Friday, May 20, 2016

Today -100: May 20, 1916: You cannot do detective work in a high hat and kid gloves

At the NY Legislature’s Thompson Committee hearings about NYPD phone taps, the city of NY’s corporation counselor tries to shut the whole thing down, claiming there are “national issues” involved. Sen. George Thompson (R) expresses skepticism. From his office, NY Mayor John Purroy Mitchel accuses Thompson of a “cumulative act of treachery” towards the United States Government for making the wiretapping public. Finally, Police Commissioner Arthur Woods testifies. Asked if he wasn’t tapping many innocent people, Woods says, “You know, you cannot do detective work in a high hat and kid gloves” and complains about all this talk about the rights of criminals. He reassures the public that no one’s phone conversations are being listened to “unless he is a crook.” Curiously, no one points out to him that it is the job of a court of law and not the commissioner of police to determine who is a crook.

The White House asks Britain not to execute Jeremiah Lynch, a naturalized US citizen, for his part in the Easter Rising, and they agree. Lynch was a staff captain during the occupation of the General Post Office. He will be released with other prisoners in 1917 and deported to the US in 1918. From exile, he will be elected to the British Parliament in 1918.

A Royal Commission is investigating the Easter Rising, which the NYT is pleased to call “the Sinn Fein revolt,” though SF had little enough to do with it. Former Chief Secretary of Ireland Augustine Birrell defends his failure to foresee the events, although he admits he knew little about what was going on in “the cellars of Dublin” and was uneasy about it. He defends spending most of his time in London instead of Ireland, saying he had to attend Cabinet meetings, although “a jackdaw or a magpie might have done just as well to cry out ‘Ireland!’ ‘Ireland!’ when bills were being discussed by the Cabinet.”

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