Gangsters: Organized Crime
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From Los Angeles to Chicago to New York, organized crime syndicates supplied speakeasies and underground establishments with large quantities of beer and liquor. These complex bootlegging operations used rivers and waterways to smuggle alcohol across state lines. Eventually, other criminal enterprises expanded and diversified from the bootlegging profits.
In the face of this crime wave, law enforcement struggled to keep up. Although three Federal agencies were tasked with enforcing the Volstead Act, bootleggers and smugglers operated with relative impunity. On the state and local levels, police were similarly overwhelmed by the power and influence of organized crime syndicates.
In this look at the history of American gangsters, the editors nicely balance chapters on the history of organized crime starting with the criminal \"golden age\" of the 1920s with a collection of archival photos. The money-shots here are dozens of photos depicting dead mobsters and victims: inspired by the style of famous crime photographer Weegee (who receives his own chapter), the book graphically illustrates the gory side of crime through bloody photos ranging from cowboy criminals like the Dalton gang to mob boss Paul Castellano's shooting in 1985. But the book isn't all blood and guts. Shorter sections on the elements of the gangster life from cars to clothes are equally successful in depicting the extravagant mob lifestyle; a chapter illustrating the lavish home of legendary L.A. mobster Mickey Cohen is a terrific look at American post-war domesticity super-sized by mob money and aggrandizement. While the prose is occasionally boiled a little too hard and the \"reminiscence\" by Elmore Leonard is a reprint of a slight if interesting biographical essay published in Life in 1990, the book delivers the requsite vicarious thrills. (Dec.)
Prohibition refers to the criminalization of the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol in the United States from 1920 to 1933. Prohibition and organized crime went hand in hand. As the demand for alcohol soared during Prohibition, criminal groups seized the opportunity to make a fortune trafficking the illicit substance.
Despite its proponents' high hopes, Prohibition was not the perfect solution to a happier and healthier society. Early in Prohibition, people found covert ways to produce and sell alcohol. Many people brewed their own alcohol at home, making ''bathtub gin'' or ''moonshine.'' Sometimes, these homemade intoxicants had terrible health consequences. People found innovative ways to hide alcohol in houses, automobiles, and everyday objects. The demand for alcohol created an enormous business opportunity for criminal groups, and thus began the rise of organized crime in America.
Prior to the Prohibition era, crime had been on the rise countrywide. Violence was increasing in America's overcrowded cities, including violent encounters between factory workers and bosses. Corrupt politicians dominated the political scene. Crooked business people shirked the law and built huge monopolies. Though many reforms of the Progressive Era (1890s-1920s) fought these issues, Prohibition actually contributed to an increase in organized crime across the country.
Prior to Prohibition, gang activity was limited to small-scale street gangs active primarily in ethnic Irish, Italian, Jewish, and Polish neighborhoods. How did Prohibition lead to organized crime Mafias took advantage of the conditions made by Prohibition to make exorbitant amounts of money in the illegal alcohol trade. In order to produce and transport alcohol across state and international borders, criminal gangs needed to coordinate their activities like never before. These gangs built criminal networks of an unprecedented scale in the United States.
Organized crime in the 1920s was characterized by bootlegging and rum-running. Gangsters became experts in bootlegging, or producing and selling alcohol illegally. Rum-running is like bootlegging, but refers to the illegal transport of alcohol via waterways. Gangsters became highly organized in their methods of obtaining, smuggling, and distributing alcohol across the United States. They made deals with other gangs in order to move liquor across state and national borders. Rum-running was common at the border with Canada and in the Caribbean. Mafias hired lawyers and accountants to protect their operations and profits. They bribed law enforcement officers and politicians to ensure their interests were protected.
The most infamous gangster of the era was by far Al ''Scarface'' Capone. Al Capone was born in 1899 to Italian immigrants in New York City. At a young age, Capone was initiated into the underground crime rings of Brooklyn. Capone was nicknamed ''Scarface'' after his face was slashed in a bar fight. In the early 1920s, Capone moved to Chicago. Under the guidance of gang leader Johnny Torrio, Capone learned the business of bootlegging, racketeering, and owning a brothel. Capone soon became a prominent member of Torrio's network, known as the Chicago Outfit. In 1925, Capone replaced Torrio as the kingpin when an injury from an assassination attempt forced Torrio to retire. Capone made up to $100 million a year from his bootlegging business.
