Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Battle with the Slum > Page 91
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Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914).  The Battle with the Slum.  1902.

Page 91
 
is abroad in the darkness of these thoroughfares,—the sanitary police reported 12,000 tenement halls unlighted by night, even, and brought them, by repeated orders, down to less than 1000 in six months. I doubt that the light burned in 1000 of them all a month after the election that brought Tammany back. It is so easy to put it out when the policeman’s back is turned. Gas costs money. Let what doesn’t take care of itself.
  We had a curious instance, at the time, of the difficulties that sometimes beset reform. Certain halls that were known to be dark were reported sufficiently lighted by the policeman of the district, and it was discovered that it was his standard that was vitiated. He himself lived in a tenement, and was used to its gloom. So an order was issued defining darkness to the sanitary police: if the sink in the hall could be made out, and the slops over-flowing on the floor, and if a baby could be seen on the stairs, the hall was light; if, on the other hand, the baby’s shrieks were the first warning that it was being trampled upon, the hall was dark. Some days later the old question arose about an Eldridge Street tenement. The policeman had reported the hall light enough. The President of the Board of Health, to settle it once for all, went over with me, to see for himself. The hall was very dark. He sent for the policeman.

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