candidly willing not to exert himself too much about it. On the other hand, if he knows that a great body of these same people who control his job want a continual uproar and hocus-pocus about "law enforcement"--why, there again, he is willing to oblige.

* * *

And if his days are so consumed with the petty concerns piled upon him that he has no time left for policing the districts where murders and high crimes of violence take place--for catching the perpetrators of these crimes--well, who can blame him if he acquiesces in that willingly and even a little gladly? After all, men wanted for murder and high crimes are often somewhat on the tigerish side, and their inhibitions against the shooting of cops unpleasantly unstable.

I might go on. But the picture is fundamentally clear, I trust. Charlotte, in its burning concern with picayunish moralities or with moralities impossible of enforcement--in its hot zeal to stand before the world as the peak and summit of righteousness--has forgotten the greater part, and lapsed into a strange and dangerous indifference toward crimes that are the most deadly crimes under every code that has ever existed under the sun.

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