By Peter Chien
The 90s- a fascinating, booming, and lively era in American history- had the entire country going through conflict between race, government, class, even gender. During this time, a major controversy erupted in regards to brutality of police and corruption of jurisdiction system. A major problem was that the police wouldn’t actively offer support to the lower-class communities and even accepted bribery to help maintain privilege to wealthy individuals. Political cartoons and arts gave us a deeper understanding of citizen’s views towards law enforcement. Moreover, most of those political cartoons contained negative values and depression of the police and politicians. In New Orleans, police committed multiple homicides and were still able to walk out court free. Also, police departments were entirely manipulated by the wealthy, such that the wealthy drove the inner-actions of many police departments. NYPD- The New York Police Department- was being accused of accepting bribes from wealthy class to work towards their benefits. Politicians were acting the same way as the police during that time. Both were very corruptive and abusively use of force. It has come to a place where the United States constitution was no longer valid in situations regarding politicians or law enforcement. The tension between residents and law enforcement was raised to the breaking point; a series of riots happened all over the country due to injustice of jurisdiction system and also police brutality. In the next section of the paper, media arts and cartoons will be analyzed to depict the police brutality of the 90’s. In a well-captioned title: “Result of Police Outrage Investigations,” political cartoons such as these infiltrated the mind of the viewer; everyone noticed the injustices committed by the police.
(F. B., “Result of Police Outrage Investigations New Orleans Mascot Crop,” The Mascot, Feb. 23, 1889.)
In this photograph, we have two juxtaposed views of a police officer, the two views being beset by the setting and those who inhabit the setting and thus experience the two views. This picture, debuted in The Mascot, a newspaper in New Orleans, was titled The Results of Police Outrage Investigations and was aimed squarely at the injustice of police activity in the streets that was in turn touted at the higher up, more affluent and white circles as just and correct police word. In the caption on the left, we have a police officer with the head of a lion, beating two men with a bloody Billy club and firing wildly into nothingness. At this time, there was a heavy use of police brutality and physical force against the lower class, particularly those of colors, and public outrage was met with little to no acknowledgement. In the right caption, we have an angel-winged officer with a Herder’s stick, signaling a leader and protector of people, a doer of good. The officer also has a lamb head, innuendo of innocence, and this officer is exiting a Committee portal ostensibly as a do-gooder on police and public relations. Lastly, and most importantly, there is a sign in the second caption reading “whitewashing done cheep,” referring not only to the carte blanche attitude and policy of police protection, but even furthermore depicting the idea of innocence and police being white, alluding to violence and malign intent coming from those of color.
(Louis Dalrymple, “Where is the difference? Library of Congress,” Puck, August 1, 1894.)
This picture, titled “Where is the Difference,” was penned in 1894. In it, we are shown two men, one a New York Police Officer and the other a member of the U.S. Senate done as a general depiction. The police officer is depicted as taking money from a woman’s hand that is coming from a window labeled N.Y. Den, the Senate Member taking money from a window labeled Trusts. In the middle, as a point of commonality, both men are leaning against a pedestal labeled Protection with a dollar sign on it. The title of this picture, Where is the Difference, really goes a long way in explaining what this picture is getting at. One the police officer side, the officer is accepting bribe money, or protection money, in order to allow the Den, which was jargon in this time for Bordello, to operate. This is clearly demonstrated as the exact opposite of what is supposed to be going on. Likewise, the Senate member is seen as taking money from US Trusts, from a plump, bejeweled male hand, clearly depicting a banker, which can also be seen as protection money for allowing the bank to operate however it so chose with impunity. Both sides are doing the opposite of what they are supposed to be doing, and getting paid via tax dollars for it. This depicts the feeling of helplessness and corruption in this time in New York, where people felt they could trust neither law enforcement nor the Federal or State governments to protect them.
(Thomas Nast, “Mulberry ring – growing fat on ill gotten gains,” The New York Gazette, Apr. 17, 1892.)
In this cartoon, labeled,” Mulberry ring – growing fat on ill gotten gains” has the clearest explanation in the title. It was penned and published in 1892, at a time of public unrest over the massive amounts of presumed corruption within the police department and government alike. The NYPD was demanding fees from illegal business to prevent from arrest. It has numerous inscription around the central character, most of them geared around not tolerating the corruption any longer or questioning the true use of the police. The chaotic verbiage swirling around the central character highlights the chaos and outrage of the general citizenry, and is juxtaposed against the calm, collected character of a police officer, depicted as a bulldog and dressed in the uniform of NYPD. He is leaning casually against a billboard further demonstrating that they police work on a cash basis, alluding to corruption and extortion. The officer is also casually swinging a Billy club as well, carefully but clearly signaling that anything that makes the officer unhappy will be met with violence. The Mulberry Ring, signaled in the largest letters at the top of the cartoon, refers to many things, one of which being the ring of extortion and bribery that the police took in order for them to ‘allow’ businesses to do business, not unlike the mob. The deeper significance of this alludes to the song with the lyrics of “Ring Around the Mulberry Bush,” which was a song about the poverty and disease, commonly referred to as the plague, that the rich and the powerful ignored in many parts of Europe and that ultimately was a major killer in earlier Europe.