Crowds of admirers gathered at the Clarence Darrow Memorial Bridge to pay their respects to the ‘lawyer for the damned’ and radical activist on Sunday, and to hear a lecture linking one of his many speeches, “Crime and Criminals”, to today’s challenges.
An agnostic, Darrow promised that if there was an afterlife he would return in some form to his namesake bridge in Jackson Park on the date of his death, March 13, in an attempt to dissuade people from paying the then popular spiritualists and mediums to speak to him.
Those who gather there today are not waiting for an apparition which obviously will not come; they just throw flowers in the lagoon in memory of Darrow. Reader Publisher Tracy Baim, her great-niece, has been coming to the commemoration since the 1960s. There should be no doubt that global warming is real, she said, as the water was still frozen at the era.
Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends & Beginnings bookstore in Evanston, read excerpts from Darrow’s 1902 speech to inmates at Cook County Jail.
Darrow said he didn’t see the inmates as normal people. He spoke to them because he does not believe in crime, nor in a difference in the moral condition of people in prison and outside. He didn’t think people were imprisoned because they deserved it; they were in jail because they couldn’t avoid it, because of circumstances beyond their control and for which they were not responsible.
“While you wouldn’t have a thing against me in the world, you could pickpocket me. I don’t think you all would, but I think some of you would. You wouldn’t have anything against me, but that’s your job, some of you,” he said.
“And I always know this, that when I go out, almost everyone picks my pockets.” The gas company charges it to make a profit, as does the streetcar company and the gas trust. But they bought the government and were philanthropists; he mentioned the name of the founder of the University of California, John D. Rockefeller.
“First and last, people are sent to prison because they are poor,” Darrow said. “Some of you may be in the trade, the profession, which is called burglary. No sane man will enter a strange house in the dead of night and prowl with a black lantern in unfamiliar rooms and take chances of his life if he has many good things of the world in his own house. … A man would not stop another man in the street if he had a lot of money in his pocket. He could do it if he had $1 or $2, but he wouldn’t if he had as much money as Mr. Rockefeller. Mr. Rockefeller has a much better game of heist than that.
“Most of the crimes for which we are punished are property crimes,” he said. “If this punishment is just, the criminals must have a lot of property. How much money is there in this mob? And yet you are all here for crimes against property. have so much property that they don’t They don’t know what to do with it. It’s perfectly clear why these people haven’t committed crimes against property; they make the laws and therefore don’t need to break them.
Darrow said he could take 500 inmates and 500 prostitutes, take them out “and get them out somewhere where there’s a lot of land ‘where there’s a chance to make a living,’ and they’ll be as good as average in the community .”
“It’s easy to see how to eliminate what we call crime. It’s not that easy to do it. I’ll tell you how to do it. It can be done by giving people a chance to live – by destroying special privileges. ,” he said. “As long as the big criminals can take over the coal fields, as long as the big criminals control the city council and get the public streets for streetcars and gas rights, it’s bound to send thousands of poor people to jail. Like men are allowed to monopolize all the earth and force others to live on whatever terms these men see fit, so you are bound to go to jail.
“The only way in the world to abolish crime and criminals is to abolish the great and the small together. Create fair living conditions. Give men a chance to live,” he said. “Abolish the monopoly, make the world partners in production, partners in the finer things in life. No one would steal if they could get something of their own in an easier way. No one will commit burglary when they have a full house. No girl will go out on the streets when she has a comfortable place at home.”
State Senator Robert Peters (D-13th), who led the successful legislative effort to abolish cash bail for most nonviolent crimes in Illinoissaid this effort was pushed by organizers who saw the problems Darrow saw and said they needed to be changed.
“What disappoints me, and I am disappointed, is that there’s a whole battle over what it means to have public safetyhe says. “If you give someone a good home, a roof over their head; you give them health care, a good job; you give them good schools, you facilitate the passage from point A to point B, you will have public security. You don’t give this to anyone, you put everyone at risk. You put everyone in danger. And the fight we have around public safety is not about how you lock someone in a cage that’s 100 years old. It’s about what you do to make sure they have the warmth, dignity and love they deserve.”
Aldus. Leslie Hairston (5th) noted the adoption of community empowerment ordinance for public safetywhich will create a Community Commission on Public Safety to exercise oversight over the Chicago Police Department with members chosen by elected district councils, alongside proposals such as Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s to impose heavy fines on people involved in gang-related crimes and to seize property if necessary to pay for it.
the the proposal for civil forfeiture of assets did not pass at the February city council meeting; Aldes. Hairston, Sophia King (4th) and Jeanette Taylor (20th) oppose it.
Bernardine Dohrn, a lawyer and professor at Northwestern University School of Law, leader of the group Weather Underground in the 1970s, said that if Darrow were alive, he would have represented Renaldo Hudson. Hudson was convicted of a murder he committed aged 19 and sentenced to death, but became a model inmate and mentor, earning a bachelor’s degree and commutation from Governor JB Pritzker in 2020 – his paintings are currently showing at the Logan Center for the Arts.
Dohrn also said that Darrow would have represented David Gilbertwho was paroled last year from a New York prison after serving as the getaway driver in a 1981 politically motivated robbery of an armored truck that left two police officers dead.
Dohrn and her husband, Bill Ayers, an activist and retired professor from the University of Illinois Chicago College of Education, adopted Gilbert’s son, now San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Dohrn said Darrow would be in mourning Denis Cunningham, the civil rights lawyer who died on March 6 and who represented Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton early in his career; after Hampton’s assassination, Dohrn said he captured evidence at the scene and continued an 18-month trial on behalf of survivors. He founded the Chicago People’s Law Office and, as an actor, helped launch Second City.
And she said Darrow would be involved in abolitionist feminism, recommending the book “Abolition. Feminism. Now.” by Gina Dent, Angela Davis, Erica R. Meiners and Beth Richie.
“I think that’s what we need. This system is suffocating us and killing people. It’s doing around us. It’s not doing anything around what we want,” Dohrn said. “We won’t know if Clarence could have mustered the courage and self-examination to become the revolutionary feminists of today, but we are confident that Darrow’s courage and vision of justice for all, and especially for the dispossessed, have caught fire among today’s feminist advocates and radical activists.