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“The Greatest Thrill I Get is When I Hear a Criminal Say, ‘Yes, I Did it’”: Race and the Third Degree in New Orleans, 1920–1945

Extract

On May 11, 1938, two New Orleans policemen entered the Astoria Restaurant, marched to the kitchen, and approached Loyd D. T. Washington, a 41-year-old African American cook. They informed Washington that they would be taking him to the First Precinct station for questioning, although they assured the cook that he need not change his clothes and “should be right back” to the “Negro restaurant,” where he had worked for 3 years. Immediately after arriving at the station house, police officers “surrounded” Washington, showed him a photograph of a man, and announced that he had killed a white man in Yazoo City, Mississippi, 20 years earlier. When Washington insisted that he did not know the man in the photograph, that he had never been to (or even heard of) Yazoo City, and that he had been in the army at the time of the murder, the law enforcers confined him in a cell, although they had no warrant for his arrest and did not charge him with any crime. The following day, a detective brought him to the “show-up room” in the precinct house, where he continued the interrogation and, according to Washington, “tried to make me sign papers stating that I had killed a white man” in Mississippi. As every African American New Orleanian knew, the show-up (or line-up) room was the setting where detectives tortured suspects and extracted confessions. “You know you killed him, Nigger,” the detective roared. Washington, however, refused to confess, and the detective began punching him in the face, knocking out five of his teeth. After Washington crumbled to the floor, the detective repeatedly kicked him and broke one of his ribs. The beating continued for an hour, until other policemen restrained the detective, saying “give him a chance to confess and if he doesn't you may start again.” But Washington did not confess, and the violent interrogation began anew. A short time later, another police officer interrupted the detective, telling him “do not kill this man in here, after all he is wanted in Yazoo City.” Bloodied and writhing in pain, Washington asked to contact his family, but the request was ignored. Because he had not been formally charged with a crime, New Orleans law enforcers believed that Washington had no constitutional protection again self-incrimination or coercive interrogation and no right to an arraignment or bail, and they had no obligation to contact his relatives or to provide medical care for him.

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jadler@ufl.edu
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1. “Astoria Cook Turns Out to be Wrong Man,” Louisiana Weekly, July 23, 1938, 1. For the Astoria Restaurant, see New Orleans City Guide (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938), xliv.

2. Statement of Floyd [sic] D. T. Washington, September 14, 1939, Papers of the Louisiana League for the Preservation of Constitutional Rights, Harold Newton Lee Papers [hereafter cited as “Louisiana League Papers”], Manuscripts Collection 245, Louisiana Research Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA.

3. Files of the Pittsburgh Courier, July 23, 1938, Louisiana League Papers.

4. Statement of Floyd D. T. Washington, September 14, 1939, Louisiana League Papers. Many early twentieth century policemen and district attorneys believed that suspects possessed no constitutional protections during preliminary examinations and prearrest interrogations. Therefore, policemen routinely refrained from charging the suspects they interrogated. See B. Ogden Chisolm and Hastings H. Hart, “Methods of Obtaining Confessions and Information from Persons Accused of Crime,” paper presented at the Fifty-First Congress of the American Prison Association, Jacksonville, FL, 1921 (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1922), 17.

5. Files of the Pittsburgh Courier, July 23, 1938, Louisiana League Papers.

6. For the 1930s decrease in the use of third degree methods, see John Barker Waite, Criminal Law in Action (New York: Sears, 1934), 142; Arnold Miles, How Criminal Are Caught (New York: MacMillan, 1939), 107; Richard A. Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2008), 45, 70; and Marilynn S. Johnson, Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City (Boston: Beacon, 2003), 148.

7. National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, No. 11: Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement [hereafter cited as “Lawlessness in Law Enforcement”] (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1931), 5, 190–91; and Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 63.

8. For example, see Johnson, Street Justice, 148.

9. See, for example, Samuel Walker, A Critical History of Police Reform: The Emergence of Professionalism (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1977), 125–33; and Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 45, 70–71. For a few examples of the prescriptive literature on coercive interrogation methods, see Waite, Criminal Law in Action, 142; Keedy Edwin R., “The Third Degree and Legal Interrogations of Suspects,” University of Pennsylvania Law Review 85 (1937): 765–66; Warner Sam Bass, “How Can the Third Degree be Eliminated,” Bill of Rights Review 1 (1940): 31; and McCormick Charles T., “Some Problems and Developments in the Admissibility of Confessions,” Texas Law Review 24 (1946): 244, 278.

10. Miles, How Criminals are Caught, 107; Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 70, 80; Walker, A Critical History of Police Reform, 159–60; David R. Johnson, American Law Enforcement (Arlington Heights, IL: Forum, 1981), 117; Claire Bond Potter, War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men, and the Politics of Mass Culture (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998), 45; and Robert M. Fogelson, Big-City Police (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977), 117–67.

11. A notable exception is Marilynn S. Johnson, whose study also explored police behavior, and she finds that the use of the third degree decreased in New York City during the 1930s. See Street Justice, 148.

