1. Brian Paciotti
2. James Dachauer
3. Richard H. Dillon
4. Roger D. McGrath
5. John Davenport
Robert M. Senkewicz
8. Keith Edgerton
9. Mark R. Ellis
10 Wilbur R. Miller
October 11, 2005
Kevin Mullen's "Dangerous Strangers" is a wonderful contribution to the field of criminology and violence studies. The book offers academics a new set of data and interpretations concerning the role that ethnicity plays on patterns of interpersonal violence. The author contrasts "structural" explanations with "cultural" explanations in an attempt to evaluate the relative importance of such social forces. Although many criminologists favor structural views and are wary to consider the role of culture (especially concerning ethnicity), Mullen provides strong support for the cultural thesis. For readers less familiar with this academic debate, first recognize that most homicides involve interpersonal disputes over money, romantic relationships, or other squabbles. Structural theorists think that non-cultural forces such as discrimination, unemployment and poverty lead to more frustration among individuals, and this in turn leads to violent forms of dispute resolution.
Cultural theorists agree with this, but highlight that different
populations have different cultural rules and values about how
disputes should be resolved. In some societies, individuals can
actually be punished by their peers for not acting aggressively
to react to insults or to resolve disputes. Mullen does an
excellent job illustrating that a variety of groups such as the
Chinese, Italians, Irish, and Mexicans all were somewhat
different in their preferences to deal with disputes. For
example, the Chinese immigrants brought with them Tong
organizations that eventually became involved in the vice
industry. These organizations also had a strong sense of group
loyalty and honor that resulted in many "tit for tat" killings
to save face after one's organization had been slighted.
Overall, Mullen is correct not to dichotomize the debate between
culture and society, but to understand the complex interactions
between these forces. In reality, BOTH social structure and
culture are important!
2. Dachauer, James
When homicide rates began to plummet across the nation in the late 1990s, the pundits got in line to explain why. Some credited the reduction to the jobs provided by the booming high-tech economy. 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.
One study argued that is was the legalization of abortion 20 years ago that reduced the number of unwanted births which previously resulted in much of that murder prone population of young males. Others pointed to the effect of various juridical and law enforcement innovations –“three-strikes-and-you’re-out legislation and enforcement programs such as that initiated by Commissioner Bratton in New York City, which, by the enforcement of “quality of life” violations, brought the homicide rate down dramatically.
That was a switch because for a generation we have been hearing that there is little the police can do about violent street crime. “No evidence exists that augmentation of police forces or equipment, differential patrol strategies or differential intensities of surveillance have any effect on crime rates,” reported Michael R. Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi in their 1990 A General Theory of Crime. As late as 1998, in response to a reporter’s question about the district’s homicide rate, 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.” The debate about what causes high levels of criminal violence and the best way to reduce those levels is sure to continue.
In DANGEROUS STRANGERS, retired San Francisco deputy police chief Kevin Mullen traces the arrival of eight successive waves of minority newcomers to the city and their reception by the host society. As part of that reception he considers the role of the police at every step of the way. In the violent Gold Rush era, neither the police nor the rest of the embryonic justice system was up to the task at hand, so a group of outraged citizens took matters in hand, executed a number of criminal miscreants as -- you might say-- the self-appointed surrogates of the regular justice system.
One of the themes which emerges from the study is that at every turning law enforcement officials pushed the constitutional envelope if they were successful in controlling criminal violence. By the 1860s after conditions stabilized Martin Burke was elected Chief of Police. 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.”
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.”
Upon Burke’s departure from office there followed one of the most violent periods in the city’s history, characterized by the depredations of the Irish hoodlum gangs and killings by Chinese tong gangsters. In the end these conditions were moderated by the establishment of patrol wagon call-box systems which permitted response to calls for help from officers previously isolated on their lonely foot beats, and by a trebling of the force which allowed that there was enough help to send.
By the late teens and early 1920s it was Italian Black Hand gangsters and the proliferation of auto robberies which left officers standing in the dust as the robbers sped off, which called forth the introduction of motorized police patrols. In our rush to re-embrace a variation of the old nineteenth-century “community policing” techniques, Mullen reminds us, it was in response to a very real criminal threat that they were abandoned in the first place.
It was in the 1960s of recent memory, that crime again surged, much of it committed by recently arrived African-Americans from the South. Like their counterparts of earlier days, the newcomers contributed disproportionately to violent crime rates. Mullen traces those increases in parallel with a number of court decisions limiting police practices. In the 1990s hard nosed enforcement programs akin to those in New York and elsewhere contributed to bringing the rates down once again.
There is more to the book than be covered in a brief review but I can recommend it to any police officer to explain how we got to be where we are today and how our predecessors dealt with some of the same problems being faced by society today. In the interests of full disclosure I must point out that I am a friend of the author. At first I thought I was going to have to read the book out of a sense of personal and professional duty as I am not particularly drawn to books containing statistical analyses. But as I worked through the text I found myself repeatedly looking forward to my next reading session.
Not everyone will agree with all of Mullen’s conclusions, and constitutional lawyers might argue about whether or not the police should have done the things they did of old. But the fact remains, as Mullen recounts, these are the things the officers did and, when they did them, criminal violence decreased.
Dangerous Strangers by Kevin J. Mullen, from Palgrave-Macmillan (175 5th Av. New York, 10010) is an exhaustive and scholarly survey, with all the bells and whistles of an academic monograph . . . notes, bibliography, graphs, etc and, alas, it is priced accordingly at $69.95. It is not only an interesting volume, but also quite readable. Mullen has a knack (or skill) for blending the analyses of sociology, specifically, criminology, into anecdotal narrative history.
The minorities studied closely are, with one exception, the obvious ones in San Francisco’s case, Latinos, Irish, Chinese, Italians and African-Americans. All but the last of these groups arrived in the 19th Century; the black migration was a World War II phenomenon. The exceptional minority was the long-forgotten Sydney Ducks, the Australians who plagued the early Vigilantes.
By carefully collecting and studying current scholarly opinion as well as statistics, the author determines the amount of violence, including homicide in each ethnic group. He then attempts to find the root causes. In doing so, he must separate history (fact) form the humbug of lore (myth, legend).
This is no easy task because official documentation can sometimes be in short supply. This shortage demands, in its place, page-by–page scanning of newspaper stories, for whole decades of history, and their direful evaluation.
In addition, Mullen is a bit wary of “stats” because statistics can of the fib. Some lazy researcher might, for example, use a theoretical population of 100,000 to figure the incidence of homicide in a group, but if the sampling is too small, he might end up with a high murder rate for the Finnish or Kanaka population of ‘Frisco should even one Finn or Sandwich islander end up dead by violence.
It may surprise, even disgruntle, partisans of p.c (politically-correct) history to learn that virtually every ethnic group of strangers endured a higher level of violence than that of the mainstream society. Mullen is convinced that more of the blame falls on the cultural baggage brought by the newcomer than on the suspicion and hostility of the “host” community. A third factor, of course, is the harshness of law enforcement procedures encountered by the immigrants.
Each reader will learn a lot of history from this excellent study and will, absolutely, come up with some real surprises. In the case of this reviewer (third generation Irish) it is a relief to learn that the second generation was far more troublesome to police than the original raw immigrants (and presumably, those of my generation.) Reassuring, too, is the fact that, while the propensity for violence of Irish and Irish-Americans tested high, it was seldom lethal. The pugnacious Celts preferred to fight with fists and clubs, not knives and pistols. There might be an occasional homicide as the result of a brawl that got out-of-hand, but few were deliberate murders.
What about the folks who brought us World War I and II? German immigrants have been remarkably peaceable. Other major groups of importance, but limited numbers, hardly appear here. Both Jews and French in San Francisco have been almost “excessively” law-abiding. Kevin answers a lot of questions about the changing climate of violence in San Francisco (and elsewhere in the West) over the years, right here.
Immigrants brought their bad habits with them.
reviewed by Roger D. McGrath
Dangerous Strangers is a must read for anyone interested in crime, urban and immigrant studies, or San Francisco. Author Kevin Mullen was a San Francisco cop for nearly 30 years, retiring as deputy chief of the department. He knows the city intimately and has studied its history thoroughly. He was born in an Irish neighborhood in the Noe Valley section of San Francisco in 1935, and got on the force in 1959 after serving in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. Central casting could not have supplied a more stereotypical Irish cop. With a mug that has the Emerald Isle written all over it and a six-foot two-inch heavy-boned frame, the red-faced Mullen could be mistaken for nothing else.
With a sharp mind and a devotion to duty he rose rapidly through the ranks, all the time making mental notes on San Francisco, people, and crime. When he retired, he indulged his intellectual curiosity by researching crime in pioneer San Francisco, which resulted in his first book, Let Justice Be Done: Crime and Politics in Early San Francisco (1989). In it, Mr. Mullen clearly demonstrated that crime and violence in the city were not so much a consequence of the wild rush for gold but the conflict created by disparate groups with different values occupying the same space. His new book, which reflects more than a decade of research, develops a similar theme but over a century and a half. The breadth and depth of the study is spectacular and should firmly establish Kevin Mullen as the authority on crime and violence in San Francisco. At the same time, the book is full of interesting anecdotes and colorful descriptions that could hardly be surpassed by a detective novel.
Most importantly, especially in today's politically-correct climate, Mr. Mullen tells the story of immigrant and minority crime without omissions, euphemisms, or convoluted rationalizations. Dangerous Strangers is simply the straight scoop. With a focus principally on homicide, Mr. Mullen concludes that high rates of criminal violence can be attributed more to the characteristics of a particular immigrant group than to its reception or treatment. As Mr. Mullen puts it, "It is also found that the violent behavior can often be traced to behaviors emerging from the newcomers' culture--more than is generally conceded--than to discrimination on the part of the host society." He further concludes that the way the police operate affects the level of violence: aggressive and rigorous policing does suppress violence.
