Sketches New and Old, Part 3. eBook: Page1
Mark Twain (2004)
Produced by David Widger
SKETCHES NEW AND OLD
by Mark Twain
DISGRACEFUL PERSECUTION OF A BOY
In San Francisco, the other day, "A well-dressed boy, on his way toSunday-school, was arrested and thrown into the city prison for stoningChinamen."
What a commentary is this upon human justice! What sad prominence itgives to our human disposition to tyrannize over the weak! San Franciscohas little right to take credit to herself for her treatment of this poorboy. What had the child's education been? How should he suppose it waswrong to stone a Chinaman? Before we side against him, along withoutraged San Francisco, let us give him a chance--let us hear thetestimony for the defense.
He was a "well-dressed" boy, and a Sunday-school scholar, and thereforethe chances are that his parents were intelligent, well-to-do people,with just enough natural villainy in their composition to make them yearnafter the daily papers, and enjoy them; and so this boy had opportunitiesto learn all through the week how to do right, as well as on Sunday.
It was in this way that he found out that the great commonwealth ofCalifornia imposes an unlawful mining-tax upon John the foreigner, andallows Patrick the foreigner to dig gold for nothing--probably becausethe degraded Mongol is at no expense for whisky, and the refined Celtcannot exist without it.
It was in this way that he found out that a respectable number of thetax-gatherers--it would be unkind to say all of them--collect the taxtwice, instead of once; and that, inasmuch as they do it solely todiscourage Chinese immigration into the mines, it is a thing that is muchapplauded, and likewise regarded as being singularly facetious.
It was in this way that he found out that when a white man robs asluice-box (by the term white man is meant Spaniards, Mexicans,Portuguese, Irish, Hondurans, Peruvians, Chileans, etc., etc.), they makehim leave the camp; and when a Chinaman does that thing, they hang him.
It was in this way that he found out that in many districts of the vastPacific coast, so strong is the wild, free love of justice in the heartsof the people, that whenever any secret and mysterious crime iscommitted, they say, "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall," andgo straightway and swing a Chinaman.
It was in this way that he found out that by studying one half of eachday's "local items," it would appear that the police of San Franciscowere either asleep or dead, and by studying the other half it would seemthat the reporters were gone mad with admiration of the energy, thevirtue, the high effectiveness, and the dare-devil intrepidity of thatvery police-making exultant mention of how "the Argus-eyed officerSo-and-so" captured a wretched knave of a Chinaman who was stealingchickens, and brought him gloriously to the city prison; and how "thegallant officer Such-and-such-a-one" quietly kept an eye on the movementsof an "unsuspecting, almond-eyed son of Confucius" (your reporter isnothing if not facetious), following him around with that far-off look.of vacancy and unconsciousness always so finely affected by thatinscrutable being, the forty-dollar policeman, during a waking interval,and captured him at last in the very act of placing his hands in asuspicious manner upon a paper of tacks, left by the owner in an exposedsituation; and how one officer performed this prodigious thing, andanother officer that, and another the other--and pretty much every one ofthese performances having for a dazzling central incident a Chinamanguilty of a shilling's worth of crime, an unfortunate, whose misdemeanormust be hurrahed into something enormous in order to keep the public fromnoticing how many really important rascals went uncaptured in the meantime, and how overrated those glorified policemen actually are.
It was in this way that the boy found out that the legislature, beingaware that the Constitution has made America, an asylum for the poor andthe oppressed of all nations, and that, therefore, the poor and oppressedwho fly to our shelter must not be charged a disabling admission fee,made a law that every Chinaman, upon landing, must be vaccinated upon thewharf, and pay to the state's appointed officer ten dollars for theservice, when there are plenty of doctors in San Francisco who would beglad enough to do it for him for fifty cents.
It was in this way that the boy found out that a Chinaman had no rightsthat any man was bound to respect; that he had no sorrows that any manwas bound to pity; that neither his life nor his liberty was worth thepurchase of a penny when a white man needed a scapegoat; that nobodyloved Chinamen, nobody befriended them, nobody spared them suffering whenit was convenient to inflict it; everybody, individuals, communities, themajesty of the state itself, joined in hating, abusing, and persecutingthese humble strangers.
And, therefore, what could have been more natural than for thissunny-hearted-boy, tripping along to Sunday-school, with his mind teemingwith freshly learned incentives to high and virtuous action, to say tohimself:
"Ah, there goes a Chinaman! God will not love me if I do not stone him."
And for this he was arrested and put in the city jail.
Everything conspired to teach him that it was a high and holy thing tostone a Chinaman, and yet he no sooner attempts to do his duty than he ispunished for it--he, poor chap, who has been aware all his life that oneof the principal recreations of the police, out toward the Gold Refinery,is to look on with tranquil enjoyment while the butchers of BrannanStreet set their dogs on unoffending Chinamen, and make them flee fortheir lives.
--[I have many such memories in my mind, but am thinking just at presentof one particular one, where the Brannan Street butchers set their dogson a Chinaman who was quietly passing with a basket of clothes on hishead; and while the dogs mutilated his flesh, a butcher increased thehilarity of the occasion by knocking some of the Chinaman's teeth downhis throat with half a brick. This incident sticks in my memory with amore malevolent tenacity, perhaps, on account of the fact that I was inthe employ of a San Francisco journal at the time, and was not allowed topublish it because it might offend some of the peculiar element thatsubscribed for the paper.]
Keeping in mind the tuition in the humanities which the entire "Pacificcoast" gives its youth, there is a very sublimity of incongruity in thevirtuous flourish with which the good city fathers of San Franciscoproclaim (as they have lately done) that "The police are positivelyordered to arrest all boys, of every description and wherever found, whoengage in assaulting Chinamen."
Still, let us be truly glad they have made the order, notwithstanding itsinconsistency; and let us rest perfectly confident the police are glad,too. Because there is no personal peril in arresting boys, provided theybe of the small kind, and the reporters will have to laud theirperformances just as loyally as ever, or go without items.
The new form for local items in San Francisco will now be: "Theever-vigilant and efficient officer So-and-so succeeded, yesterdayafternoon, in arresting Master Tommy Jones, after a determinedresistance," etc., etc., followed by the customary statistics and finalhurrah, with its unconscious sarcasm: "We are happy in being able tostate that this is the forty-seventh boy arrested by this gallant officersince the new ordinance went into effect. The most extraordinaryactivity prevails in the police department. Nothing like it has beenseen since we can remember."