12. See Adler Jeffrey S., “‘The Killer Behind the Badge’: Race and Police Homicide in New Orleans, 1925–1945,” Law and History Review 30 (May 2012): 495531.

13. Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010); and Muhammad , “Where Did All the White Criminals Go?: Reconfiguring Race and Crime on the Road to Mass Incarceration,” Souls 13 (2011): 7290. Muhammad's analysis focuses on the link between race and crime in early twentieth century Northern cities.

14. See “Quick Death for Killers Urged by Chief,” New Orleans Item, July 6, 1924, 1; “The Value of Negro Life,” Louisiana Weekly, January 29, 1927, 6; “Gun Toting,” Louisiana Weekly, June 25, 1927, 6; “An Unusual Case,” New Orleans Item, August 22, 1927, 4; “Will Justice be Meted Out?” Louisiana Weekly, September 3, 1927, 6; “Enforcement Needed,” Louisiana Weekly, April 14, 1928, 6; and “Stop the Murderer,” Louisiana Weekly, February 20, 1932, 6.

15. This figure—and all of the quantitative evidence in this essay, unless otherwise noted—is based on a statistical analysis of every New Orleans homicide between 1920 and 1945—a total of 2118 crimes. I traced each crime from police ledgers through witness interview transcripts, autopsy records, court files, and local newspapers reports. For the core police records and court files, see Homicide Reports, Department of Police, City of New Orleans [hereafter cited as “Homicide Reports”], City Archives/Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, New Orleans, LA; and Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Files, City Archives/Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, New Orleans, LA; Coroner's Reports [hereafter cited as “Coroner's Reports”], Coroner's Office, City of New Orleans, Parish of Orleans, State of Louisiana, City Archives/Louisiana Division, New Orleans Public Library, New Orleans, LA (microfilm).

16. Adler Jeffrey S., “Less Crime, More Punishment: Violence, Race, and Criminal Justice in Early Twentieth-Century America,” Journal of American History 102 (2015): 4344.

17. See Bruce Smith, The New Orleans Police Survey (New Orleans: Bureau of Governmental Research, 1946), 3, 34, 35.

18. “‘Third-Degree’ Champion,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 2, 1939, 12.

19. For example, see “Inquest Report on Aaron Boyd,” June 17, 1938, Coroner's Report.

20. See, for example, John H. Bracey, Jr. and August Meier, eds., Files of the New Orleans Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 15, Series A, (Bethesda, MD: University Publications, 1991), microfilm [hereafter cited as “NAACP Papers”]; and the Louisiana League Papers.

21. “Survey Finds Americans Enjoy But Half of Guaranteed Rights,” Washington Post, March 6, 1939, 24; and “Liberties Union Gives Results of National Survey,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 6, 1939, 8.

22. Unidentified police officer, quoted in Joseph H. Fichter, with the collaboration of Brian Jordan, “Police Handling of Arrestees: A Research Study of Police Arrests in New Orleans” (Unpublished Peport, Department of Sociology, Loyola University of the South, 1964), 32.

23. Ernest Jerome Hopkins, Our Lawless Police: A Study of the Unlawful Enforcement of the Law (New York: Viking, 1931), 190. The Wickersham Commission relied on a similar definition, writing “the phrase ‘third degree,’ as employed in this report, is used to mean ‘the employment of methods which inflict suffering, physical or mental, upon a person, in order to obtain from that person information about a crime.’” See Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 3.

24. “Third Degree in Police Parlance,” New York Times, October 6, 1901, SM12; and Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 67.

25. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 191.

26. Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 2, 25; and George C. Thomas III and Richard A. Leo, Confessions of Guilt: From Torture to Miranda and Beyond (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 123.

27. Camp Edgar W., Bruce Andrew A., and Hallam Oscar, “Report of Committee on Lawless Enforcement of Law” (made to the Section of Criminal Law and Criminology of the American Bar Association, Chicago, 1930), American Journal of Police Science 1 (1930): 581; and Emanuel H. Lavine, The Third Degree: A Detailed and Appalling Exposé of Police Brutality (New York: Garden City, 1930), 58.

28. Johnson, Street Justice, 125.

29. Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 52–83; and Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 69.

30. Douglas Eckberg, “Crime, Law Enforcement, and Justice,” in Historical Statistics of the United States, Vol. 5, ed., Susan B. Carter, Scott Sigmund Gartner, Michael R. Haines, Alan L. Omstead, Richard Sutch, and Gavin Wright (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 239; and Hoffman Frederick L., “The Homicide Record for 1925,” Spectator 116 (1926): 36.

31. See Hoffman's annual tally of homicide in the insurance industry periodical, Spectator. Also, see Hoffman, The Homicide Problem (Newark: Prudential, 1925).

32. In 1920, one seventh of Chicago homicide victims were killed by robbers, and in New Orleans during the early 1920s, one twenty-ninth of homicide victims were killed by robbers. For Chicago, see Jeffrey S. Adler, First in Violence, Deepest in Dirt: Homicide in Chicago, 1875–1920 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 243.