Mr. Mullen plays no favorites. Australian, Irish, Chinese, Hispanic, and Italian immigrants, as well as black migrants from the South, are all scrutinized for their contributions to criminal violence in San Francisco. Mr. Mullen understands he will be attacked: "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."
One of San Francisco's first criminal gangs was the Sydney Ducks, which operated in the 1850s. Criminal and Australian even became nearly synonymous, but Mr. Mullen reveals that the homicides attributed to Australians were wildly exaggerated. At the same time, though, they did commit a disproportionate number of robberies, and Robert McKenzie and "English Jim" Stuart, two of the most notorious of the Sydney Ducks, ended up at the end of a rope.
There have been many attempts to explain the high rate of robberies by Australians, including the extension of San Francisco wharves, which eliminated the need for boatmen to haul goods over the mud flats--work that was dominated by those from Down Under. The most important factor, says Mr. Mullen, is not unemployment or any of the many other reasons proffered, but a simple statistic: nearly 20 percent of all Australian men who arrived in San Francisco already had criminal records. They had been criminals in Britain and Australia, and now they were criminals in America. Although they were only six percent of early San Francisco's population, they committed 50 percent of the robberies. "While the Australia from which the Gold Rush immigrants came might not have been particularly plagued with criminal violence," concludes Mr. Mullen, "many of the Australians who answered the call to gold from California definitely brought criminal propensities with them."
Contributing disproportionately to criminal homicide in Gold Rush San Francisco were Hispanics. Many were recent immigrants to America, giving the lie to the old argument that they were a conquered and oppressed people fighting the new and hated Anglo establishment. Says Mr. Mullen: "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 behavior." Many of the Hispanic criminals were recent arrivals from either Mexico or Chile. The Chileans, says Old West historian Jay Monaghan, included rotos, whom he describes as "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."
Many Mexican immigrants could be similarly described. Nonetheless, the myth of the peaceful old Californio turned avenger for his oppressed people persists as demonstrated by the legend of Joaquin Murrieta. Most of what California students are told today about Murrieta comes from a wildly fictional tale created by John Rollin Ridge, a part-Cherokee who published a book about the bandido in 1854. Ridge said Americans drove Murrieta from his claim, flogged him and raped his wife, and hanged his brother. Murrieta, according to Ridge's tale, then set out on a course of revenge, killing all the gringos responsible. Actually, Murrieta was not a Californio but a Mexican from Sonora who did not arrive in California until 1849. He was not flogged, his wife was not raped, and his brother was not hanged. Murrieta led a gang that robbed and killed without compunction, attacking Americans, Mexicans, and Chinese. Murrieta and his bandidos killed nearly as many Chinese as whites, and Chinese were outnumbered by whites ten-to-one. One of Murrieta's victims was black. Truth be told, criminal gangs like Murrieta's were very much in operation in Sonora at this time--without any Anglo oppressors. Murrieta brought his criminality with him from Mexico.
Another popular notion concerns unequal punishment. In San Francisco, says Mr. Mullen, "from 1850 through 1859, 15.6 percent of those punished for homicide by hanging or imprisonment were Hispanic (five of 32) against their approximately six percent of the population." It would seem that Latinos were suffering under the Anglo justice system until one learns that they committed 15.1 percent of the homicides during the same period--a near perfect match. Moreover, most of the Hispanic killings described by Mr. Mullen were Hispanic on Hispanic.
Mr. Mullen traces the Irish propensity for violence to classical antiquity. Posidonius, a Greek historian of the first century said, "These Celtic warriors were wont to be moved by chance remarks . . . to the point of fighting." Dozens of other such descriptions are recorded. "We have no word for the man who is excessively fearless," said Aristotle, "perhaps one may call such a man mad or bereft of feeling, who fears nothing, neither earthquakes nor waves, as they say of the Celts." "The whole race," noted Strabo, "is madly fond of war, high-spirited and quick to battle . . . . For at any time or place and on whatever pretext you stir them up, you will have them ready to face danger, even if they have nothing on their side but their own strength and courage." This was 2,000 years before the Irish immigrated to America and faced prejudice. The Irish simply have a propensity for fighting. Sean McCann in The Fighting Irish describes an Irishman 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."
Mr. Mullen argues that Irishmen brought all this to San Francisco and that the propensity for fighting continued into subsequent generations. It's in the blood. Not by accident, many of San Francisco's cops and police chiefs were Irish, led by the city's first chief, Malachi Fallon. In conversations with Mr. Mullen he told me that the toughest kids in San Francisco before and after his time on the force were Irish. He remembers in the late 1940s and early 1950s the older guys he grew up with would leave their Irish neighborhoods and head for the Fillmore district looking for blacks to fight.
This love of a good fight continued during the 1980s and 90s with the sons of Irishmen who immigrated to San Francisco during the 1950s and early 60s. While many white kids had been sissified or drug addled during the late 1960s and 1970s, the sons of Irish immigrants were like the kids Mr. Mullen was reared with in the 1930s and 40s. They took no guff, especially not from blacks, and were more afraid of their own fathers than of cops or anybody else. Whites found in the Fillmore district during the 1970s, Mr. Mullen told me, were usually there to buy drugs. But by the 1980s and 90s the generation of Irish sons of immigrants had come of age and, like the toughs of a couple of generations earlier, were there to fight. That they and their pale-blue eyes were strikingly out of place did not go unnoticed by the SFPD. "What might you be doing in this neighborhood," coppers would ask. The Irish kids would answer quite openly that they were looking for some blacks who had jumped a friend. The fact that they were in a neighborhood where they were greatly outnumbered seemed not to faze them. On the other hand, blacks avoided the Irish immigrant neighborhoods in the Sunset district.
Mr. Mullen said that Irish parents reacted very differently from others to reports that their sons had been fighting. Most were astounded to hear their boys were in jail just for fighting. "The lad was fighting, you say, and you've put him in jail for that? Bejaysus!"
Chinese violence was usually over women or involved secret societies and their competition for control of Chinatown's gambling, prostitution, and opium dens. While the pugnacious Irish were fighting, the Chinese were killing, often with knives or meat cleavers--and women suffered disproportionately. The Chinese were effective killers, accounting for some 20 percent of San Francisco's homicides from 1850 through 1969, while comprising only about six percent of the population. "Model" immigrants they were not.
Unlike whites, especially in the early years, the Chinese killings were not the result of a bad night of drinking in the saloon. Disputes often came from old animosities in China over political factions or Triad associations. At the same time, the Triads controlled prostitution, and Chinese women were in short supply. During the 1870s when the white sex ratio had equalized, Chinese men still outnumbered women 20-to-one. Typical was Ah Kow's killing of Moon Ping. The murder, said the Alta California, the state's leading newspaper at the time, "arose out of the late difficulties about imported Chinese women." The fashionable claim is that American immigration policies caused the sex imbalance, but Mr. Mullen explains that a prohibition against emigration of women was deeply rooted in Chinese custom and law. A Chinese publication noted that it was "contrary to the custom and against the inclination of virtuous Chinese women to go so far from home . . . ."
In China, protection money was the lifeblood of secret societies, and it was no different in San Francisco. Disputes that led to murder were often attributed to extortion. Tong wars most commonly resulted from battles over protection money for brothels, opium dens, and gambling halls. The first tong war in San Francisco erupted when the Suey Sing and Kwong Duck tongs had a dispute over a prostitute known only as the Golden Peach. There were Triad Society and tongs centuries before Chinese immigration to the United States, and these groups had nothing to do with the host nation.
Chinese convicted of murder were more likely than others to get the death sentence. At first glance this would seem a racial injustice. Mr. Mullen reveals that the disparity is accounted for by the murder being coupled with another crime, which usually brings a harsher penalty. Chinese criminal homicides were often a result of robberies or extortion attempts. "From a reading of the cases," says Mr. Mullen, "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." Moreover, many of the Chinese sentenced to death had prior convictions, including convictions for murder.
Far from being marginalized by the host society, argues Mr. Mullen, the Chinese in the 19th century chose to run their own affairs by their own standards. They did not let the police and courts address their problems. Most of their conflict was internal and a good portion of it can be attributed to a decades-long battle between the See Yup and Sam Yup tongs, which helped keep the Chinese homicide rate high until the 1920s. With conditions changing in China--Sun Yat Sen had finally defeated the hated Manchus and established the Republic of China--conditions changed in San Francisco. No longer were large numbers of Chinese tong thugs arriving in California.
At the same time, San Francisco Chief of Police Daniel O'Brien decided Chinatown had to be reined in. He appointed Sgt. Jack Manion to lead the department's Chinatown Squad and ordered him to do whatever it took to stop the killings. Manion specialized in profiling. Chinese who had the characteristics of tong killers and no visible means of support were constantly harassed and arrested. Many were deported. He also held a meeting with all the wealthy and powerful leaders of the tongs and told them that if they did not cap the killings he would have them deported. Manion had a no nonsense reputation and it brought results.
Italians had twice the homicide rate of non-Italian whites in the early decades of the twentieth century. Again, Mr. Mullen sees these rates as a product of the immigrants themselves rather than of treatment by the host society. Before 1890, Italians only trickled into San Francisco; by that year the Italian community numbered little more than 8,000. During the next several decades, however, the numbers increased dramatically until there were 57,000 Italians by 1930. Like the Chinese, says Mr. Mullen, the Italians generally came into the city as young, single, males and, like the tong gangsters, Italian Mafia or Black Hand gangsters came to extort and kill. Italians, especially southern Italians, came from a violent, vendetta-dominated society. "The propensity for violence of the southern Italians was not a symptom of social disorganization caused by emigration," says Rudolph Vecoli in The Aliens, "but a characteristic of their Old World culture."
