The causes of traditional organized crime
Tracing its roots to the political corruption that afforded protection to gambling, prostitution and other vice activity in Chicago and New York, this chapter challenges the dominant belief that organized crime in America descended from the Sicilian Mafia. According to this widespread ‘alien conspiracy’ theory, ‘traditional’ organized crime evolved in a linear fashion beginning with the Mafia in Sicily, emerging in the form of the Black Hand in America’s immigrant colonies, and culminating in the development of the Cosa Nostra in America’s urban centres. Looking beyond this Mafia paradigm, this chapter argues that the development of organized crime in Chicago and New York was rooted in the social structure of American society. Specifically, this chapter ties organized crime to the emergence of machine politics in America’s urban centres. From nineteenth-century vice syndicates to modern-day traditional organized crime, the criminal underworld in Chicago and New York could not have existed without the blessing of those who controlled municipal, county and state government. These practices were not imported from Sicily, but were bred in the socially disorganized slums of America where elected officials routinely franchised vice and crime in exchange for money and votes.