33. Arthur V. Lashly, “Homicide (in Cook County),” in The Illinois Crime Survey, ed. John H. Wigmore (Chicago: Illinois Association for Criminal Justice, 1929), 594, 637; and Veiller Lawrence, “The Rising Tide of Crime,” World's Work 51 (1925): 133.

34. Roger Lane, Murder in America (Columbus, OH: Ohio State University Press, 1997), 214–35; Beverly Gage, The Day Wall Street Exploded: A Story of America in Its First Age of Terrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009). Sociologists argue that such “panics” are constructed and reflect particular interpretations or even distortions of “putative conditions.” For an introduction to the moral panic framework, see Ben-Yehuda Nachman, “The Sociology of Moral Panics: Toward a New Synthesis,” Sociological Quarterly 27 (1986): 495513.

35. Veiller Lawrence, “How the Law Saves the Criminal,” World's Work 51 (1926): 310.

36. Charles Elmer Gehlke, “Recorded Felonies: An Analysis and General Survey,” in The Illinois Crime Survey, 63; National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, No. 4: Report on Prosecution, 62.

37. Louis N. Robinson, “The Relation of the Police and the Courts to the Crime Problem,” A Report Submitted to the National Crime Commission (New York: National Crime Commission, 1928), 8; Harrington C. Brearley, Homicide in the United States (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1932), 132; and Raymond B. Fosdick, American Police Systems (New York: Century, 1920), 32.

38. Robinson, “The Relation of the Police and the Courts to the Crime Problem,” 7; Missouri Association for Criminal Justice, Missouri Crime Survey (New York: MacMillan, 1926), 4; and Veiller Lawrence, “The Menace of Paroled Convicts,” World's Work 51 (1926): 364.

39. Michael Willrich, “Criminal Justice in the United States,” in The Cambridge History of Law in America, Vol. 3, eds. Michael Grossberg and Christopher Tomlins (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 204–5.

40. Veiller, “The Rising Tide of Crime,” 136.

41. Fogelson, Big-City Police, 114; and Johnson, Street Justice, 7.

42. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 12; Fogelson, Big-City Police, 114; and Johnson, Street Justice, 8.

43. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 318–19. For a related perspective, see New York Times, February 28, 1930.

44. Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 130.

45. Cornelius Willemse, 1931, quoted in Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 175–76. Also, see “Twenty-Five Years as a New York Cop,” New York Times, February 8, 1931, 64.

46. California deputy sheriff, quoted in Booth Bates, “Confessions and Methods Employed in Procuring Them,” Southern California Law Review 4 (1930): 95.

47. “Third Degree Has Defenders As Well As Vigorous Critics,” New York Times, July 24, 1932, XX3.

48. Johnson, Street Justice, 8.

49. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 201.

50. Los Angeles Police Captain Plummer, quoted in Booth, “Confessions and Methods Employed in Procuring Them,” 97. Also see Michael Fiaschetti, You Gotta Be Rough: The Adventures of Detective Fiaschetti on the Italian Squad as Told to Prosper Buranelli (New York: A. L. Burt, 1930); William A. Westley, Violence and the Police: A Sociological Study of Law, Custom, and Morality (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1970), 152; Fogelson, Big-City Police, 153; and Johnson, Street Justice, 7.

51. Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 87.

52. Camp et al., “Report of Committee on Lawless Enforcement of Law,” 575.

53. Warner Sam B. and Cabot Henry B., “Changes in the Administration of Criminal Justice During the Past Fifty Years,” Harvard Law Review 50 (1937): 594.

54. Lavine, The Third Degree, 5; and Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 189. Also see The Third Degree,” Harvard Law Review 43 (1930): 618.

55. Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 92, 139, 67–68.

56. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 25.

57. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 218; “Crime Board Asks Constitutional Ban on Third Degree,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 11, 1931, 15; “The ‘Hot Tamale’ Decision,” Louisiana Weekly, November 8, 1941, 10; and “Bulletin,” August 17, 1939, Louisiana League Papers.

58. “Third Degree Has Defenders As Well As Vigorous Critics,” New York Times, July 24, 1932, XX3.

59. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 207, 218; and Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 138, 144.

60. Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 160; and Harold N. Lee to George Reyer, June, 1939, Louisiana League Papers.

61. Hopkins, Our Lawless Police, 200; Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 72; Johnson, Street Justice, 137; “Ask Probe of Shooting Negro by Grosch,” New Orleans Item, January 24, 1941, 3; “Stevens Killing Probe Promised,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 3, 1943, 12; and Westley, Violence and the Police, 131.

62. Walker, A Critical History of Police Reform, 133–34; Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 70; Thomas and Leo, Confessions of Guilt, 138; Kermit L. Hall, The Magic Mirror (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 255; and Johnson, Street Justice, 148.

63. Fogelson, Big-City Police, 219–26; and Johnson, American Law Enforcement, 117.

64. Potter, War on Crime, 45; Leo, Police Interrogation and American Justice, 80; and Walker, A Critical History of Police Reform, 156.