Nonetheless, the Italian crime rates never reached the levels recorded for Italians in Eastern cities. The Italian neighborhoods, such as North Beach, were more easily policed in San Francisco and there was a greater willingness by San Francisco Italians to cooperate with the authorities. The gangsters simply did not have the cover they had in Eastern cities. Moreover, gang warfare over bootlegging did not come to San Francisco during the 1920s as it did to Chicago and other Midwestern and Eastern cities. Immigration reform contributed to reducing Italian violence as well. With drastic cuts in the number of Italians admitted to the US by new laws in 1924 and 1927, the source of fresh killers was blocked. By the 1950s Italian crime rates in San Francisco were beginning to resemble those of other whites.
Lou Calabro, who retired as a lieutenant from the SFPD and worked under Kevin Mullen, was relieved when he came on the force in the early 1960s to find his fellow Italians were close to the white norm. Mr. Calabro, with an inquisitive mind and attention to detail, studied the arrest log books that listed the name, charge, and nativity of everyone arrested and carefully noted all Italians. Even after his retirement from the force he, like his friend Mr. Mullen, continues to study crime in San Francisco and remains one of the experts in the field today.
The black community in San Francisco was also the product of immigration, not from overseas but from the Deep South. Moreover, meaningful statistical data for blacks cannot be developed until the 1940s. Before then there were so few blacks in San Francisco--less than one percent of the population--that extrapolations can lead to wildly erroneous conclusions. Mr. Mullen notes the first murder by a black in San Francisco was committed by Obadiah Paylin in 1853. He was treated rather leniently, sentenced to two years in San Quentin. His victim seems to have been black, although details of the crime are lacking. Interracial killings were soon occurring, though. During the 19th century in San Francisco, there were seven cases in which blacks killed whites and five cases in which whites killed blacks.
Blacks certainly were not treated harshly by the justice system. Case after case described by Mr. Mullen reveals surprisingly lenient treatment, even when the victim was white. A black named Lloyd Bell had some kind of dispute with John Ryan, an Irish bartender at the Drumm Street boarding house for seamen. One night in October 1873, Bell crept into the boarding house and, finding a man asleep, swung an ax into the man's neck, nearly severing the head. As it turned out, the man was not Ryan but a customer sleeping off a drunk. Bell got seven years in San Quentin, but on appeal his sentence was reduced to one year. He was out of prison only for a couple of years before he murdered again, this time his landlady in a dispute over rent. Again, he was sentenced to San Quentin.
Black murders in San Francisco increased dramatically during the early 20th century. Mr. Mullen suggests that much of this was the result of a culture of violence moving north with blacks from the Deep South. The host society does not seem to have been responsible. From 1900 through 1943 there were only two blacks killed by whites. During the same time blacks killed eight whites (and many more blacks).
The black population of San Francisco began growing dramatically during the last two years of the Second World War and had doubled by 1950. It doubled again and again until, by 1970, there were nearly 100,000 blacks in the city, comprising almost 15 percent of the population. Black criminal homicide, wildly disproportionate to population numbers, made San Francisco's murder rate soar. By the 1960s, black murder victims were often white. By the end of the decade it was more common for a white to be killed by a black than by another white. Things got worse for whites in the 1970s. Part of this was a consequence of the infamous Zebra murders, perpetrated by blacks from a religious cult who were intent on destroying the white race. During the 1970s, 80s, and 90s the black homicide rate ebbed and flowed but always remained at least double the black proportion in the population and often triple or quadruple.
The SFPD has tried a number of different tactics to suppress black homicide but all have been discontinued after protests. The most effective tactic harkened back to earlier times when police were given greater latitude in dealing with gangsters. A unit called CRUSH (Crime Response Unit to Stop Homicide) was organized in 1995 and, over the next two years, made 700 felony arrests and seized more than 200 weapons. While murders dropped precipitously in Hunters Point and other black neighborhoods, complaints against the unit began to accumulate. "This was the cowboy unit of the Police Department," said public defender Jeff Brown. Public defender Shelia O'Gara said that "it appeared to us that they were transferring the most volatile cops to the unit." In May 1997 the unit was quietly disbanded. In his apartment in the Sunset district Dirty Harry Callahan consoled himself with another Jameson.
Black crime seems almost intractable. San Francisco was about as welcoming as any host society could be, but instead of the violence lessening with each succeeding generation, as it had with other groups, it got worse. Whenever the cops cracked down--a theme that runs throughout Mr. Mullen's chapter on blacks--crime receded. Whenever the cops backed off, it surged. One cannot help but think of New Orleans and the orgy of looting that occurred as a consequence of passive or absent (or sometimes participating) police.
Roger McGrath is an author, historian, and expert on the old West.
5. John Davenport
(Author’s responses in bold italics interlineated)
Kevin Mullen is to be congratulated for his latest work, Dangerous Strangers, In it, he tackles a potentially controversial subject. Understanding that popular wisdom presumes a connection between immigration and crime, Mullen considers to what extent such a nexus does indeed exist. “Are immigrants in fact responsible for more than their share of crime?” he asks. (p. 3). The author’s provocative reply is sure to unsettle many readers; at least in San Francisco between 1850 and 2000, immigrants exhibited unusual criminality. Even more people certainly will find discomfiting Mullen’s further claim that “high rates of criminal violence can be attributed more to an [an immigrant] group’s culture than generally believed” (p.2). These are serious charges, and proving them would be a heavy burden for any single book to bear, especially one that comes in a slim 139 pages, excluding two useful appendices. It is little wonder then, that Dangerous Strangers can carry that burden only part of the way. (see response below).
Mullen, a former San Francisco deputy of police chief, sifted through the city’s records for evidence that what he terms “minority newcomers” (p.6) committed a range of violent crimes in disproportionate numbers. The conclusion he subsequently draws is solid, and his ultimate argument is persuasive. Immigrants to San Francisco engaged in more than their share of criminal activity, at least until they began t assimilate into the host community. Statistics compiled by the author reveal unique criminal propensities among each group of new arrival. Australians during the early gold rush, as many of their detractors claimed at the time, committed an inordinate number of robberies. Latinos of roughly the same period “contributed disproportionately to the homicide rate”(p.30). In the case of the Irish, Mullen’s findings support his contention that “the general violent reputation of the nineteenth-century Irish is well deserved” (p. 46). Chinese immigrants, the records show, formed murderous gangs that routinely preyed on other Chinese, thus elevating the Asian crime rate to a level three times that would be expected. The author examines he statistics for early twentieth-century Italians and concludes that they “accounted for twice the homicide rate of non-Italian whites” (p. 83). African Americans, according to Mullen’s model, represent a domestic minority newcomer group, having arrived in San Francisco from the American South during and after World War II. Their criminal statistics, however, seem equally skewed. Murder reports in which the assailant was identified by race, indicate that “a disproportionate amount of homicide [in San Francisco] . . . was committed by African Americans (p. 116).
Time and again, the numbers undeniably bolster Mullen’s central assertion that minority newcomers commit more crimes. The companion thesis regarding culture, however, is another matter. Here the author communicates in far less precise terms and leaves a great many questions unanswered. Mullen, in short, does not explain sufficiently how culture fueled crime. What specifically, for instance, about Australian culture predisposed Australians to commit property crimes? (KM. Here the reviewer makes a common mistake. Robbery is not a property crime. Accompanied as it is by violence or the proximate threat of violence, it is considered by most criminal justice analysts to be a crime against the person). Exactly how did culture impart violent tendencies to the Irish immigrant? What aspect of “the Mexican folkloric tradition” inclined Mexicans toward murder (p. 42)? At no point is the cultural portion of the criminal equation elucidated quite well enough. Readers are thus left, to a certain degree, where they began—wondering why minority newcomers committed more crimes. Mullen argues convincingly that the answer in not host community discrimination; unfortunately, he fails to substitute culture in any meaningful way. (KM. My purpose was not – and need not have been-- to trace how the subcultures of violence developed in the groups where it manifested itself, but rather to identify those groups which had developed such subcultures, and show what affect their presence had on the homicide rates in San Francisco. That is to demonstrate, in keeping with—and within the limits of -- my thesis, that the very existence of the subcultures of violence had more to do with the homicide rate than is generally supposed. In that task I think I was successful. The questions posed by the reviewer could be the basis of another, different book. The database is there for anyone to pursue such a project.)
Perhaps it is unreasonable to expect Mullen to make two important contributions to the study of the history of crime in one book. Despite its rather week cultural analysis, Dangerous Strangers does present material that demands serious discussion. The author, if nothing else, has succeeded in opening an honest dialogue on the connection between ethnicity and crime. Historians and others who will benefit from Mullen’s fine work can return the favor by filling in the cultural details he failed to provide. (KM. Go get ‘em ).
REGISTER OF THE KENTUCY HISTORICAL SOCIETY.
vol 103, no. 4, Autumn 2005.
Dangerous Strangers: Minority Newcomers and Criminal Violence in the Urban West, 1850-2000. New York: Palgrave, 2005. xii + 203 pp. Notes, bibliography, index. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 1-4039-6978-7.
Reviewed by: Michael Bellesiles,
Published by: H-Law (April, 2006)
MB: When Raymond Kelly became head of the U.S. Customs Service in 1998 he ordered a halt to ethnic profiling and replaced their list of forty-three traits to watch for with a simplified list of six general categories. Searches by the Customs Service dropped 75 percent while successful seizures increased 25 percent. Kelly instituted the same reform when he became Commissioner of New York City Police in 2002.
Ethnic profiling was the norm in the nineteenth century. It was widely accepted that crime concentrated among certain cultural groups. Law enforcement generally backed up these suppositions with arrests. Of greatest importance, experts agreed that some peoples, such as Hispanics and the Irish, were prone to violence. It was inherent to their culture and thus to their character.
Kevin J. Mullen explores this stereotyping, matching it against prosecution statistics, and finds it reflective of reality.
