The Mafia Essay, Research Paper
Their guns terrorized the streets of New York. They were murderous, brutal thugs that killed with no feelings of remorse. They were bank-robbers, drug dealers, casino owners, hit men and pimps. They were the Mafia of the 1920’s and 1930’s. These degenerates played an important role in American history, they were more than just bank-robbers and gunslingers, and they were men that affected all facets of society. They were celebrities, some of the most recognized men in America. Their evil deeds made the front page of every newspaper. They were some of the richest men in America, but most of all; they were the scapegoats for America’s problems. They were hated by many, respected by few and feared by all. In times of poverty and despair, they were looked upon as the “problem”, which needed to be “fixed”. The fear they imposed on America gave Americans something to unite over and fight against together. Sometimes, a person is most courageous when they are most fearful. They made America “roar” in the twenties and they took “the wrath” of thirties. They were some of America’s most dangerous men and some of its most famous as well.
In order to obtain an objective view towards the Mafia, one must know a little about its history. The Mafia was first started in the ninth century, in Sicily. At this time, Sicily was being occupied by Arab forces. The natives were being oppressed, so they took refuge in the surrounding hills and formed a secret society to protect against the foreign invaders. This secret society was named Mafia, after the Arabic word for refuge. The society’s intentions were to create a sense of family, based on ancestry and Sicilian heritage. During the 1700’s, Mafia leaders began to force their way to the head positions in the Sicilian government and used government funds for their own private endeavors. In the early 1900’s, when Mussolini and the Fascists came to power, he vowed to rid the country of all the Mafia. Keeping this in mind, and the fact that there was money to be made through extortion, prostitution, gambling and bootlegging in the United States, many Mafioso’s decided to come west to America. Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the eventual organizer of the New York Mafia, was born in Sicily in 1897, and came to New York. Luciano climbed the “criminal ladder” and by 1935, he was known as the Boss of Bosses in New York. Luciano headed Murder Inc., the gang that ruled New York during the 1920’s and 1930’s.
Everyone in America had their own opinion of the Mafia. Generally, the poor people looked up to them. During the twenties and thirties the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. Many people were out of work and some were even on the street. The Mafia offered many jobs and paid well to the people who were loyal and hardworking. People saw working for the Mafia as an alternative to starvation, and homelessness. Also, many of the poor respected and looked up to members of the Mafia, because they had made something of themselves. They had the fancy cars, the clothes, the homes and most of all the money. This was a very materialistic society, people were focussed on success and money, at whatever cost was necessary. These were desperate times that required desperate actions from the common man.
The rich, or middle class people, were desperate, but not in the same way. These people hated and feared the Mafia, because they were most affected by them. These were the more prominent people of society. They were the shop owners and street vendors that the Mafia offered “protection” to for a significant fee. There was no refusal to the Mafia, because if the shop-owners denied, then their shops would “mysteriously” get blown up, or they would be robbed, often by the same men that had offered to protect them. This was the ruthlessness of the Mafia, they only proposed what benefited them, and if they were refused then something real bad was going to happen. Those who did agree to the Mafia’s terms would often have to pay a hefty fee to keep running. A strong feeling of animosity built up from the middle class towards the Mafia. Those, the brave ones at least, venders and shop owners who were being harassed by the Mafia were more likely to “rat” out the Mafia, and were often used as witnesses by police officials.
The Government disliked the Mafia, and desperately wanted to stop their crime wave. Slowly by slowly, Mafia members were becoming more and more respected by the poor people and many people thought the Mafia was more powerful than the Government. As much as the government disliked the Mafia, they were grateful for them just the same. The Government was grateful for the Mafia, because they took attention away from the growing depression and slipping economy. The Government could use all the frustration and anger they had from the Depression, and focus it on ridding the country of these violent criminals. When the government focused their attention on getting rid of the Mafia, they gained the support of the thousands of people that feared the Mafia, many of them the same people that cursed and resented the government for the struggling economy. One must remember that politics in the twenties and thirties were as scandalous, if not more than, the Mafia was. Politicians made millions of dollars in illegal operations, weather it be land purchases or bootlegging. Politics has always been a crooked game, but during these times, most of the politicians were as corrupt as the criminals.
