This book contains an article from a 1932 edition of the New York Times, entitled “Jails are Better than Subways.” The article discusses the arrest of fifty-four men in New York City. The men were charged with vagrancy, specifically for sleeping in a subway terminal near 45 West Forty-second street. However, the article adopts an interesting perspective, noting that the men’s run-in with the police was not unfortunate, but rather, a “stroke of luck.” Their time in jail guaranteed them shelter from the city’s biting cold, in addition to several free meals each day. However, according to the article, the men were determined by the police to be simply “down on their luck,” rather than professional vagrants. Consequently, all of the new arrests were released shortly thereafter, despite the protests of the new inmates.
This primary source will be very useful in proving the detrimental effects of the Depression environment. A central tenet of my arguments rests on the idea that Americans were pushed into a life of crime and gang-related activity because of economic and social ills. This article from the New York Times explains that in the midst of the Great Depression, crime becomes a reasonable means of surviving. The title itself, “Jails are Better than Subways,” unequivocally states that the underground world can, temporarily, replace normal civic life.
I will argue that The Public Enemy makes a similar case. By exposing the audience to the harsh childhood of Tom Powers and Matt Doyle, the film claims that society also bears responsibility for the lifestyles that the boys pursued. If it were not for vacuum of opportunity created by the Depression, Powers and Doyle may have chosen a different, more legitimate path. Americans who suffered from similar economic circumstances – and, by extension, a loss of hope and faith in the system – can understand how Powers and Doyle became embroiled in the world of gangs.