Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Battle with the Slum > Page 227
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Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914).  The Battle with the Slum.  1902.

Page 227
 
IX. The Genesis of the Gang
 
  JACOB BERESHEIM was fifteen when he was charged with murder. It is now more than six years ago, but the touch of his hand is cold upon mine, with mortal fear, as I write. Every few minutes, during our long talk on the night of his arrest and confession, he would spring to his feet, and, clutching my arm as a drowning man catches at a rope, demand with shaking voice, “Will they give me the chair?” The assurance that boys were not executed quieted him only for the moment. Then the dread and the horror were upon him again.
  Of his crime the less said the better. It was the climax of a career of depravity that differed from other such chiefly in the opportunities afforded by an environment which led up to and helped shape it. My business is with that environment. The man is dead, the boy in jail. But unless I am to be my brother’s jail keeper merely, the iron bars do not square the account of Jacob with society. Society exists for the purpose of securing justice to its members, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.

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