KM (Kevin Mullen) A small point to the reviewer perhaps-- but important to others —is the fact that the basic data upon which the study is based consists of homicide incidents rather than “prosecution statistics.”(If his use of “prosecution statistics” means what it appears to mean.) Many students of homicide in earlier times have been forced to use “prosecution statistics” because of the absence of adequate data on incidents. Roger Lane, for instance, used homicide indictments (and a sampling of one in four for part of his study) all of which results in very different kinds of numbers. For one thing, many cases, like those for which no one is arrested, don’t ever get counted. Modern statistics are calculated on the basis of incidents occurring. I was able to acquire incidence data on all of the homicides. This allows for more realistic comparisons with modern statistics. An important consideration to homicide studies scholars who count things closely.
MB:Along the way he addresses the historical debates over the level of western violence and the effectiveness of law enforcement, crafting a thoughtful and provocative study of homicide in the city of San Francisco over 150 years. Though he employs a passive voice which only suggests rather than states his judgments, Mullen's thesis is clearly formulated: "The study demonstrates that high rates of criminal violence can be attributed more to the group's culture than generally believed. It also concludes that what the police do--or do not do--affects the level of violence in a community" (p. 2).
Mullen perceives himself in a debate with those who argue that "the host society" of the United States is to blame for the violence of immigrants and African Americans. He rejects that view as rubbish, insisting that it is the culture of the "minority newcomers" that is responsible for the violence committed by members of these groups.
KM. Wait a minute. Nowhere do I reject the idea about the host society’s responsibility for the violence as “rubbish,” or anything like that. What I do say is that the structural explanation for violence has been carried too far and that we must also look to Wolfgang’s “subculture of violence” arguments as having more applicability than is generally allowed. What I’m doing is nudging the paradigm away from the widely held and widely propagated idea that criminal misconduct can be traced almost exclusively to the misbehavior of the larger community. Look no farther than the current disagreement between Bill Cosby and his detractors about what is going on in one small subset of the African American community. (See Juan Williams’ Enough) I hold that we have to look to both factors for an understanding and I concentrate more on the “subculture of violence” side of the discussion in the book because it is often overlooked.
MB: Mullen insists that the United States is an open and welcoming society, and its courts dedicated to justice. Dangerous Strangers demonstrates this challenging thesis by focusing on six cultural groups in a rough chronological development from 1850 to 2000: Australians, Latinos, Irish, Chinese, Italians, and African Americans. There is also a final chapter on San Francisco's recent experience of homicide titled "Violent Rainbow."
KM. Open and Welcoming. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I’m talking about San Francisco in the book, not the US as a whole.
MB:California was a relatively peaceful place when conquered by the United States in 1846-1847. Even the Gold Rush introduced little violence to the new territory, at first. But the three years 1849-1851 saw forty-one homicides in San Francisco, its highest rate in the nineteenth century. As Robert Dykstra argued back in 1968, and as most scholars have since found, violence peaked in western communities at the beginning of settlement, quickly declining after the establishment of legal structures.
San Francisco was a boomtown in these years, its population growth far outstripping the ability of law enforcement to handle the social dislocation. Mullen offers a good analogy with fire prevention. As buildings went up all over the expanding city without any oversight and with no comparable expansion of fire-fighting services, fires became a much greater problem for the city than crime, especially as crime was minimal. The first police department was both small and corrupt, more often aiding rather than hindering criminals, as the robbery rate jumped from 3 in the year before June 1850 to twenty-six in the following year. But after the extreme actions of the Committee of Vigilance, the city established a larger and more professional police department that helped bring crime under control, especially after the ruthless Martin Burke became Chief of Police in 1858.
Violence tends to cluster in periods of dramatic change and social dislocation. After the initial violence of 1849-1851, the next peak came in the 1870s, when the population of the city tripled. Most homicides during these years, as later, were the result of "trivial disputes," often associated with alcohol consumption. However sharp spikes in the homicide rate occurred as a result of violence by immigrant groups.
Mullen acknowledges that most studies of criminality from the Wickersham Commission of 1931 on have firmly demonstrated "that immigrant newcomers are not disproportionately criminal" (p. 5). What violence can be found on the part of immigrants may fairly be attributed to the way in which they were treated by the broader society, as has been the African-American experience. But Mullen prefers to follow the example of Eric Monkkonen, who argued that most violence in nineteenth-century New York had ethnic roots. Mullen finds "the principal reason for minority newcomer criminal violence … residing in the immigrant newcomer culture itself" (p. 12).
KM Let’s drop the ellipses and look at the entire passage being quoted. ”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 newcomer culture itself.” “nudged” “toward” “much” I can’t understand how any reasonable person could construe this passage to mean that I offer the immigrant culture as the principal reason for the violence.
MB: The Australians, 13 percent of whom had criminal records prior to immigration, were the first target of native-born animosity. Three of the four men hanged by the Committee of Vigilance were Australians. It is important to note though, that the Committee of Vigilance was responsible for more illegal violence than were the Australians, as only one homicide may have been committed by an Australian prior to these illegal executions. The Australians were known and hated not for violence, but for robbery, and the Committee of Vigilance aimed to put an end to crimes against property, not against people.
KM. It is a common mistake to consider robbery as a property crime; it is not. It is adjudged by every police department I’m aware of to be a crime against the person. I used it as an example to illustrate the point that groups only become incensed about criminal violence when there is a greater likely that they are personally at risk. Robbery unlike homicide is more likely to cross group lines and that’s why the “respectable” folks became so upset at the Australians who did commit more than their share of robberies. The same phenomenon occurs in our own time when the larger society doesn’t really get to excited as long as it is just young black males killing each other in their own neighborhoods. Let them start killing each other in Union Square or issuing out and robbing downtown stores and watch what happens.
MB:This society accepted a certain degree of violence, especially when it stayed within the bounds of specific social groups. The white majority, Mullen argues, did not have a problem with Chinese killing Chinese; they only became exercised when whites were killed. As long as violence stayed within the group, "public officials and the general public" accepted "interpersonal violence … [as] to a large extent a private matter" (p. 25).
KM. See above. Even as minorities complain today that the larger society doesn’t get too excited if the violence remains in the minority community and does not reach out to affect the larger society.
MB:The Committee of Vigilance effectively reduced crime in San Francisco, though Hispanics continued to commit a number of violent acts. Mullen argues that Latinos were overrepresented in criminal prosecutions because they committed more crimes. Following on the research of John Boesenecker , Mullen finds that Mexican robber bands accounted for most of the rural homicide in California in the mid-nineteenth century, and that violence emerged from their culture.
However, Latino violence declined before the influx of Irish and Chinese immigrants. Mullen recycles the Celtic myth, that the Irish are a violent people, quoting Posionius from the first century. Irish combativeness is thus deeply rooted, and sprang upon the unsuspecting Pacific shores of California in the mid-nineteenth century. Mullen finds the Irish reputation for violence "well deserved," as "I estimate that Irish-surnamed people were the victims in 30 percent to 48 percent of the criminal homicide" in San Francisco between 1860 and 1900, at a time when they constituted about 30 percent of the population (p. 46). Of course, these are victims rather than murderers, and, as Mullen correctly observes, it is very difficult to agree on what constitutes an Irish name--only 53 percent of those we know to be Irish had distinctively Irish surnames. Many of those identified as Irish could have been Scots or Scots-Irish, but then they "had a well-deserved reputation for violence" as well (p. 48).
It is not always clear what aspects of a particular culture drive violence, other than the fact that a high percentage of immigrants are men. Mullen makes a strong case for the cultural distinctiveness of the Chinese, with their divergent attitudes toward women, hierarchy, and the law. While the Chinese proclivity toward feuds accounted for many acts of violence, it is not as unusual as Mullen suggests, being a well-known aspect of Southern and Texan culture.
KM The distinctive attribute of Chinese homicide, as I state it, is that it is more often about money than that of other groups.
MB:Chinese convicted of murder suffered more at the hands of the law, with 64 percent given life sentences or hanged compared to 34.8 percent for all non-Chinese. Mullen observes the inequality in sentencing, but insists that it reflects more on the nature of the Chinese than of the legal system.
KM. Not the nature of the Chinese but the nature of the types of homicides they committed. Chinese homicides tended to be instrumental while the majority of those committed by whites tended to be expressive. Thus more severe penalties for the Chinese.
MB: Bizarrely, Mullen refuses to acknowledge ethnic bigotry, writing that in the western United States "where there was no tradition of ethnic exclusion and all arrived about the same time, it was to each according to his ability" (p. 49). It is difficult to know what to make of such a statement. First off, the Indians were there first, and they suffered a rather notable degree of exclusion. A great many Mexicans also preceded the general white migration of the 1850s and to insist that they experienced no exclusion is at least disingenuous if not a grotesque misrepresentation of history. Also, while some African Americans did find opportunity in the west, segregation was a very real part of western life. Then there was the less than equitable treatment of the Chinese and Japanese. But even among the Europeans there was one group that did not enjoy quite the same degree of welcome at first: the Irish.
KM As is evident from the title of the book, this is a study of urban violence. And as is evident from the passage, I’m comparing the nineteenth century newcomer experience in eastern cities with those who came to San Francisco. Indian clearances and the consequences of slavery were terrible things and the later treatment of Chinese in San Francisco was deplorable. They are givens and I don’t see why they have to be in the narrow point I’m making about this time and place. The reviewer cites the Irish among Europeans as not receiving the same degree of welcome. (In San Francisco?) The whole point of the passage is that the Irish had a better time of it in San Francisco. In the very next sentence I mention that an Irish American was appointed Chief of Police in San Francisco in 1849 while it wasn’t until two years later that Boston permitted its first Irish officers and then only under court order.
MB: But Mullen insists that the Irish were not the victims of bigotry. To establish that Irish culture is steeped in violence, Mullen compares Irish immigrants to the law-abiding, non-violent Germans. "Does anyone argue that they [the Germans] were necessarily better received than the Irish immigrants?" (p. 56). Well, yes, actually; almost everyone who has ever written on the subject of immigration in the nineteenth century. Has anyone ever heard of signs reading, "No Germans need apply"?