65. Worth R. Kidd, Police Interrogation (New York: R. V. Basuino, 1940), 148.

66. Miles, How Criminals are Caught, 107.

67. For thoughtful analyses of this process, see Elizabeth Dale, Criminal Justice in the United States, 1789–1939 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 122–35; Amy Louise Wood, Lynching and Spectacle: Witnessing Racial Violence in America, 1890–1940 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), 179–260.

68. Brown et al. v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278 (1936); and Klarman Michael J., “Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant? Race and the Southern Criminal Justice System,” Journal of American History 89 (2002): 121.

69. “Ray Warns City Thuggery Looms Under Behrman,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 26, 1925, 25.

70. Hoffman Frederick L., “The Homicide Record for 1924,” Spectator 114 (1925): 4; and “Criminal Law is Obsolete,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 28, 1926, 5.

71. “Crime Auto to Aid N.O. Police Work,” New Orleans Item, May 20, 1923, 1.

72. “‘Safe Business’ is Law Breaking, So Record Shows,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 19, 1924, 1.

73. “Delays Now Strangling Justice,” New Orleans Item, May 8, 1925, 12.

74. “Just A Suggestion,” New Orleans Item, November 20, 1922, 6; “Bandits Beware,” July 10, 1929, 1; “How to Kill Bandits to be Taught Police,” October 28, 1925, 1; and “Head Crushed by Robber, Aged Victim Dies,” July 18, 1923, 1.

75. “Indictment Found Against Officers in Ritter Affair,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 19, 1918, 4.

76. “Will Continue Probe When Man Recovers,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 18, 1918, 27.

77. “Further Charges Made of Alleged Brutality,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 15, 1918, 14.

78. “End ‘Third Degree’ and ‘Mental’ Jolts Despite Warning,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 20, 1921, 12; “Off Their Hinges,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 24, 1923, 8; and Notes and Abstracts,” Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology 12 (1921): 292.

79. “End ‘Third Degree’ and ‘Mental’ Jolts Despite Warning,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 20, 1921, 12.

80. “Bandits Beware,” New Orleans Item, July 10, 1929, 1; and “Orleans Police Get Machine to Curb Bandits,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 11, 1929, 17.

81. New Orleans policemen killed 14 suspects during the early 1920s, twenty-three suspects during the late 1920s, and twenty-six suspects during the early 1930s. Most of these deaths occurred on the streets, as patrolmen attempted to arrest suspects.

82. “Murders, Suicides Increase in 1921,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 1, 1922, 20; “344 Murders in N.O. in 5 Years, Record Shows,” New Orleans Item, September 24, 1924, 4; “Murder Penalties,” New Orleans Item, November 16, 1925, 10; and “The Value of Negro Life,” Louisiana Weekly, January 29, 1927, 6. Only 5% of African American killers, for example, targeted white residents during this period.

83. During the early 1920s, prosecutors secured convictions in 7% of homicides with African American suspects and 14% in cases with white suspects.

84. “Gun Toting,” Louisiana Weekly, June 25, 1927, 6.

85. For example, see “Tale of Third Degree Wins His Freedom,” New Orleans Item, March 13, 1929, 1.

86. “Prison Reform Body to Demand Brutality Probe,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 10, 1927, 1.

87. “Jail Probers Demand Firing of Detectives,” New Orleans Item, March 9, 1927, 1; and “Prison Reform Body to Demand Brutality Probe,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 10, 1927, 1.

88. Police officials argued that Dean's ribs had been broken during a fight with an accomplice. “Auto Thief's Pal Beaten,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 22, 1927, 10.

89. “Prison Reform Body to Demand Brutality Probe,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 10, 1927, 1.

90. Louisiana v. James Scarbrough, June 1928, Louisiana Supreme Court Case Files, Historical Archives of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Earl T. Long Library, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA; and Louisiana v. Scarbrough, 167, La. 484, 495 (1928).

91. Louisiana v. Scarbrough, 167 La. 484, 498 (1928).

92. “Detectives Suspected, Prisoner's Death Laid to Brutal Flogging,” Louisiana Weekly, May 14, 1932, 1.

93. Priestley J. B., “New Orleans: A First Impression,” Harper's Magazine 176 (1938): 595; “Murder Death Rate Drops in New Orleans,” New Orleans Item, June 2, 1927, 4; and “Orleans Murder Rate Held Low,” New Orleans Item, April 21, 1929, 1.

94. In The Condemnation of Blackness, Khalil Gibran Muhammad makes a similar argument for Northern cities, but the racialization of crime also occurred in the early twentieth century urban South, where policy makers “discovered” African American crime during the 1930s, replacing long-standing indifference with aggressive new policing tactics. See Adler, “Less Crime, More Punishment,” 42–44.

