Research Proposal: Crime in Chicago

Pages: 20 (6162 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper

Crime in Chiccago

Organized Crime in Chicago

Starting with the middle of the twentieth century, the city of Chicago has been confronted with increasing criminality rates. The efforts of the police department have materialized in some control over the situations, but drastic improvements have yet to be achieved. In the month from February 27, 2009 to March 29, 2009, 32,554 crimes were registered in Chicago, with a peak on the 6th of March, when 1,258 crimes were committed in a single day. 36% of all crimes refer to battery and theft, followed by criminal damage and narcotics with 12, respectively 10%. In terms of the place where they occur, 25% of the crimes take place in the street, followed by residential areas with 18%, apartments with 12%, the sidewalk with 10%, schools, parking lots and other locations.

But instead of focusing on the already debated statistics, it would be interesting to approach the matter relative to its development. The question that is being posed then refers to the evolution of Chicago criminality from the Italian and Irish Mafia to the contemporaneous street gangs.

2. Genesis of Crime Organizations in Chicago

Crimes in Chicago have existed ever since the establishment of the city, but they were basically characterized by sporadic events and divided gangs. These gangs were specialized in a particular type of crime and would not cross the established boundaries. One gang was for instance active in gambling, another in labor unions and a third in prostitution. The end of the nineteenth century did however bring about the organized crime movement, set by the emergence of mafia clans. Five Italian-American families joint their forces under the name "The Chicago Outfit" or simply "The Outfit" and they fought to control the streets and the power. The history of the Outfit commences with the immigration of Giacomo "James," "Big Jim" Colosimo from Italy to the United States in 1895. Colosimo initially under "Bathhouse" Coughlin and "Hinky Dink" Kenna, to eventually become their bagman (a person that collects the money a crime organization demands from other less powerful groups in exchange for protection; if the targeted groups do not pay the requested money, they are subjected to violent attacks, often originated from the powerful group collecting racket protection). Throughout this period, Big Jim set the basis for strong relations with the police and the political forces, and these relations would, in the future, help him become one of the most notorious mobsters in history.

Bathhouse Coughlin and Hinky Dink Kenna were the leaders of the Levee, a district in the southern part of Chicago, famous for high criminality rates, mostly associated with the red-light district, where prostitution and the adjacent traffic were in blossom. It was called the red light district in reference to the red bulbs that were hanged in front of each bordello. The Levee attracted numerous wealthy individuals who resided in South Chicago and its growth is often assimilated with the fact that four railway tycoons resided in the region. When the district lost its popularity, the two leaders made an agreement with future mayor William Hale Thompson. The "New Levee" as it was called after relocation, rapidly gained a reputation as a vice location, hosting no less than 200 bordellos and gambling facilities. Various civic and religious movements to reform the city were launched and the last bordello in Levee was officially closed in 1914. The election of William Hale Thompson brought hope to the advocates of the Levee, but the moral reform had gained significant momentum and the Levee remained closed.

Soon after immigrating to the U.S., Colosimo began to run several prostitution, gambling and other vice houses in the Levee. With the direct support of Thompson, the empire established by Colosimo continued to increase. They however became the targets of the Black Hand, a practice used to extort money in exchange for protection. To deal with the problem, Colosimo called his nephew from New York, Giovanni "Johnny the Fox" Torrio, who in time came to also handle other operations.

Gradually, Colosimo increased his power and he himself begun to engage in Black Hand operations. By 1910, Big Jim was the head of the largest (to that day) organization collecting protection racketing -- the Outfit. The group was multi-ethnic, with members of various nationality backgrounds, including Jews, Irish, Italian, Greek as well as other nationalities, but the Italian families made all decisions and had the most influence. In 1919, the notorious Al Capone came to Chicago to join Colosimo's gang (it is believed that Capone was trying to escape some problems he was having in Brooklyn). The same year, the American politicians voted the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, a law that prohibited the manufacturing, transportation and consumption of alcohol-based beverages. Johnny Torrio saw in this a great opportunity to increase their profits by millions of dollars, even more so when he anticipated the ends of the Levee. Colosimo was however reluctant to becoming engaged in bootlegging operations, and, as he was considered a hindrance, Big Jim was assassinated. He was found shot in the head and the main suspects were young Al Capone and Frankie Yale, the new assistants of Johnny Torrio.

Despite being part of the Outfit, the Irish mob in Chicago had a history of its own. Established in the nineteenth century, the Irish mafia represents the oldest crime organization within the United States. Aside Chicago, the Irish mobsters were present in most American cities, such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Atlantic City and so on. Similar to the Italian mafia, the Irish mobsters activated in labor unions, prostitution, gambling and protection racketeering and became increasingly profitable and notorious during the Prohibition (1919-1933).

Crime statistics of the 1913 Chicago reveal a total number of 97,393 individuals arrested for felonies and misdemeanors. Out of them, 3,364 were of Italian origins and 2,746 were of Irish origins. The large majority of criminals were of Russian nationality, with a total of 8,546 arrests, followed by Germans with 7,757 arrests and Australians with 3,683 arrests. Less than half of these arrests (44.79%) were finalized with convictions.

The creation of the gangs can easily be associated with race and other socio-economic features. For instance, both Italian and Irish were strangers in a foreign country. Their employment possibilities were limited and they had to work extremely hard to make ends meet. Some of the new immigrants joined police forces, but few remained loyal to the legislative cause. In a city in which corruption levels were fairly high among the police force, the novice policemen began to perform small chores for their corrupted officers, to soon occupy leading position in the Irish and Italian mob groups. Others did not take the path through the police force, but simply joined these crime groups from the moment they arrived to Chicago.

The Italian and Irish groups were often enemies and competed against each other in various terms, such as the gambling, prostitution or protection racketeering. Each group had well defined boundaries and they would not cross each other's paths. The respect for the imposed boundaries was due to a 'code of honor', but also to the fear of the repercussion which might be felt in case violent altercations were started between the two groups. In the incipient days, the Italian and Irish mafia clans were renowned for being "honest crooks," implying they had respect for each other and were man of their words. The oxymoron is taken from Oscar, a 1991 film staring Sylvester Stallone, the former mobster trying to follow the right path, with an action set in the 1931s, during the Prohibition and the great economic crisis.

Another important characteristic of the two mafia groups is that they were homogenous within, but heterogeneous relative to other groups. Basically, this means that the members of one group were brought together by similar principles, fears, desires or necessities. The most eloquent example in this sense is given by race, as the mafia groups in Chicago were "influenced by deep-seated racism, racial politics, real estate speculation, segregation, police brutality, and white supremacist terrorism."

This issue will be detailed further on as it is most obvious with the emergence of the African-American gangs in Chicago.

The reactions of the American community to the newly emerged criminal organizations were divided. While some argued that the Black Hand, or the Mafia, was inexistent, others revealed highly emotional manifestations. "Official reports, books, pamphlets, magazine articles and newspaper stories criticized and analyzed, lamented and decried Italian criminality. Some writers argued that Italians naturally possessed criminal inclinations, others blamed slum conditions in American cities, and still others denied the existence of lawbreaking organizations in the United States patterned after the Sicilian Mafia or the Neapolitan Camorra."

3. Organized Crime in Prohibition Chicago

The period before the Prohibition was the one in which criminal organizations established their basis and became formed. However, during this time, they operated mostly within their Italian and Irish immigrant communities, impacting as such… [END OF PREVIEW]

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