Organized crime has always been occupied with a negative label. Perhaps this is due to the constantly changing environment in America as well as the social state of its homeland, Europe. Our society is convinced that the so-called Mafia is a family of pure criminals, pimps, and murderers. Whatever the opinion, there is no doubt that the Mafia played a big part in the history of America and the way Americans view crime today. The origins of the secret society known as the Mafia are believed to be as old as the 9th century (Mafia History).
During the 9th century, the Mafia’s main purpose was to strengthen themselves against enemies, which invaded their homeland in Sicily. It was supposed to create a strong feeling of togetherness between all Sicilians. This idea of family was carried through in the structure of the organization, which had a strong hierarchical layout (Mafia History). The Mafia is said by many to have perhaps the best system of power, than any other group or government known today. One can compare a physical representation of the family almost to a family tree dated all the way back through many generations.
Certain people operated the system, but without the help of the people with the less power, the Mafia would be very weak. To put it another way, a leader cannot lead without followers, and the followers cannot follow without leaders. This is why the Mafia was hard to overcome. Although when many think of the location of the Mafia, Chicago and New York often come to mind, but actually the Mafia has been traced back through 26 major cites in America. Within every city were many Mafia families each with it’s own government.
At the head of each family stood the Dons or Bosses. Next in line to the Dons was the Underbosses, who were second in command. Followed by the Consigliere or counselors. And last were the men who did the dirty work for the Mob, the Soldiers. The Soldiers were the one’s who would enforce discipline over both members and non-members through the use of intimidation, assaults, and murder (Living Large 3). All the members of the society were expected to go through a ceremony that often was compared to the baptism ceremony.
The induction ceremony is the most important day of a mobster’s life, the day that they become full members of La Cosa Nostra (Mafia Life). The ceremony for the newcomers was something that was looked forward to by all. The newcomer is told that the Mafia is a secret society and there is one way in and only one way out of it. You come in on your feet and you go in a coffin. Then the new members were asked if they were capable of even killing their own blood family on command (Mafia Life).
Along with the ceremony, the mobster was told of the rules he must abide by. The most important rule in organized crime was the rule called the Omerta. The Omerta is a code of silence. A vow never to reveal any Mafia secrets or member under threat of torture or death (Mafia History). Another rule was the obedience rule. The obedience rule stated that the member must at all times be loyal to the boss or Don. A third law of the Mafia was the assistance to any befriended Mafia faction, no questions asked.
A few others included, Avenge any attack on members of the family, because an attack on one was an attack on all, and the last rule was to avoid any and all contact with the authorities (Mafia History). There is still much we don’t know about the Mafia due to the fact that the very first rule when inducted is the Omerta. Along with the many members involved with the Mafia, there were just as many ethnic families that existed if not more. Mafia families were growing very large in 1800’s (Mafia History).
The reason for the large swelling of crime in America was because of the vicious increase in foreign immigrants during that time in America. Three million Irish, four million Italians, and four million Jews immigrated to America. They immigrated for a number of reasons. Many of them dreamed of leaving behind their old worlds. Worlds of fear, depression and crime (Mafia Secrets). So along with these new immigrants came much crime as well which connected brought upon many ethnic gangs. Each gang had their own gang, there were several of them.
Chinese, Irish, Jewish, and Italian gangs were all recognized at this time(Mafia Secrets). Every community gang was different in some way. Although Italians are considered the Mafia, the other ethnic groups have their own involvement in some way or another. The Italians were by far the biggest ethnic group, but they were not the only ones. The Irish were instrumental in putting together the system of organized crime(American History 260). The Irish were known as very obsessive gamblers who had control of nearly all racetracks and casinos in the early 1900’s.
As sportsmen, they invested money in racehorses and promoted racetracks. Throughout this time, organized crime may have reached its high point in the United States in terms of the proportion of the population that constituted customers and in terms of the impact upon local police and politicians (American History 260). The Italians, of course, already had their feet wet in America by their knowledge of the systematic ways of government for nearly 30 years in America and had control of almost every aspect of organized crime.
The Italians remained with, socialized with, and committed crimes on other Italians within the Italian Community. The Italians were involved so deep in Crime that the Sicilian Mafia had so much power that the Sicilian Mafia has been linked to the highest levels of the Italian Government. Many other groups such as the Jews had much influence in the way we look at organized crime as well. The Jewish had been highly connected with America with an elaborate sense of knowledge gained in a short time.
Each ethnic gang made up a small branch of its district which each city had many. Each district was a part of its ethnic group. Very powerful men who were respected by all of the district’s soldiers, counselors, and captains led these groups. Each ethnic gang had it’s most high in command. In fact the Dons throughout history are single handedly responsible for all changes in the way business worked.
Vito Cascio Ferro, (1862-1945), is believed to be the one man primarily responsible for establishing the communication between the Sicilian and U. S. Mafia (Family Tree). Ferro is considered the father of what we know as today’s Mafia. His activities are not clear, but it was recorded that Don Vito was suspected in a brutal killing of at least one man. It was told that the man was trying to do business on his turf, which led to a very vicious death where the man was cut into tiny pieces and shoved into a box (Family Tree). Lucky Luciano was also very influential during his control of the Irish Mafia around the 1920’s in America. After his hostile takeover, Luciano organized organized crime.
He modernized the Mafia, shaping it into a smoothly run national crime syndicate focused on the bottom line (Time 100) Luciano was a millionaire because of his illegal distribution of alcohol and narcotics. He was later convicted and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison, where he soon died. Another famous mob boss who made a dramatic change in organized crime was Al (Scarface) Capone. Capone is perhaps the most famous and for a good reason. Scarface became the leader of one of the world’s largest crime families. The family numbered over 1000 members, and the majority of the 1000 were stone cold killers as well (Scaface).
Capone was involved in perhaps the most famous of all the Mob hits of all time, the St. Valentines Day Massacre, which changed the attitude of the public. Capone later, for a different crime, was arrested and sent to Alcatraz where he spent the rest of his life. How we know organized crime today has much to do with the way Hollywood has represented the Mafia. The worldwide image of organized crime has had a Made in America label since the 1930’s (Mafia Image 1) Movies such as The Last Don, Little Caesar, and The God Father series are for how most of us know the way the Mafia works.
Many people are convinced that the Mafia has been wiped out for the last twenty or so years. Much of the crime activity has decreased, however not all traces of the Mafia have disappeared, as we believe. There is still currently a mob family from Greek decent even in America today. And in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Sicilian Mafia was found to be the culprit in one of the largest heroin smuggling rings in history (Crime Groups). Because of the Omerta, people have a hard time learning the current position of the Mob, and the Mafia is known for making comebacks in a hurry.
For example, the highpoint of the Mafia was said to be in the 1920’s, and slowly it decreased until the end of World War II when organized crime came back with much stronger than when the war started. This shows a good understanding of what the Mafia is capable of doing in short periods of time. The men who have tried to get rid of the Mafia time in and time out have made some progress. Responsible groups of Americans have, at times, waged campaigns in the media to obliterate any assumption that crime is dominated by people of Italian descent, claiming that existence of an American Mafia had not been fully established (Mafia Image).
The opinions will differ in that sense. Some say that the Mafia is a vast organization that continues to grow in power, while others say that if the mafia still exists to this day, the old ways of organized crime will never be the same as it has been in this century. The desire, need, brutality, wisdom, and style of what we know as the Mafia only exists in books and movies. No matter the opinion, the Mafia still claims the place in American History if it still exists or not.