95. “Murders Must Stop,” Louisiana Weekly, April 15, 1939, 8; “No Murders This Week,” Louisiana Weekly, June 3, 1939, 1; and “An Unusual Case,” New Orleans Item, August 22, 1927, 4. Changes in the composition of the white population of New Orleans played scant role in this shift. For example, more than 90% of killers and homicide victims were native born between 1920 and 1945, and the proportions varied little over time. See Homicide Reports, 1920–45; Coroner's Reports, 1920–45. Analyzing 1920s data, the Wickersham Commission concluded that “it can be stated with considerable assurance that the foreign-born whites are the least criminal of the New Orleans population.” See National Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement, No. 6: Report on the Child Offender in the Federal System of Justice, 344.

96. See Adam Fairclough, Race and Democracy: The Civil Rights Struggle in Louisiana, 1915–1972 (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1995), 122; Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy Vol. 2 (1944; reprinted, with an introduction by Sissela Bok, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 1962), 540; Michael J. Pfeifer, Rough Justice: Lynching and American Society, 1847–1947 (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 8; and Gail Williams O'Brien, The Color of the Law: Race, Violence, and Justice in the Post-World War II South (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1999), 143. For the backgrounds of New Orleans policemen, see Leonard N. Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans: Policed Brutality and African American Activism from World War II to Hurricane Katrina (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2010), 29; and Louis Vyhnanek, Unorganized Crime: New Orleans in the 1920s (Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies, 1998), 32.

97. Tyler v. Harmon, November 7, 1924, Louisiana Supreme Court Case Files, Historical Archives of the Supreme Court of Louisiana, Earl T. Long Library, University of New Orleans, New Orleans, LA; and Harmon v. Tyler, 273 U.S. 668 (1927).

98. “‘I Want All to Register,’ Says Gov'rn'r Long,” Louisiana Weekly, August 1, 1931, 1.

99. [Advertisement] New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 17, 1935, 7.

100. Norris v. Alabama, 294 U.S. 587 (1935).

101. “A Registration Challenge,” Louisiana Weekly, April 11, 1931, 6; Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans, 19.

102. Fairclough, Race and Democracy, 133.

103. Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans, 2.

104. Testimony of Harry J. Daniels, December 21, 1953, Aaron M. Kohn, “Report of the Special Citizens Investigating Committee of the Commission Council of New Orleans” [hereafter cited as “Kohn Report”], New Orleans Police Department, Vol. II, April, 1954, Louisiana Research Collection, Tulane University Library, New Orleans, LA (typescript), 169.

105. “Johnson Saved, But Gets Life Imprisonment,” Louisiana Weekly, August 30, 1930, 1.

106. “11-Year-Old Witness Tells Court Cops Beat Him and Promised Bicycle for Lie,” Louisiana Weekly, May 15, 1937, 1.

107. “No Excuse for Police Brutality,” Louisiana Weekly, February 11, 1939, 8.

108. “Death of Negro in New Orleans Jail is Mystery,” Baton Rouge Advocate, June 18, 1938, 8; “Inquest Report on Aaron Boyd,” June 17, 1938, Coroner's Report; and “State Attorney Accepts Report in Boyd's Death,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 22, 1938, 15.

109. “Two Detectives Found Guilty of Beating Boy, 15,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 27, 1933, 1.

110. Statement of William P. VanDervort, May 3, 1945, Louisiana League Papers; and Report of William G. Bell, May 5, 1945, Louisiana League Papers.

111. “Beatings Denied by Chief Grosch,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 28, 1945, 28.

112. “Crime Board Asks Constitutional Ban on Third Degree,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 11, 1931, 15.

113. “‘Third Degree’ Champion,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 2, 1939, 12. New York policemen made similar claims. See Johnson, Street Justice, 137. Wickersham Commission investigators also found that policemen insisted that they only tortured guilty suspects. See Lawlessness in Law Enforcement, 111.

114. “Murder Suspect Tells How Detectives Attempted to Make Him Confess,” Louisiana Weekly, January 13, 1934, 4.

115. See, for example, Statement of Ethel Anderson to John E. Rousseau, Jr., April 22, 1945, Louisiana League Papers.

116. Fichter, “Police Handling of Arrestees,” 57.

117. “Police Discipline and Morale,” Kohn Report, Vol. III, April, 1954, 113.

118. “Retired Captain of Police Dead,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 4, 1933, 2.

119. “Healy Promotes 16 on Force, Adds 113 Regular Jobs,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 29, 1928, 3; “Retired Captain of Police Dead,” May 4, 1933, 2; and “Court Dismissed Torture Charge Against Police,” December 7, 1929, 2.

120. “Board Hears Pleas of 3 Doomed,” Louisiana Weekly, May 6, 1933, 7.

121. “Torture Laid to Policemen,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 1, 1929, 4; and “Court Dismissed Torture Charge Against Police,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 7, 1929, 2.

122. “Last Pleas Made to Save Slayers from Scaffold,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 29, 1933, 2; “Police Disclaim Use of Force to Get Confession,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 24, 1931, 6; and Louisiana v. Eli Terrell, Thomas Franklin, and Mose Conner, 175 La, 758, 800 (1932).

123. “Court Dismissed Torture Charge Against Police,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 7, 1929, 2.

124. “Grosch, Former Sheriff, Detective Chief, Expires,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, January 20, 1963, 6; and “Obituary,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 2, 1978, 18.