KM. Again, let’s read the entire passage. “Does anyone argue that they (Germans) were necessarily better treated 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 IRISH.” (emphasis added.) I think anyone would agree that it says something other than the reviewer suggests with the second sentence added. As a proud Irish American, the son of an immigrant father (and family of tatiehokers), I am fully aware of the nuances of Irish American immigration both from study and family experience. But I am not so proud that I cannot see things as they are.
MB: Such a cavalier approach to the history of American bigotry leads me to three problems I find with Mullen's argument, starting with this notion that law enforcement in the United States has not been racist. It borders on the ridiculous to make such a case for the South at any time prior to 1965 at least.
KM. I make no claim that law enforcement in the United States has not been racist. and I don’t feel it’s necessary to include a discussion of police methods in the Jim Crow South in a book about San Francisco.
MB:But it is also difficult to support this contention even in famously liberal California. In his outstanding study of nineteenth-century homicide in California, Clare McKanna found a justice system "distorted by racial prejudice." McKanna does find some sincere jurists who acted according to the highest legal standards, overriding racism to free the innocent; but they were the exception.
KM. In a way, my book is a corrective for McKanna who sees the topic, in my opinion, through a lense which notices mostly “racial prejudice.” The example I site in my book is his unsupported conclusion that Chinese murderers received more severe sentences than whites because prosecuting attorneys didn’t like them. Using the same cases I show that a more reasonable conclusion, based on data rather than supposition, explains the more severe sentences in terms of the more “special circumstances” homicides that the Chinese tended to commit.
MB: When we find a disproportionate number of an ethnic group being convicted, do we conclude that more of them are being caught and prosecuted, or that more of them are criminals? Is it just coincidence when that group is the victim of campaigns of bigotry? Could the way they have been treated by the larger society have some bearing on their experiences with the law? This issue is still significant, as 12 percent of African-American men aged 20 to 34 are in prison, compared with 1.6 percent of white men of that age group; while blacks account for 55 percent of those convicted on drug charges and 74 percent of those sent to prison for these offenses. Mullen holds that those convicted of a crime are guilty, and their guilt evidences the greater criminality of the group to which they belonged.
KM I’m talking about homicide not drug offenses. And if we can’t reasonably assume that those convicted of homicide are guilty, the whole social science study of homicide goes out the window. Is the reviewer arguing that young black males are not committing a disproportionate amount of homicide at this point in our history?
MB: Mullen presents evidence that contradicts his thesis, which is one of the strengths of this book. For instance, a great deal of violence was directed at the Chinese, which might account for some of their violent conduct in return. Following Robert Heizer and Alan Almquist , Mullen understands that Latinos may have responded to injustice with a violence born of resentment over their status as a conquered people. But on the whole, Mullen rejects such logic. He is clearly put off by the tendency to excuse the conduct of criminals. "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 behavior" (p. 30). Mullen agrees with William Wilbanks that American criminal justice is not and has not been racist ;
KM. I wonder where the reviewer got that. I couldn’t find it in the book. And I do not hold that the “American justice is not and has not been racist.” Sometimes yes; sometimes no. In fact at bottom, I accept all but the most ridiculous assertions made by structuralists. I ask only that they accept that there might something else going on.
MB: a position at odds, at the very least, with the fact that California's first Constitution did not allow blacks to testify against whites.
Mullen notes that Monkkonen found that blacks in nineteenth-century New York City were six times more likely than whites to be hanged for homicide, but insists that such treatment by the law "has more to do with the nature of the case than the race of the perpetrator" (p. 109).
KM. I don’t know about New York but I do know that in San Francisco the African American killers who were executed had killed women and that nineteenth century San Franciscans frowned mightily on woman killers, white or black.
MB: Mullen puts his faith in the legal system, insisting that those convicted were correctly charged, prosecuted, and sentenced, though he does quote Pat Brown's observation that "There is no organized crime in San Francisco. The crime is all organized by the Police Department" (p. 101).
KM. Shouldn’t we all as a general rule, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, accept that the justice system does a pretty good job. If not, all is lost and most analyses based on criminal justice records is meaningless.
MB: Second, Mullen venerates the rate per 100,000 statistical model. In fact he criticizes McKanna for giving his statistics numerically rather than in rates per 100,000. Robert Dykstra has pointed out the danger of an excess reliance on this ratio when dealing with small populations, reporting that 1880 Dodge City had a formidable ratio of 78.4 based on a single murder. Mullen acknowledges this problem in several places, as when he writes that a few murders by Italians in 1863 created an annual rate of 300 per 100,000 (p. 84), while the African-American homicide rate of 25 per 100,000 for the years 1880 through 1884 is based on two murders, with that rate declining to zero in the years 1890-1894 (p. 105).
KM. Exactly. I don’t use the rate per 100,000 except in instances when the population is large enough, as generally agreed to by scholars (10,000), to allow for valid comparisons. As to my veneration of the measure, I am in good company including the Justice Department and just about every homicide scholar I’ve run into.
MB: Nonetheless, his tables are based on this rate without listing the actual numbers, though some statistics are scattered through the text. It is important to have the numbers as conclusions are reached on their basis. For instance it is not until page 72 that we learn that a total of 564 people were convicted of murderer from 1870 through 1930, or just over nine per year. It would be worthwhile to also know how many homicides remained unresolved and how many people accused of murder were found innocent.
KM. I can’t give numbers for that which does not exist. I had two basic sources to come up with conviction rates: the number of homicide incidents, and the number of state prison incarcerations and executions. That’s about all there is except some scattered annual reports by district attorneys. That said, I will put the numbers I compiled against those of anyone in the field working on that time. I know what other scholars used and and what they didn’t.
MB: Similarly, Mullen writes that the Irish accounted for "60 per cent of those hanged by legal authority in San Francisco in the 1850s" (p. 45). That sounds like a very large number until the reader learns in passing on page 52 that this 60 percent equals three men. Interestingly, Mullen mentions this statistic in order to avoid any generalizations that the justice system may have been biased against the Irish: "the number is really too small--three of five cases--to make any statistical projections" (p. 52).
KM. In a case where it would otherwise have distorted the picture, I gave the percentage and the number, and told what it meant.
MB: To his credit, Mullen cites several problems with the statistics. For example, evidence of high levels of Latino criminality for the Gold Rush period is based on newspaper accounts from 1854, which is hardly a solid statistical base. As Mullen writes, "any statistics about Gold Rush-era Latino criminality are of questionable exactitude" (p. 35).
KM. Here I’m talking about the statewide figures.
MB: Nonetheless, by stringing together anecdotes and statistics Mullen is persuaded that Latinos committed a disproportionate number of crimes in the 1850s. Based on questionable sources, Mullen reaches precise conclusions. He identifies 20 homicides committed by Latinos in San Francisco from 1849 through 1859, or 15.6 percent of the total, at a time when they constituted an estimated 10 percent of the population. Does that number indicate that more Latinos were prosecuted or that there were more Latino murderers? Mullen holds with the latter.
KM Then I say ”More complete statistics on Latino homicide, as well as more detailed information about the disposition of cases, are available for San Francisco I don’t know what the reviewer means by questionable sources. They are archived at Ohio State University’s Criminal Justice Research Center. I can explain their validity to anyone with questions.
MB:And third, Mullen, it seems to me, fails to support his contention that the cultural heritage of immigrants accounts for a great deal of American violence. I admit that I rebel against such unsupported sweeping generalizations as that the Irish were a violent people. Mullen is content with such assertions: "references to Irish combativeness â€¦ are too widespread to be explained in terms of simple prejudice" (p. 46). But why? Just because some contemporaries said that the Irish are a violent people does not make it so. How many countries did the Catholic Irish invade in the nineteenth century? How many insurrections did they put down? How many groups of cowering unarmed civilians did they slaughter? Why did this supposedly violent people not rise up in violent rebellion against their conquerors, even under the incentive of the famine of the late 1840s? Perhaps it is wrong to consider such measurements of national violence;
KM. after that long passage, he admits it is wrong to consider his point
MB: maybe levels of interpersonal violence give a more accurate portrait of a people's character. But who had the higher rate of violence, the Irish, the English, or white native-born Americans? Oddly, the Irish seem to finish third, as Carolyn Conley found the homicide rate in late- nineteenth-century Ireland one-third less than that of England and Wales.
KM. I am, like Monkkonen, measuring interpersonal violence throughout, even to the extent of not counting episodes of collective vigilante and lynch mob violence in the homicide totals. I corresponded with Carolyn Conley in the course of the work and she most graciously shared her statistical data, including that for the period before that covered in her study. In the end, I had to separate myself from her conclusions. I won’t go into it here to the extent that I did in the book but on the point of Ireland having less homicide than England and Wales at the time, it is important to recognize that the period she chose to study was immediately following Ireland’s loss of one fourth of its most vigorous citizens to famine and emigration. According to her own data, the decades preceding the famine era were much more violent in Ireland. There are factors as well. Read the book.
MB:So Mullen retreats to evidence indicating that the Irish preferred fistfights. By this point many readers, while respecting Mullen's care and honesty in presenting contrary evidence, may grow impatient and demand that Mullen stick to the type of solid evidence he uses elsewhere in the book.
KM I present the only hard evidence I was able to find on the point, i.e. the comparison of types of weapons used by various ethnic groups in San Francisco and discovered that when they did kill someone, the Irish were less inclined to use traditional assault weapons (guns and knives.) This suggested to me as I explain at greater length in the book that there must have been more non-fatal Irish violence than was reflected in the homicide rate.
MB: This reader, at least, remains baffled why it is so important to Mullen to demonstrate that the Irish are a violent people.
