The Power of Organized Crime in America

Al CaponeThere is something about the American mindset that occasionally makes heroes out of criminals.  From Jessie James to Al Capone, as much as our law enforcement no doubt wishes it would not happen, infamous criminals fascinates the public.  That quirk of the American psychology is one reason that organized crime is mixed into our culture as much as baseball and Christmas.

Stories about the Mafia or famous or even fictional organized crime figures fills movies, book sales and television.  From “The Godfather” trilogy to “The Sopranos” TV show, we love to watch stories about organized crime.

It is hard to say where the line between legend and reality lies when it comes to the true power of the Mafia and other organized crime groups in this country.  There is no question that this powerful segment of 20th century crime has been around a long time.  It has proven highly resilient to being stamped out.  Every decade or so, law enforcement goes on a purge and captures, kills or imprisoned dozens of top crime family bosses.

Al Capones Cell

These wars between organized crime and organized law enforcement themselves become the stuff of movies and legend.  But just as sure as the current ruling class of the most powerful organized crime syndicates are eliminated, new bosses rise to take their place and the crime network evolves to re-establish itself and begin exerting its pervasive influence on society once again.

The original crime families came from Italy, as we all know from the many movies and books about that era.  As an outgrowth of the large Italian population that took up residence on the east coast, the Mafia has traditionally thrived in large east coast cities like New York and Boston.  But it was the coming of prohibition that really helped the movement take off.  This was a golden age of organized crime because the government prohibition on alcohol turned that entire industry over to crime families who became very wealthy providing beverages to consenting adults in secrecy.

The stories of prohibition bathtub gin and the trafficking of illicit alcohol in Chicago and the war between the big named organized crime bosses and the Chicago police are perhaps the most colorful urban stories that only added to our long love affair with the underworld.  To this day, we are fascinated with Elliot Ness, Pretty Boy Floyd and Al Capone all of whom were very real combatants in the war between law enforcement and organized crime during prohibition.

Al Capones Cell

The mystery around how pervasive organized crime has been in politics, entertainment and more conspicuous areas of 20th century crime continues to fascinate us.  There is no question that the Mafia and other organized crime figures have had their fingers in such huge cultural events like the rise of casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City.  Frank Sinatra was said to have extensive ties to the mob.  Even such big national turning points such as the assignation of President Kennedy have been rumored to have ties to organized crime.

The one thing we know is that despite the many dedicated efforts of law enforcement and political figures to stop it, organized crime seems to be here to stay.  It will adapt, “morph” and evolve so it can evade being stopped.  But in some way, it seem certain that we will have mob stories to tell for many decades too come.  And as much as we despise the influence crime families have had on our culture, we sure do love our movies, books and television shows about organized crime figures.  And we probably always will.

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