125. “Mrs. Purvis' Fate in Mate's Death Rests with Jury,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 17, 1933, 16.

126. “Labor Hearing in C.I.O. Row is Continued,” Baton Rouge State Times Advocate, July 1, 1938, 6.

127. “Crime is Curbed by ‘Third Degree,’ Asserts Grosch,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 1, 1939, 1; and “‘Third Degree’ Champion,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 2, 1939, 12.

128. “Grosch Upholds ‘Third Degree’ Use by Police,” Baton Rouge State Times Advocate, June 1, 1939, 1; and “Reporters, No Routine Prisoners Get Ice Cream, Cake of Police Wags,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 4, 1939, 10.

129. “Reyer Denies ‘Third Degree’ Methods Used,” Baton Rouge Advocate, June 2, 1939, 9; “Bulletin,” August 17, 1939, Louisiana League Papers; and “The ‘Hot Tamale’ Decision,” Louisiana Weekly, November 8, 1941, 10.

130. For example, see “Beatings Forced Confession, Says Deeters at Trial,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 21, 1931, 3; and “Oil Station Manager is Held by Police in Attendant's Death,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 14, 1936, 1.

131. “Grosch Will Get Report of Smith on Death Probe,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 19, 1938, 3; and “State Attorney Accepts Report in Boyd's Death,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 22, 1938, 15.

132. “Grosch's Brother and Vandervoort Made Detectives,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 28, 1931, 14.

133. “Witnesses in Bank Robbery Trial Held on Perjury Charge,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 12, 1931, 2.

134. “The ‘Hot Tamale’ Decision,” Louisiana Weekly, November 8, 1941, 10.

135. “Police Exonerated by Grand Jury in Death of Prisoner,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 21, 1932, 1.

136. See “Echezabal Bans Confessions in Slaying,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 31, 1941, 7; and “The ‘Hot Tamale’ Decision,” Louisiana Weekly, November 8, 1941, 10.

137. “Jury Probes Police Case,” New Orleans Item, March 12, 1941, 2.

138. “Two Held Guilty in Holdup Death, Face Life Terms,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 19, 1941, 5; “On Trial, Lad's Bodies Show Cuts, Bruises; Await Verdict,” Louisiana Weekly, July 31, 1937, 4; and Statement of Ethel Anderson to John E. Rousseau, Jr., April 22, 1945, Louisiana League Papers.

139. “21st Amendment by Special Session,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 27, 1933, 2.

140. “Rescued,” Louisiana Weekly, June 3, 1933, 8.

141. “Two Detectives Found Guilty of Beating Boy, 15,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 27, 1933, 1.

142. “Two Detectives Pay $100 Fines in Beating of Youth,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 23, 1933, 10; and “Reyer Restores Two Detectives,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 1, 1933, 26.

143. Harold N. Lee to Henry A. Scheinhaut, October 22, 1942, Louisiana League Papers.

144. “State Attorney Accepts Report in Boyd's Death,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 22, 1938, 15.

145. “Inquest Report on Aaron Boyd,” June 17, 1938, Coroner's Report.

146. “State Attorney Accepts Report in Boyd's Death,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 22, 1938, 15; and Miscellaneous Report of On-Going Cases, undated, Louisiana League Papers.

147. “Court Dismissed Torture Charge Against Police,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 7, 1929, 2.

148. Louisiana v. Elie Terrell, Thomas Franklin, and Mose Conner, 175 La. 758, 785, 800 (1932). Associate Justice Charles J. O'Niell wrote a scathing dissent.

149. “Found Lifeless in Jail, Aaron Boyd's Brutal Slaying is Being Investigated,” Associated Negro Press Release of June 30, 1938 (typescript), Louisiana League Papers. Also see Statement of William P. VanDervort, May 3, 1945, Louisiana League Papers; and Joseph H. Fichter, One-Man Research: Reminiscences of a Catholic Sociologist (New York: Wiley, 1973), 134.

150. “Police Methods Come Under Fire in Investigation,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, February 12, 1938, 3.

151. Unsigned letter to “(Nigger Loving) Harold Lee,” February 1939, Louisiana League Papers.

152. “$200 Fine for Officer Hart,” New Orleans Item, January 16, 1929, 1; and “Reyer Restores Two Detectives,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, July 1, 1933, 26. Also see Klarman, “Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant?” 127.

153. “Oil Station Manager is Held by Police in Attendant's Death,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 14, 1936, 1.

154. Statement of Bernard D. Mintz, August 1, 1938, Louisiana League Papers. In this instance, the prisoners were CIO members.

155. See Harold N. Lee to Ernest J. Wright, August 14, 1943, Louisiana League Papers; and “Witnesses Say Man Shot Down in Cold Blood,” Louisiana Weekly, August 23, 1941, 4. For one example of a patrolman expressing such fears, see “Witnesses Tell of Youths' Fight with Policemen,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 22, 1931, 21.