Organized crime in the 1920s caused a huge increase in violence across the country. Rich off the bootlegging trade, gangs bought fast automobiles and armed themselves with ''Tommy'' guns. Turf wars between rival gangs, assassinations, and clashes with the police were commonplace, putting bystanders and innocent civilians at risk. It is estimated that over 12,000 murders were committed yearly by 1926.
Chicago was particularly violent. By the mid-1920s, Chicago had 1,300 criminal gangs. Gang violence was so pervasive that the ''Tommy'' gun was nicknamed the ''Chicago Typewriter.'' The city became a war zone of gang violence between the Al Capone's Chicago Outfit and his rival George ''Bugs'' Moran's North Side Gang. One of the most infamous incidents was the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre on February 14, 1929. With the help of some bootleggers, Capone lured members of the North Side Gang to a warehouse. Chicago Outfit members disguised themselves as police officers and staged a police raid, which was commonplace. Unaware of the ruse, the North Side gangsters cooperated and lined up. The Chicago Outfit gunned down these seven North Side members. Americans woke up to the seriousness of the organized crime problem after the massacre. The slaughter also tarnished Capone's reputation among the Chicagoans who had previously seen him in a positive light.
Law enforcement was overpowered by the well-armed, well-connected gangs. Pervasive corruption in law enforcement and politics also made it hard to track down and punish criminals. Gangsters spent huge portions of their earnings to bribe police officers and politicians, meaning they enjoyed great impunity. Law enforcement was also battling an increase in other crimes such as drug trafficking, gambling, kidnapping, bank robbery, and car theft.
Faced with rising violence, the Bureau of Prohibition resolved to toughen up on organized crime. In 1929, twenty-six-year-old Agent Eliot Ness was appointed head of the Chicago prohibition bureau. Ness organized a group of young agents believed to be incorruptible, which earned them the nickname ''The Untouchables.'' ''The Untouchables'' could never press charges for Capone's most serious crimes, such as murder. However, by raiding Capone's network of speakeasies and distilleries, they gradually compiled enough evidence to convict him of income tax evasion. In March 1931, Capone was sentenced to the maximum time of eleven years in federal prison. He served most his sentence in Alcatraz. He eventually was granted parole based on his declining health and died in 1947.
Prohibition was finally repealed in December 1933 by the 21st Amendment. Alcohol became legal again and was widely available at bars, saloons, and other establishments. Since there was no longer a demand for bootlegged alcohol, gangsters lost their primary activity and source of income. Organized crime declined significantly after Prohibition was reversed. Though organized crime has persisted throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, organized crime in the 1920s marked the height of the problem.
Gang violence grew during the Prohibition era, with Chicago becoming one of America's most violent cities. Chicago gangster Al Capone was one of the era's most infamous mob bosses. The violence he orchestrated in the 1929 Saint Valentine's Day Massacre woke people up to the severity of the organized crime problem. Law enforcement had been struggling to control bootlegging as the mobs were heavily armed and law enforcement were rife with corruption. Eliot Ness and his group of young, incorruptible agents, known as ''The Untouchables,'' took on the Chicago bootlegging scene. ''The Untouchables'' could finally send Capone to prison on charges of income tax evasion in 1931. In 1933, Prohibition was repealed by the passage of the 21st Amendment.
Organized crime contributed to a significant uptick in violence in American cities. Ordinary citizens were at risk of getting caught in the crossfire. Gangsters stirred up corruption in politics and law enforcement. Organized crime also undermined Prohibition by making alcohol widely available across the United States, primarily in illegal bars known as speakeasies.
Mafias across the United States, in Canada, and in the Caribbean were involved in organized crime in the 1920s. Mob bosses included Al 'Scarface' Capone and Johnny Torrio of the Chicago Outfit and New York kingpin Charles 'L