The New York Mafia initially started out to provide services that were “unnecessarily regulated” by the government. At first, the Mafia was a group of people that made money off of bootlegging. They sold stolen or illegal goods, at a reasonable price, and made thousands of dollars. The main objective of this was to make money, but at the same time they provided an invaluable service to the poor people of the community. By selling goods at a cheap price, less money had to be spent for basic necessities. Those who needed the product rarely cared where it had come from, as long as they got it a reasonable price. In this sense, the poor people saw the Mafia as their friend because they were saving them money, that they desperately needed. The downside to this is that by selling the goods at a cheaper price, they were causing the legitimate shops and stores to lose money. This is another one of the other reasons that the Mafia was so strongly resented by the middle-class citizens.
Along with stolen and bootleg goods, the Mafia sold illegal alcohol. The twenties and thirties was the era of Prohibition and the sale of intoxicating beverages was deemed illegal. The Mafia capitalized on the public’s desire for alcohol. They brought alcohol in from Canada, where alcohol was legal, and sold it by the gallon in New York. In some cases, they produced themselves in warehouses. This was a common practice all throughout the country at the time, but it proved very profitable for the Mafia in New York. This is another way the Mafia gained respect, by selling the thing the government deemed illegal.
Gambling was one of their most successful operations. The Mafia owned many nightclubs that were a front for their casinos. These casinos brought in millions of dollars annually, and they gave the rich a place to go and enjoy themselves. The casinos were filled with beautiful women, handsome men, great food, alcohol and most of all money. The casinos were so popular because they were something that was considered wrong. Every time people picked the dice or placed a bet, they knew they were doing something illegal. This was part of the “rush” that came with playing the game. People were living in tough times and they were tired of listening to the Government tell them what was right and wrong. For one night, they were living dangerously, and this made them feel unique and important. The club owners capitalized on these feelings by making the clubs attractive and spectacular places, enticing the guest to stay longer and spend more money. The clubs, casinos, of the twenties and thirties were not large and commercial like the ones of today, they were more discreet and intimate. It was a place for socialization, and the Mafia used this to their advantage. The Mafia had two objectives when they ran these casinos. The first was obviously to make money. The second was to have a semi-public place to conduct business that was easy to control. By conducting business at their clubs, they were in a semi-public contained environment, which they were in control of. So, while the prominent members of society shot craps or played black jack the owners were in the back conducting business as usual.
Outside of the casino, the Mafia made a significant amount of profit with gambling. The Mafia ran “numbers”, the equivalent of the lottery of today. For a few cents, people would pick numbers for the weekly drawing. Whose ever number was picked would receive a large jackpot. The Mafia really capitalized on human beings’ obsession with gambling, by making it available for every person in New York. Anybody from the prominent shop owner to the struggling apple-vendor could afford to gamble on a regular basis. The “numbers” were the most beneficial and popular for the people because they were inexpensive and they provided many jobs. Many of the poor neighborhood kids made good money “running numbers” for the Mafia.
The most popular and profitable “service” the Mafia provided was prostitution. Many of the Mafia leaders, started out as pimps. Prostitution was so profitable, because it offered the most easily marketable and vendible product in the world; sex. The Mafia used the prostitutes as tools to make more business. They placed their “girls” throughout their clubs, so they could lure some high roller in the back for a drink or two. They worked the bars, and listened to lonely middle class men who needed a shoulder to cry on. They were on the streets mingling with the crowd, looking for their next perverted customer. The bosses often used prostitutes to “sweeten” deal between rival leaders or crooked politicians. They were as dangerous as the trained killers were, because they possessed something more powerful than guns. They were just as ruthless as the men that put holes in people’s heads; they only came in a nicer package.
The Mafia men of the 1920’s and 1930’s were some of the most influential men in American history. They robbed banks, killed people, stole, cheated, lied and corrupted an already corrupt country. They were not role models, and they did not aspire to be. They were businessmen, men who had only two objectives, money and power. They saw a need for something and they produced it.