156. For example, see Statement of Ethel Anderson to John E. Rousseau, Jr., April 22, 1945, Louisiana League Papers. Other Southern law enforcers also routinely stripped African American suspects before beating them. See Louisiana v. Lewis, 175 La. 696, 697 (1932); and Brown et al., v. Mississippi, 297 U.S. 278, 282 (1936).

157. Louisiana v. Elie Terrell, Thomas Franklin, and Mose Conner, 175 La. 758, 800 (1932).

158. “Last Plea Made to Save Slayers from Scaffold,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, April 29, 1933, 2.

159. “Survey Probes Police Case,” New Orleans Item, March 12, 1941, 2.

160. Statement of Ethel Anderson to John E. Rousseau, Jr., April 22, 1945, Louisiana League Papers.

161. Testimony of William R. Ennis, October 26, 1943, Louisiana League Papers; and “Two Held Guilty in Holdup Death, Face Life Terms,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, November 19, 1941, 5.

162. Testimony of Harry J. Daniels, December 21, 1953, Kohn Report.

163. “No Excuse for Police Brutality,” Louisiana Weekly, February 11, 1939, 8.

164. Harold N. Lee to A. W. Dent, May 3, 1945, Louisiana League Papers; and Harold N. Lee to George [no surname on letter], April 23, 1945, Louisiana League Papers.

165. “Police Brutality,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 7, 1929, 6. Detectives in other parts of the nation also relied on this method, holding suspects “until they get well from abuse. Then the accused has little evidence of involuntariness [of the confession].” See California deputy district attorney, quoted in Booth, “Confessions and Methods Employed in Procuring Them,” 96.

166. “Found Lifeless in Jail, Aaron Boyd's Brutal Slaying is Being Investigated,” Associated Negro Press Release of June 30, 1938 (typescript), Louisiana League Papers.

167. Harold N. Lee to Henry A. Scheinhaut, October 22, 1942, Louisiana League Papers.

168. For example, see “Interview with Charles Sims, conducted by Fred Weis and Harold N. Lee,” August 16, 1941, Louisiana League Papers; Harold N. Lee to George Reyer, May 14, 1942, Louisiana League Papers; Case of Charles Sims, October 22, 1942, Louisiana League Papers; and “Report Awaited in Sims Shooting,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, May 23, 1942, 9; “Two Exonerated in Shooting Case, Reyer Tells Lee,” May 26, 1942, 12; and “True Bill Lacking in Wounding Case,” July 3, 1942, 21.

169. The figures on conviction rates come from my larger data set in which each of the 2,118 homicide cases was traced through police, court, prison, and newspaper sources.

170. “Labor Hearing in C.I.O. Row is Continued,” Baton Rouge State Times Advocate, July 1, 1938, 6; and Statement of Bernard D. Mintz, August 1, 1938, Louisiana League Papers. Also see Johnson, Street Justice, 149–80.

171. Statement of Lee Rattner, July 5, 1938, Louisiana League Papers.

172. Testimony of William R. Ennis, October 26, 1943, Louisiana League Papers.

173. Harold N. Lee to Ernest Wright, January 27, 1945, Louisiana League Papers. Also see Klarman, “Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant?” 151.

174. For example, see “Purge of CIO Probed,” Omaha World-Herald, June 29, 1938, 1.

175. “Byrne ‘Amazed’ by Quoted Views on Third Degree,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 3, 1939, 3.

176. See Fairclough, Race and Democracy, xi; Sharlene Sinegal DeCruir, “Attacking Jim Crow: Black Activism in New Orleans, 1925–1941” (PhD diss., Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, 2009); and Alan Maclachlan, “Up From Paternalism: The New Deal and Race Relations in New Orleans” (PhD diss., University of New Orleans, 1998), 27–32, 44, 170–71.

177. Dr. A. W. Brazier, MD [president of local NAACP branch] to NAACP [NYC], August 18, 1938, Papers of the NAACP, Part 12, Reel 15, Series A, NAACP Papers.

178. DeCruir, “Attacking Jim Crow,” 147.

179. Fairclough, Race and Democracy, 80; Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans, 3, 21; and Klarman, “Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant?” 143, 148, 153.

180. For example, see “Found Lifeless in Jail, Aaron Boyd's Brutal Slaying is Being Investigated,” Associated Negro Press Release of June 30, 1938 (typescript), Louisiana League Papers; “Charge More Police Here,” Louisiana Weekly, July 30, 1938, 1; and “Alleged Beating Negro Woman Put Before Jury,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 13, 1941, 7.

181. Telegram from Harold N. Lee to William Green, June 28, 1938, Louisiana League Papers.

182. Harold N. Lee to George [no surname on letter], April 23, 1945, Louisiana League Papers; “Killing by Detective Put Under New Probe,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 5, 1941, 5; “Suit for $25,000 Against Police is Started Here,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, October 24, 1939, 5; and “Enter Testimony in Suit Against 5 N.O. Policemen,” Baton Rouge Advocate, October 24, 1939, 6.