KM. I’m not saying that the Irish are a violent people. What I am saying as one of the central themes of the book is that at one time and in some parts of Ireland there was a subculture of violence which found itself transported to the United States where it resulted in higher levels of criminal violence than for some other groups. It was the same thing for some groups of immigrants from Southern Italy and Mexico at different times (refer to Wolfgang and Ferracuti) and indeed for some poor young black males in America’s inner cities today, who, it can and has been argued, are inheritors of the last remnants of a Scotch-Irish culture of violence that afflicted the Southeastern quadrant of the United States for centuries. See what I’m getting at?
MB: There are many other possible explanations for the high homicide rate in the first years that San Francisco was under U.S. rule other than the presence of immigrant groups. Most murders are committed by young men, and San Francisco in this brief period was overwhelmingly male. The influx of women, children, and more mature men after about 1854 brought thousands of people who committed very little violence, diluting the homicidal base. Another reason for the higher rate in the 1850s may have been the paucity of medical care. People died of wounds to a much higher degree then than even later in the century. Knife wounds, which killed so many people in the 1850s, were less lethal by 1900 thanks to improvements in medicine.
KM True, all true. I’m not refuting these things; I’m just adding to the conversation.
MB: And what of the influence of the host culture? After all, Americans tend to solve their problems violently. Immigrants to San Francisco in the years 1851 to 1880 had all the evidence they needed in the Committee of Vigilance, the Civil War, and white opposition to Reconstruction. On the other hand, one of the most interesting aspects of this study is the relatively stable low rate of white homicide from 1860 through 1929. Another book could be written about the tendency of white San Franciscans to not resort to homicidal violence.
KM Better save a chapter for the period between 1910 and 1920 when homicide rates did jump up, as I point out in the book, following another immigration after the 1906 earthquake and fire to replace the half the population which departed after the disaster. Oh! Oh! There he goes again.
MB: Roger Lane has intelligently split the difference in his study of homicide in Philadelphia, emphasizing that violent behavior by immigrants depends on a receptivity born of their background mixed with the culture and expectations of the place where they settled.
KM. I agree. But he, like Eric Monkkonen in New York, were only able to give a couple of pages to the Irish and Italians in their two very Irish and Italian late-nineteenth and early twentieth century cities. I think I carry the discussion a bit further.
MB: Thus it is worth noting that Irish immigrants to Canada did not stand out for their greater levels of violence; in fact Canadian popular perceptions in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries attributed such anti-social conduct to those of French extraction.
KM. Immigration patterns were different. Many of the post Napoleonic Era immigrants from Ireland to Canada, brought out effectively as ballast in returning empty lumber ships, made their was south to the United States as soon as they could where they settled in northern New England and New York. It was from this group that the high rates of pre-civil war violence noted by Monkkonen and others came. England, and derivatively Canada as well, had a much more effective justice system at the time, as I also point out in the book.
MB: Similarly, while I am persuaded by Clare McKanna's exacting study that prejudice played a major role in law enforcement in the west, the two positions are not exclusive. It is possible for Latinos to have been both more criminal and the victims of racism.
KM And for everyone else as well.
MB: These criticisms are not intended to question the great value of this work, but rather to register the room for disagreement in interpreting the data. Mullen is a careful, precise, and honest scholar who provides the reader with sufficient material for a counter-argument, which is truly admirable. Nor can this review do justice to some of the nuances of his analysis, most particularly in the chapters on the Chinese and Italians. Further, I am in complete agreement with the second part of Mullen's thesis, for which there is ample evidence. Crime rates went down "when the police were assertive," and increased "when the officers laid back" (p. 12). Mullen quotes Los Angeles chief of police William Bratton that "the penicillin for dealing with crime is cops" (p. 11). The experience of San Francisco certainly supports that assertion. One reason the homicide rate in San Francisco was so much lower than in other contemporary American cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he argues, is because "justice was swift and certain" (p. 91), though often without regard for constitutional protections.
But I would contend that the two parts of Mullen's thesis may operate against one another, that an end to ethnic profiling is in fact more effective law enforcement. New York City's recent experiences validate this perspective. After Raymond Kelly eliminated ethnic profiling and insisted that the police divert their resources to modern techniques of responding with greater force in "impact zones," the crime rate, both violent and against property, declined dramatically. New York City now rates 222 in crime out of the 240 American cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. Certainly getting rid of ethnic profiling is only one contributing factor in this change, but a very positive one; and one, I would contend, that helps to prevent egregious miscarriages of justice.
KM I’m not talking about profiling but rather pointing out some of the reasons why some groups have higher rates of violence than others. As to enforcement techniques, in “high impact zones,” I’m all for it. But let’s recognize that when you do that you are going to be showing up in some neighborhoods that have large minority populations.
MB: Despite any disagreements expressed here, Mullin's book is a valuable addition to the scholarship of a fascinating and important subject. Those interested in the development of criminal law in the west would do well to read this book.
. Malcolm Gladwell, "Troublemakers: What Pit Bulls Can Teach Us About Profiling," New Yorker (February 6, 2006).
. Robert R. Dykstra, The Cattle Towns (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968).
. George Wickersham, Commission Report No. 10: Crime and The Foreign Born (reprint; Patterson Smith, 1968).
. Eric Monkkonen, Murder in New York City (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000). However, see also Eric Monkkonen, "Diverging Homicide Rates: England and the United States, 1850-1875," in Violence in America, ed. Ted R. Gurr (Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1989).
. John Boesenecker, Gold Dust and Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Lawmen, and Vigilantes (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1999).
. Start with Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations that Made the American People (Boston: Little, Brown, 1951); and Ray Allen Billington, The Protestant Crusade, 1800-1860: A Study of the Origins of American Nativism (New York: Rinehart, 1952); and read through Otis L. Graham, Unguarded Gates: A History of America's Immigration Crisis (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004); with a stop over to look at Dale T. Knobel, Paddy and the Republic: Ethnicity and Nationality in Antebellum America (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1986);and Noel Ignatiev, How The Irish Became White (New York: Routledge, 1995).
. Clare McKanna, Race and Homicide in Nineteenth-Century California (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002), p. 108.
. Paige M Harrison and Allen J. Beck, Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2004 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Justice, April 2005).
. Robert Heizer and Alan F. Almquist, The Other Californians: Prejudice and Discrimination Under Spain Mexico, and the United States to 1920 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971).
. William Wilbanks, The Myth of a Racist Criminal Justice System (Monterey, Ca.: Brooks, Cole, 1987).
. Robert R. Dykstra, "To Live and Die in Dodge City," in Lethal Imagination: Violence and Brutality in American History, ed. Michael Bellesiles (New York: New York University Press, 1999).
. Carolyn Conley, Melancholy Accidents (Lanham: Lexington Books, 1999).
. For general studies of homicide see Roger Lane, Murder in America, A History (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1997); M. Dwayne Smith and Margaret A. Zahn, eds., Homicide: A Sourcebook of Social Research (Thousand Oaks, Ca.: Sage, 1999).
. Roger Lane, Violent Death in the City: Suicide, Accident, and Murder in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia (Cambridge, Ma.: Harvard University Press, 1979); Roots of Violence in Black Philadelphia, 1860-1900 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986).
. Gladwell, "Troublemakers."
Robert M. Senkewicz
Kevin J. Mullen _Dangerous Strangers: Minority Newcomers and Criminal
Violence in the Urban West, 1850-2000_. New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
2005. xii + 203 pp. Tables, notes, index. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN
Reviewed for H-URBAN by Robert M. Senkewicz, Department of History,
Santa Clara University. Posted December 12, 2006.
Author’s Response Follows
Over the past decade and a half, a number of historians have been writing about violence in the west, especially in California. It would be too much to call them a formal group, for their concerns, focus, and interpretations do not always agree. But the works of these scholars,
including John Boessenecker, William Secrest, and Clare McKanna, Jr., have served to elevate the quality of writings on California violence, and to impart greater quantitative precision and conceptual clarity tothis easily caricatured subject. Kevin Mullen, the author of an important book on the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851, is
one of these writers.
Much of this writing has examined the nineteenth century. But in _Dangerous Strangers: Minority Newcomers and Criminal Violence in the Urban West, 1850-2000_, Mullen dramatically expands the chronological sweep, and looks at criminal violence in San Francisco from the time of its origin as an American city until the dawn of the new millennium.
The most impressive achievement of this volume is the primary research that went into it. Mullen has constructed his own database of "the almost 7000 criminal homicides that occurred in San Francisco from 1849 to 2000" (p. 146). He does this, as he carefully explains, because he agrees with many criminal justice researchers that homicide is "an
index of the amount of criminal violence generally" (p. 2). Since many of the public records of San Francisco were destroyed in the fire which followed the 1906 earthquake, the creation of this database was not an easy task. Mullen exhaustively read the daily newspapers for the 1850s. He perused the Municipal Reports which began in the 1860s, waded through various coroners' tallies, combed the statistics in the city Health Department summary reports, and supplemented all this with this further readings in the city's newspapers. Mullen reports that this unique database has been archived at Ohio State University's Criminal Justice Research Center, where it is available to other researchers. The database can be accessed at
http://cjrc.osu.edu/hvd/homicide-transmississippi_west.html , where it is marked as "Data Set 4." There one can find details on 6974 criminal homicides in San Francisco, from June 21, 1849 to December 19, 2003.
In this book, Mullen focuses on a series of what he terms "minority newcomers," and examines their contributions to criminal violence in San Francisco. He looks at Australians in the early days of the gold rush, at Latinos in the 1850s, at the Irish in the nineteenth century,
at the Chinese between 1870 and 1930, at the Italians from the 1880s to the 1930s, and at African-Americans, generally in the post-World War II
era. He finds that each group was over-represented in the commission of criminal violence during each specific period. He then poses two lines of inquiry. First, he seeks to examine "to what extent the criminal violence emanates from the culture of the group involved, as
distinguished from that which is the result of the mistreatment of a minority group by the majority society." Second, he considers "the extent to which police practices influence levels of criminal violence." In short, he finds that "high rates of criminal violence can be attributed more to the group's culture than is generally believed." Also, "what police do or do not do affects the level of violence in a community" (p. 2).
