One day during the Great Depression, a frightened old man was hauled before the magistrate in a New York City night court. The charge against him was petty larceny; he was starving and had stolen a loaf of bread.
The person presiding over the court that night happened to be none other than Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. La Guardia sometimes sat in for judges as a way of keeping close to the citizens of the city. La Guardia fined the old man $10. “The law is the law and cannot be broken,” the mayor pointed out. Then he took a $10 bill out of his own wallet and told the man he would pay the fine for him. Then La Guardia turned to the other people in the courtroom and “cited” each of them for living in a city that did not reach out and help its poor and elderly, leaving them no alternative but to steal. The mayor fined everyone in the courtroom 50 cents each. Then he passed around his famous fedora to collect the fines, and then turned over its contents to the amazed defendant. The hat contained almost $50. The old man left the courtroom with tears in his eyes.
Mayor La Guardia understood Jesus’ admonition: “Blessed are the merciful…”