183. Miscellaneous report of ongoing cases, undated, Louisiana League Papers.

184. For a discussion of some of these challenges, see “President's Report,” January 30, 1946 (typescript), Louisiana League Papers. Also see Klarman, “Is the Supreme Court Sometimes Irrelevant?” 148.

185. Harold N. Lee to Mr. Musgrove, September 24, 1939, Louisiana League Papers.

186. Ibid.

187. “League Demands Action to Assure Rights of Public,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 2, 1939, 3; “Ellison is Given ‘Evidence’ on Use of ‘Third Degree,’” September 19, 1939, 5; “Killing by Detective Put Under New Probe,” March 5, 1941, 5; and “Jefferson Jury Clears Orleans Pair in Slaying,” May 21, 1941, 3.

188. Maclachlan, “Up From Paternalism,” 171–73.

189. Harold N. Lee to Mr. Musgrove, September 24, 1939, Louisiana League Papers; and Harold N. Lee to Henry A. Scheinhaut, October 22, 1942, Louisiana League Papers.

190. Donald E. DeVore, “The Rise of the Nadir: Black New Orleans Between the Wars, 1920–1940” (MA thesis, Southern University, 1983), 17; and Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans, 19. For state-level data, see Baker Riley, “Negro Voter Registration in Louisiana, 1870–1964,” Louisiana Studies 4 (1965): 339.

191. In his study of police violence in a postwar Midwestern city, the sociologist William A. Westley found a similar pattern, writing that local law enforcers “recognized that the Negro was no longer politically impotent and could cause trouble if they beat him up.” See Violence and the Police, 124.

192. For an excellent analysis of this issue, see Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans, 17–36.

193. Smith, The New Orleans Police Survey, 34, 13.

194. See Keedy, “The Third Degree and Legal Interrogations of Suspects,” 766; and Warner, “How Can the Third Degree be Eliminated,” 31.

195. For example, see “Romanian Reds' Cruelty Scored,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, August 16, 1947, 1; “Romania Reported Mistreating Political Prisoners in Move to ‘Exterminate’ Opposition,” Baton Rouge Advocate, August 18, 1947, 10; and “Korean Rightist Denies Ordering Death of Leader,” Baton Rouge Advocate, March 13, 1948, 12.

196. The number of deaths of suspects in police custody is an imperfect measure of third-degree brutality, because most such violence did not results in deaths. I relied principally on coroner's records in this calculation, because the police insisted that a few of the suspects who died while in custody had died of natural or undetermined causes, although the autopsy reports revealed traumatic injuries. Overall, 89.6% of the suspects who died at the hands of the police were killed while “resisting arrest” (or fleeing from arresting officers); that is, before they were in custody and subjected to third-degree “grilling.” During the 1920s, two of the thirty-seven suspects (or 5%) killed by police died while in custody. During the 1930s, the figure was eight of fifty victims (or 16%), and it was one of eighteen (or 6%) between 1940 and 1945.

197. Fichter, “Police Handling of Arrestees,” 52. Also, see Fichter, One-Man Research, 137, 139. The use of third-degree methods persisted during the second half of the century, although it no longer formed a routine part of crime investigations. See Moore, Black Rage in New Orleans, 5; Kohn Report, Vol. I, April, 1954, 34; and Fichter, “Police Handling of Arrestees,” 7, 18.

198. Fiorello LaGuardia, quoted in “Mayor Condemns Bill to End ‘Third Degree’ as ‘Magna Charta’ of Crooks and Shysters,” New York Times, April 15, 1937, 3.

199. For example, see Warner, “How Can the Third Degree be Eliminated,” 24–33.

200. McCormick, “Some Problems and Developments in the Admissibility of Confessions,” 244.

201. Although the use of third degree interrogations decreased during the twentieth century, it had not disappeared. See Selwyn Raab, Justice in the Back Room (Cleveland: World Publishing, 1967) and especially Brandes Susan, “Patterns of Injustice: Police Brutality in the Courts,” Buffalo Law Review 47 (1999): 12751344.

202. Patrick A. Langan, John V. Fundis, Lawrence A. Greenfeld, and Victoria W. Schneider, “Historical Statistics in State and Federal Institutions, Year End 1925–1926,” NCJ–111098, Bureau of Justice Statistics, United States Department of Justice (May 1988), 10–21; and Margaret Werner Cahalan, with the assistance of Lee Anne Parsons, Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States, 1850–1984 (Washington, DC: Westat 1986), 30.

203. Uniform Crime Reports, 1933, Vol. 4, Number 4 (Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1934) [hereafter cited as UCR], 21; UCR, 1940, Vol. 11, Number 4, 225; and Adler, “Less Crime, More Punishment,” 25–45.

204. Cahalan, Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States, 1850–1984, 217; and Eckberg, “Crime, Law Enforcement, and Justice,” 262.

205. Smith, The New Orleans Police Survey, 26, 34.

He thanks Carolyn Conley, Elizabeth Dale, Matt Gallman, David Johnson, Barbara Mennel, and the reviewers for Law and History Review for their helpful comments.

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Law and History Review
  • ISSN: 0738-2480
  • EISSN: 1939-9022
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