JAKARTA, NNC - On a cold January evening in 1935, a trial was held in New York City. An old, tattered looking woman was on trial for stealing a loaf of bread. She looked sad, and hidden under the sadness was shame. The mayor of NYC Fiorello LaGuardia, happened to be the judge that night.
He asked her, "Did you steal the load of bread?"
The woman lowered her head and said, "That's right, your honor, I did steal the bread."
The Judge then asked, "What was your motive for stealing the bread? Were you hungry?"
Looking at the Judge, the woman said, "Yes, I was hungry, but I didn't steal the bread for myself."
"My son-in-law abandoned his family, my daughter fell sick, and their two children were starving; they hadn't eaten in days. I couldn't stand seeing them hungry; they are still so young."
By the time she finished speaking, the whole courtroom had fallen silent.
The Judge told the woman, "Everyone is equal under the law. For stealing bread, you can choose to either pay a $10 fine or go to prison for 10 days."
"Judge I am willing to be punished for what I have done...but respectfully, if I had $10 I wouldn't have stolen the bread. I am willing to go to jail. My only concern is who will take care of my daughter and grandchildren while I’m in jail?
The judge paused for a moment and leaned back in his chair.
He then reached into his pocket, pulled out a $10 bill and held it up for the court to see.
He said loudly, "With this $10 note I will pay for your punishment, you are free to leave."
He turned to the people in the courtroom and proclaimed: "In addition, I charge each person in the court 50 cents as a penalty for the indifference and ignorance in this community.
An old woman should not have to steal bread to feed her family.
Mr. Bailiff, go collect the money and give it to the accused."
50 cents each came from the owner of grocery store where the woman stole the bread, as well as from a dozen of other defendants awaiting trial, and several police officers.
They all felt honored to contribute 50 cents and stood up to warmly applaud the verdict.
The next day, the story was featured in a NYC newspaper, which reported that $47.50 had been given to the poor, accused woman.
The judge's decision made a point of how complicit people had become in the suffering of others, and how all are accountable in the crime.
The message rippled throughout the city. We are all connected in this world, if one suffers, so do we all. It is up to us to ensure that no person, family or community go unnoticed. It's easy for us to look after our own material benefits and not pay attention to the needs of others.
"Goodness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see," wrote Mark Twain.