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Crime and Grime

Wall Street owns the country. It is no longer a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street.

Mary Ellen Lease, Populist Party


As the millionaires multiply, so, in the shadows of their skyscrapers, does crime and poverty.

In Chicago you can rent a gun by the hour. In New York a policeman finds a list on a murdered gangster; it's his rate card:

Punches: $2

Nose & jaw broke: $10

Ear chewed off: $15

Murder: $100+


In response, NY Detective Bureau Chief, Thomas F Byrnes, gives criminals the third degree. In the first, he uses persuasion. His second degree involves intimidation. The third...pain.

But it's his methodology as much as his muscle that puts the criminals on the defensive. He photographs criminals, creating a rogue's gallery of 7,000 known criminals. These are distributed to other police districts. He also, for the first time, builds psychological profiles of criminals, detailing their behaviour, history and environment.

And it's the ever growing slums which he polices that are both the hiding places, and the breeding grounds for his criminal targets. Byrne's fight against crime is documented by Danish immigrant, Jacob Riis, a crime reporter and photographer. Byrnes gives him tip-offs and scoops in return for positive publicity. But Riis now wants to publicise the appalling conditions in which too many Americans are living.


A family which started in a squalid one room apartment on the Lower East Side would gradually promote itself to better accommodation...until it could cross the rivers into the boroughs of the Bronx...The Tenement Trail. Hugh Brogan

People were crowded in. They were in windowless tenements. Sometimes you had no internal plumbing, just privies in the basement, in the backyard. And the lower east side during these years was the single most crowded place in the entire world. Beverly Gage, Yale University

In these slums, human waste simply pours into alleys. Riis is the first to expose the slums but magazines refuse to publish his photographs. So he puts on his own magic lantern shows and puts his photos in a book called 'How the other half lives'. Polite society is appalled, and politicians realise there's votes in acting. As one commented:

The poor are the most grateful people in the world, and, let me tell you, they have more friends in their neighbourhoods than the rich have in theirs.

Within two decades, the worst of the New York slums are torn down and tenements are sold at auction for as little as a dollar.


In just one year, 40,000 die from filth and disease. In 1895, 120,000 horses dump 200,000 kilos of manure onto New York streets every day. Metre high piles of animal and human waste block paths. Colonel George Waring, Civil War veteran, is the sewer engineer solution.

The city stinks…the crowded streets are a veritable hell.

Waring recruits an army of 2,000 sanitation workers in white uniforms whom critics call his 'white ducks'. Waring recycles sewage with organic waste being boiled into oil and grease. 697km of streets are cleaned by his workers and the lives of thousands are saved. Just 16 years after Waring, half of all American cities have waste collection. By 1907, every large city has sewers.

Did you know?

With corruption systemic in politics and business, paradoxically, the most corrupt men had to be wholly men of their words. If they promised a bribe would be paid, a blind eye turned, it would, 'which is partly why so many notorious scoundrels were known as 'Honest John' or 'Honest Bill'. Hugh Brogan: The Penguin History of the USA, The campaigning of Riis leads to all NY schools building playgrounds and all landlords building toilets inside apartments. His book 'How the Other Half Lives' sold more than 28m copies worldwide., In 1895, 120,000 horses dumped 200,000 kilos of manure onto NY streets every day. By 1909, there were 67,642 km of sewers in America. , Byrnes photographing of thousands of criminals has evolved into the routine taking of 12 million crime photos a year in America.