There is much that is commendable in Mullen's work. The volume's broad sweep, for instance, allows him to offer suggestive comparisons between various groups, such as between the Chinese and the Italian immigrant experience in San Francisco and to draw interesting and important contrasts between the Italian experiences in San Francisco and Chicago. Mullen is sensitive to the ways in which changes in the structure of Irish society affected the social conditions and experiences of those who emigrated from there to the United States in the later nineteenth century. Most importantly, his own background as a San Francisco police officer allows him to write with clarity and verve about the changing policies of the city's police chiefs and the evolving procedures of the police department as it struggled to find ever more effective ways to combat crime and to keep abreast of the technologies, such as the automobile, which for a time gave a tremendous advantage to some of the city's criminals. These sections are some of the best in the book.
However, in my judgment, the volume also suffers from a few deficiencies, which combine to weaken the overall quality of the work. First, the notion of the culture that the various immigrants brought with them tends to be simplistic. The basic procedure Mullen follows is
to cite a few secondary sources which describe a violent aspect of a country or region (such as brigand gangs in northern Mexico in the late nineteenth century, the Triad gangs in southern China, the Black Hand in southern Italy, or violence in the American rural south), then quickly to conclude that the immigrants who actually came to San Francisco brought these types of behaviors with them, and that this phenomenon goes a considerable (but unspecified) distance toward explaining what he finds in the database. Such complicated assertions demand a much more complex series of arguments.
Second, the social and historical context is uniformly weak. The narrative appears generally unaffected by much recent historical scholarship on the history of San Francisco, especially in the late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. One looks in vain in the bibliography for works by Robert Cherny, William Issel, Michael Kazin, William Bullough, or others. The result is that the minority newcomers are treated in an insular fashion, with little relation to or
interaction with the social, cultural, economic, or political life of the city.
Third, the very concepts of "minority newcomers" and "host society" are extremely problematic in reference to the tumultuous and multicultural milieus that constituted both gold rush California as well as the instant city of San Francisco that was its commercial hub.
Australians and Latinos, far for being newcomers to the gold rush, were in fact early arrivers. A considerable part of the resentment against them stemmed from the fact that when the Atlantic-based 49ers finally arrived in California in later 1849 and after, they found that people from the Pacific rim, who did not have to come around the horn or endure a long overland trek, were already there. To call the later arrivals the "hosts" is to miss this reality and to impose on gold rush society a dynamic that was not there.
In the same vein, the chapter on the Australians is odd. As Mullen admits, the crimes with which the Australians were accused were generally not homicides but rather crimes against property. Their inclusion in this book is thus a bit puzzling. The chapter really seems to be about why the Australians were the principal targets of the 1851 vigilantes, and, as such, it does not fit well with the rest of book.
Similarly, in the chapter on Latinos, Mullen spends a good amount of time arguing against the notion that Joaquin Murrieta should be regarded as a social bandit. But, since Murrieta had no connection with San Francisco crimes, and since none of the Latinos accused of murder whom Mullen considers in the chapter are recorded as saying that they were inspired by him, all of that appears rather irrelevant. Mullen also argues against what he calls a "prevalent" view of Spanish and Mexican Alta California as a "Latino Arcadia." His sources for that statement are books by Hubert Howe Bancroft and Zoeth Skinner Eldredge that are, respectively, 119 and 94 years old. The idea that pre-U.S. Alta California was a sort of lotus-land Arcadia had not been seriously propounded in decades.
Fourth, the dichotomy that Mullen uses to structure his investigation is not one that he is able to sustain throughout the work. He tends to put the matter is stark "either-or" terms. Minority newcomers were criminals either because they were treated harshly by the host society, or because it was part of their culture. As he puts it, he is attempting 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?" (pp.64-65). But, as
the book goes on, Mullen finds himself adopting an explanation that uses neither pole of his dichotomy, but rather emphasizes the difficulties which second generation immigrants had in adjusting to their society. He finds much of the violence in Irish, Italian, and African- American communities to have been committed by the sons of the immigrants, and his explanation is social: "Some of the increase 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 communities.....alienated from their parents' values and not yet fully assimilated into the new society" (p. 116). This approach leaves behind the simple dichotomy around which Mullen organizes much of the book, and it is a pity that he did not attempt to develop it more fully.
But here we return to the great value of the book: the publicly available database. In August 2006, Mullen's book was the subject of a session at Pacific Coast Branch meeting of the American Historical Association. Three academic experts offered thoughtful and nuanced
critiques of Mullen's work. Mullen responded well and reiterated the major points in the book. He then noted that, in freely posting his sources on line, he has provided other researchers with the very sources with which they can challenge his findings. He hoped that
others would continue this research and advance the scholarship on the controversial and important topics highlighted by his book. This is a noble hope and it testifies to the fundamental generosity of spirit which underlies this significant work.
. John Boessenecker_Gold Dust and Gunsmoke: Tales of Gold Rush Outlaws, Gunfighters. Lawmen, and Vigilantes_New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1999; William B. Secrest_California Desperadoes: Stories of Early California Outlaws in Their Own Words_Clovis, CA: Word Dancer Press, 2000; Clare V. McKanna, Jr._Race and Homicide in Nineteenth Century California_Reno: University of Nevada Press, 2002; Kevin J. ullen_Let
Justice Be Done: Crime and Politics in Early San Francisco_Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1989.
By Kevin J. Mullen
January 4, 2007
In his review of my Dangerous Strangers: Minority Newcomers and Criminal Violence in the Urban West,1850-2000, Robert Senkewicz has much to say that is positive. Our opinions do diverge on several points, however, most often when he strays into the specialized field of homicide studies.
Senkewicz’s first concrete criticism is that my “notion of the culture that the various immigrants brought with them tends to be simplistic.” He goes on: “The basic procedure Mullen follows is to cite a few secondary sources which describe a violent aspect of a country or region . . . then quickly to conclude that the immigrants who actually came to San Francisco brought these types of behaviors with them, and that this phenomenon goes a considerable (but unspecified) distance toward explaining what he finds in the database.”
Taken at face value, such a criticism would seem to be devastating. (I would argue, however, that such inquiries into the culture of violence in Southern Italy and elsewhere by Marvin Wolfgang and Franco Ferracuti’s The Subculture of Violence, Toward an Integrated Theory in Criminology constitute rather strong secondary sources.) My plan in this aspect of Dangerous Strangers was to illustrate by example that the societies from which the studied groups came were themselves notably violent. If I had restricted myself to only one or two groups, his criticism might have more merit, but I don’t leave it at that. This work is unique--among a host of books and historical monographs treating quantitatively with urban criminal violence-- in attempting to deal substantially with six different newcomer ethnic groups over a period of 150 years. The very scope of the work prohibits going into the detail which might be possible in the other less extensive works.
And there is a concept of law --equally useful in social science and historical studies of this type—which admits cumulative evidence, by means of which one can support an argument when there is insufficient direct evidence to carry the proof in a single instance. By combining the findings regarding all six groups, I’m confident that I accomplished the aims expressed in my thesis: to nudge our understanding a bit along the continuum from a structural explanation for criminal violence toward one which includes a subculture of violence component.
Senkewicz’s second criticism is that the social and historical context of my work is uniformly weak. Says Senkewicz: “One looks in vain in the bibliography for works by Robert Cherny, William Issel, Michael Kazin, William Bullough, or others. The result is that the minority newcomers are treated in an insular fashion, with little relation to or interaction with the social, cultural, economic, or political life of the city.” First of all, I have read – indeed I own -- all the books mentioned in the review and many more, and they inform my general understanding of the city’s history and development. I do not think it is necessary, however, to include everything one has read in a formal bibliography.
His criticism did, however, send me back to look at the bibliographies of other works in the field and the extent to which the social contexts of the communities they studied were introduced into the works. He lists Clare McKanna as one of those who “have served to elevate the quality of writings on California violence, and to impart greater quantitative precision and conceptual clarity to this easily caricatured subject.” (I choose McKanna for comparison only because his work is close in time to mine, has a quantitative dimension, and considers a number of different racial and ethnic groups over a substantial period of time.) The bibliography of McKanna’s recent Race and Homicide in Nineteenth Century California, contains 45 primary and secondary bibliographical references, all of which have some connection to crime and criminality. Dangerous Strangers, on the other hand, lists 251 bibliographical entries, many of which cover general historical works on the city and the groups being discussed. I also surveyed the text of McKanna’s book and a number of other homicide studies works, including those by Eric Monkkonen and Roger Lane, and am satisfied that the historical and social context in which I set my statistical analyses measures up to the standards they set.
Next he questions the use of the term “host society” for the Anglo American community with reference to the Australians and Latinos who were technically on site before the arrival of the great mass of Americans from the eastern United States. It is to this he ascribes a considerable part of the resentment of the later arriving Atlantic based 49ers. It is true that Latino newcomers and Australians were on the ground in San Francisco before the great mass of arrivals from the eastern states, yet from the very start Anglo Americans dominated such political and criminal justice infrastructure as existed, as well as the business environment of the town. The use of the terms “majority” or “dominant” society would probably have been more appropriate in this instance but that is not the crux of our basic disagreement. This is the one point where our individual works intersect. I wrote a book about the First Committee of Vigilance of 1851, Let Justice Be Done: Crime and Politics in Early San Francisco, and he wrote another about both committees, with most of the emphasis on the Second Committee in 1856, Vigilantes in Gold Rush San Francisco.
In his own work, Senkewicz characterizes Australians, many of whom originated in Ireland, as scapegoats, suggesting they were singled out because of anti- Irish sentiments then prevalent in the Eastern United States from where the majority of gold seekers came. In his book he writes “Certainly those Australians who were Irish were eligible for the contempt with which the East welcomed the Irish in the 1840s and with which Americans in San Francisco were familiar.” Yet all four of the Australians hanged by the First Committee of Vigilance were clearly English born. It was, as I describe in my book, their criminal behavior, not their status as undesirable aliens, which brought the Australians to the unwanted attention of the Committee of Vigilance. Senkewicz speculates about the extent of Australian crime which occurred in Gold Rush San Francisco, and I counted it. Forty-eight of the 70 arrested for theft at the December 24, 1849 fire were Australians. And a close reading of the criminal record of the time, as I recount in the book, shows them to be vastly overrepresented in robbery arrests.
