…was the caption of a Harper’s Weekly Cartoon back in 1884. Seems the good citizens of Cincinnati, OHIO were in an uproar over a verdict.
Didn’t go their way – The verdict came back as manslaughter in a case that everyone thought was clearly murder!
They attempted to locate and lynch the culprit and violence ensued.
For two days!
Fifty people died in the Cincinnati Riots of 1884 and the courthouse was destroyed.
You’d have thought the Bengals had won the Super Bowl!
In the 1880s, Cincy was an industrial city, crime was on the rise, and the populace was disgruntled with working conditions.
It was rumored the political system was corrupt!
Yeah, I was shocked too!
In 1880, Cincinnati Police had 300 cops on the streets. Within the first four years of the decade they had arrested more than 50 people for murder, four had been hanged, and 23 sat in jail awaiting trial or sentencing.
Still on the mend from a flood the month before which claimed many lives and destroyed homes, the city’s nerves were badly frayed.
Crime had become so widespread the Queen City of the West was unsafe even during daylight.
On Christmas Eve of 1883. William Berner, a young German immigrant and his African American accomplice, Joe Palmer, robbed and murdered their boss, a livery stable owner. After dumping the body in Mill Creek, they were arrested, charged with murder, and awaited trial.
500 potential jurors were interviewed before Berner’s attorney narrowed it down to 12, and on March 26, they came back with a verdict of manslaughter in spite of the fact that Berner had admitted his cold blooded plan to take out the boss.
Berner was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The following day, the newspapers called for a public meeting to condemn the verdict.
Palmer, who was tried separately by a different jury, was convicted and hanged.
Some of the jurors were threatened, harassed, pelted with rotten eggs, warned not to return home, and beaten.
Many went into hiding.
The militia was called in.
The following day, several thousand folks attended a meeting at a music hall in Over-The Rhine to protest the sentence, part of the mob headed to the jail, to kidnap and lynch Berner.
Berner, while being moved to Columbus for his own safety had escaped in route. Upon finding this out, the crowd, well, went cray-cray!
Morton Hawkins, the Hamilton County Sheriff had 13 deputies guarding the jail. The rioters broke into the jail through Hawkins’ apartment but left when they realized their target had been moved.
As the crowd grew, it grew angrier.
As the Sheriff had the alarms sounded, the crowd morphed to 10,000 people who pelted the jail with brick and rocks and overcame the guards breaking in again.
The militia drove them out and one rioter was died from a gunshot wound.
Then as historians like to say, “The shit hit the fan.”
The crowd tried to set the jail on fire, five more people including a police officer, were dead by morning and hundreds were wounded.
The Press, including the Enquirer, supported the rioters with a Saturday headline “At Last The People Are Aroused And Take The Law Into Their Own Hands. Enraged Community Rises In Its Might”
Politicians who had at first supported the vigilantes became alarmed and began to suspect the mob was led by socialist, anarchists, and “the dangerous classes.”
Aren’t they always?
Ohio’s Governor, George Hoadly, when asked to act, pussy-footed around and didn’t send in the militia until late Saturday evening. Many of the guards refused to report for duty, out of town soldiers were delayed, and the rioters who had been paid to do so spent their evening getting liquored UP in the local Cincinnati Bars.
Barricades were set UP around the jail, which was filled to the brim with detainees, understaffed, and badly equipped.
That night as the crowd spilled from the bars, they headed to the Court House, set it on fire, and blocked the fire department.
The Court House was destroyed.
Looting ensued and one merchant shot three as 300 reinforcements from Dayton arrived and were promptly herded back to the train station by the mob.
425 stalwarts from Columbus arrived, fought back, and cleared the streets with a Gatling gun.
The riot went on until nearly 3 AM Sunday.
On Sunday, the Cincinnati Enquirer took a new position and condemned the rioters calling it a Reign of Terror, and Secretary of War, Robert Lincoln called out the US Army whose presence prevented further trouble.
When it all ended, Berner was gone, Palmer had been hanged, 56 rioters and police had died and over 300 were wounded.
Victor Hugo compared the riots to the storming of the Bastille in Revolutionary France.
The Dayton Daily Democrat, agreed with Hugo calling the mob a Commune and Cincinnati “the Paris of America.”
It’s not, although nearby King’s Island does have an Eiffel Tower.
The Dayton paper went on to say, “…if middle-class Americans were running government instead of corrupt special interests, incidents like the riots would not occur.”
Seems little has changed.
Berner was eventually recaptured in Loveland, Ohio. He was playing cards. There’s no report on how much money he lost, but he did lose his freedom as he was carted off to the penitentiary in Columbus to serve his 20 years.
Palmer remained dead.
The court house was rebuilt.