Senkewicz expresses puzzlement about why the Australians are included in the book at all in that their crimes were generally not homicides but property crimes. In considering robbery as strictly a property crime he joins many others who incorrectly think the same thing. As I also describe in the book – and have had to explain to several critics-- robbery is very much a crime of criminal violence, indeed of a magnitude that often generates more outrage even than homicide because of its tendency to cross group boundaries. To sum up then, I showed that Australians came from a tradition of criminal behavior (subculture of violence); that they committed disproportionate amounts of criminal violence here; and I called into question the scapegoat (structural) argument to explain their resorting to criminal conduct. That’s the thesis of the book and that is why they are included.
With regard to Latinos, Senkewicz considers my inclusion of Joaquin Murrieta as irrelevant because none of the Latino murderers in San Francisco claimed a connection to him. A reading of the book will show that I brought in Murrieta for a very limited purpose: as an example in a discussion of the difference between urban and non-urban ethnic criminality which concluded that the hinterlands were much more violent than urban San Francisco, a phenomenon which McKanna also noticed in his study of the mostly rural counties he dealt with. Senkewicz is on firmer ground with his criticism of my citations of Eldredge and Bancroft about perceptions of a Latino Arcadia, though there are some who still maintain a vision of an earlier, simpler time. It is part and parcel with the palaver one hears about Native Americans living in perfect harmony with each other and their environment before the coming of the white man.
More importantly, Senkewicz charges that I am unable to sustain the “either-or” dichotomy between subculture of violence and structural explanations for criminal violence throughout the book. In the first place, I nowhere claim that the two theories are mutually exclusive but rather agree with Roger Lane that the two forces come together in combination to determine the amount violence. As to my failure to sustain my thesis, I am not going to summarize the arguments for every group here. A close reading of the book will attest, however, for each group covered, that while their criminal behavior is often explained by others in terms of their treatment by the majority society, much can only be understood as emanating from their own cultural traditions.
As to the inclusion of a discussion of second generation criminals, I don’t see that as detracting from the main thesis. While each group brought a culture of violence with them, the violence persisted into the second generation, and in some cases increased. Peer reviewers have raised this point and I answered that if we are going to consider immigrant crime at all we must include a discussion of the crime committed by their American-born children as well. To do otherwise would be like trying to estimate the cost of immigration to our health and education systems without also factoring in the cost of the American-born children of immigrants. We can expect this phenomenon to become an important part of any future informed discussion of immigrant crime in the Latino community. Indeed that time is already here.
In the end, the reader will have to judge for him or herself about who is more correct on these points, Senkewicz or I. The only way to do that would be to read the book. It is available in a large number of university libraries. For more reviews of the book see: www.sanfranciscohomicide.com
8. Keith Edgerton
This book contributes to the on-going debate about how violent the late-nineteenth-century American West really was. In the relatively recent past, scholars such as Roger McGrath, Robert Dykstra, and Clare McKanna, among others, have examined the occurrence of violent criminal behavior in specific places at specific times, case studies, in essence, of specific mining camps, urbanizing areas, or cow towns. Kevin Mullen, a retired San Francisco deputy police chief, adopts this case study approach by focusing on the violence perpetrated by and against immigrant groups primarily in nineteenth-century San Francisco. As such, the title of this work is something of a misnomer as it is neither an exhaustive and sweeping view of the entire urban West, nor does the twentieth century receive quite the coverage in this work as does the nineteenth century.
Nevertheless, Mullen takes an imaginative approach to understanding how the San Francisco police force did or did not respond to immigrant violence, to violence perpetrated by the dominant Anglo culture against various waves of newcomers, and to the levels of immigrant-against-immigrant violence. He provides discreet chapters on Latino, Chinese, Irish, Italian, Australian, and African American criminality. Mullen asks whether their respective experiences and their ingrained cultural habits they brought with them to San Francisco led them to become more or less violent among themselves and against others. What were the homicide rates back in their respective homelands compared to that in San Francisco? Mullen also examines criminality among second- and third-generation immigrants in San Francisco (and hence provides some information about the later twentieth-century immigrant experience). As the author states at the outset, this "study offers no new tradition-shattering paradigm" (p. 12). Yet he concludes that the various immigrant groups were violent to themselves (more violent in most cases than they were back in their homelands), were violent towards newcomers, were preyed upon by the dominant culture and by the police, and that their successive generations of children had higher rates of delinquency than other groups. One gets the sense that ethnic neighborhoods in San Francisco were—and remain—relatively violent places.
As Mullen notes, early San Francisco criminal statistics are sketchy at best. As such—and impressively—he has sifted through hundreds of coroners' registers, newspaper accounts, and municipal and police reports to compile a database of the over seven thousand known homicides that occurred in San Francisco between 1849 and 2000. This is a well-researched, provocative, little book. It is written by someone whose professional life and first-hand experience are interwoven with the subject matter at hand. As a result it has an authenticity to it that perhaps more detached scholarly endeavors lack.
9. Mark R. Ellis
In Dangerous Strangers, Kevin J. Mullen, a retired police officer with more than twenty-six years of law enforcement experience, provides a succinct but exhaustive study of violence in San Francisco between the years 1850 and 2000. He examines over 7,000 homicides, many committed by six immigrant, or what the author calls “minority newcomer” groups (Australians, Latinos, Irish, Chinese, Italians, and African Americans.) Many criminologists argue that high levels of violence committed by these groups was due to discrimination and unfair treatment they received by the host society. With opportunity limited, these groups lashed out. Mullen does not accept such an explanation and instead argues that cultural traits inherent within the group explain their propensity for violence. According to the author, Australians committed more violent act because so many arrived in California with criminal records. The Chinese brought with them to San Francisco violent feuds that continued once they reached the Golden Gate City. The Irish were predisposed toward violence due to a long history of conflict.
As retired police officer, Mullen is also interested in the relationship between law enforcement and homicide levels. Consequently, he integrates a discussion of policing , or lack of policing, in each chapter. Mullen concludes that effective (and sometime heavy –handed) policing has always led to lower rates of violence, supporting Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton’s comment that “the penicillin for dealing with crime is cops.” Although this is an academic book that is loaded with statistics, charts, and figures, it is an engagingly written book that will be enjoyed by a popular audience. “
JOW, Winter 2007
10 Wilbur R. Miller
Kevin Mullen is a twenty-six year veteran of the San Francisco police who reached the rank of deputy chief before retirement. Dangerous Strangers is his second exploration of his city’s history, having written earlier (1989) on the tangled relationship between crime and politics in its early days. This is a slim but dense book that enters the conversation about the causes of homicide with a provocative argument. Mullen contends that the most important factors for understanding an ethnic group’s murder rates are elements of its culture and whether the police are active or lax in enforcement. Immigrants can bring violent patterns with them, and police crackdowns lead to results. He acknowledges
the view that social conditions and prejudice are significant, but he believes other factors are more telling. Mullen’s viewpoint might be considered “conservative,” but it is more a no-nonsense cop’s perspective. Aware that his arguments challenge widely held ideas among academics, Mullen invites others to examine his data, which he has donated to the Criminal Justice Research Center at Ohio State University. Of course, what is more controversial than the murder rates he discovered are the conclusions he draws.
Mullen uses statistics compiled from many sources to examine murder rates of various ethnic groups at different times. The first group will surprise people unfamiliar with San Francisco‘s Gold Rush era—Australians. He then surveys some of the “usual suspects” of Anglo Americans; Chinese, Latinos (Mexicans and Chileans), Irish, Italian, and African American, groups that have had high murder rates at various periods. Mullen first documents each group’s homicide rate in different periods. Comparison of their rates relative to each other and to American-born whites is a significant part of his assessment. Then he looks into aspects of group cultures that contribute to violent behavior. The role of transported British convicts in Australia, of Latin honor and “bandido” gangs, of Irish factional fighting and excessive drinking, of Chinese gangs and the vice industry, of honor and vengeance imported from Southern Italy, and of notions of honor shared by African American and rural Southern whites all enter the picture. Yet this list does not indicate the complexity of Mullen’s discussion of the role of cultural traits in violence. For example, his treatment of African American homicide fully acknowledges the impact to poverty and discrimination, but he clearly favors the position, shared by some black activists, that conditions in the family and peer group culture can contribute to criminality, especially gang violence.
Mullen could have taken his argument further. To demonstrate that violent traits exist in a culture does not necessarily prove that they are more significant than American urban conditions to understand why some members of any group commit homicide. Cultural traits may represent long-range causes, urban conditions middle-range causes, and the situation of the moment short-range causes. Dangerous Strangers is a must-read; unfortunately its price is a deterrent.
Wilbur R. Miller PhD.
State University of New York, Stony Brook
Pacific Historical Review, February 2007.
Author’s Response: I did not cast my arguments in either-or terms. Rather as I say in the introduction and repeat throughout “….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.” “ Nudged,” “toward,” “much.”
In response to the comment: “To demonstrate that violent rates exist in a culture does not necessarily prove that they are more significant than American urban conditions. . .” I would first counter that I make no claim that that culture is “more” significant, but rather that it is a factor deserving of more consideration than it gets, a consideration, by the way, which it has been receiving recently.
Also, while it is not legitimate to argue that an old-country culture of violence in one or two newcomer groups necessarily contributes to a high homicide rate in urban America, when the same phenomenon can be demonstrated to have occurred in six different groups over a century and a half while other groups have been less lawless, the cumulative evidence is compelling.
Kevin J. Mullen