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Prohibition & Organized Crime

Through the governmental mistake of prohibition, organized crime rose to staggering heights in the 20s, becoming a divisive and frightening threat to the public.


The prohibition movement was spurred by concerns of society that alcohol was a corrupting influence on society. Women and men alike blamed alcohol for the rising rate of crime and violence in urban areas.
- - Organizations like the Anti-Saloon League and Woman's Christian Temperance Union rose from the early Progressive movement for prohibition
- 1919: The 18th Amendment, banning the consumption or sale of alcohol, exempting religious purposes.
Therefore, the 20s were characterized by the effects of prohibition, which was generally not a successful policy.
- - The 18th Amendment was ignored by a large part of the population, as illegal "speakeasies" (bars who illegally sold alcohol) were readily available
- The Volstead Act gave the government the power to enforce Prohibition in the 1920s, but did not necessarily gain respect or momentum for the movement.

A photo of the Coast Guard enforcing Prohibition (a rum-smuggling ship burning)
A photo of the Coast Guard enforcing Prohibition (a rum-smuggling ship burning)

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Legislators of the time simply failed to realized that in prohibiting alcohol, they were merely augmenting the problem. Prohibition gave the consumption of alcohol a new mark of glamor that it didn't possess before; there was a new attraction to buying and consuming alcohol that had been created.


Organized Crime: A Response To Prohibition

The Prohibition era was unfortunate in that it opened the door to a violent, merciless organized crime business that escalated due to the new opportunity in illegal alcohol sales. Illegal alcohol business, or "bootlegging", was the most profitable business of its time.

- - lllegal business in defiance of the law was the first problem, but a second and more serious threat to society arose.
- - With the bootlegging industry came extreme competition and the rise of violent, mob action
Murder, intimidation, and torture all rise to the forefront of the crime scene, especially in cities

Notorious mobster Al Capone was responsible for an estimated 300 deaths during his lifetime.
- - Prostitution, gambling, and bootlegging, while literally 'taking out' competition (other gangs)
Billions of dollars in profit in today's $
Capone's St. Valentine's Day Massacre - executes seven of Moran's mobsters

Capone & Organized Crime:
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Gangster George Moran, also a bootlegger, was his main competition; they had a pathological hatred for each other (Moran thought himself a less corrupt gangster for his refusal to participate in the organization of brothels.)

Chicago, the city out of which both these gangsters operated, was a terrifying place to live for the civilian.
- - Local law enforcement simply couldn't deal with all of the bloody and violent crimes, usually turning a blind eye to the alcohol smuggling and other illegal activity.
Also raging with criminal activity was New York City, especially its Five Points gang through the 1910's and 20's. Both cities were teeming with immigrant life, which often led to distinctive ethnic boundaries and identities.

The KKK also reemerged in the midst of rising immigrant backlash.

American Culture: Crime fiction and crime films emerge after the war, partly as a result of general public's disillusionment with the government. ("Hard-Boiled" Crime stories)
- - Connection between crime, business, and politics in cities becomes undeniable.

Government Involvement

By the end of the 20's, the government had seen enough of Prohibition and hardly needed more convincing from the people. The 21st Amendment, passed in 1933, repealed the 18th.
- - Investigating Organized Crime : Wickersham Commission formed by Herbert Hoover in 1929 allowed the government to do a thorough research and investigative project about the causes of crime and its continuous rise. Results yielded that most Americans believed the increase in advertising and Hollywood (the publicity of gangster "heroics") to be the main perpetrators.

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Letter to Crime and Law Enforcement Commission

Culture of the "Roaring 20's" combined with Prohibition created an atmosphere in which criminals were idolized by the public and gang violence was glorified.

Present Day Issues

Even though Prohibition was corrected by the 21st amendment, the scarring of its presence still exists in present day society through gangs and drug trafficking.
- - Gangs are more present and popular due to their use in prohibition as an outlet for violence and greed. This set a precident for future gangs that illegal substances can still be obtained and sold for a huge profit.
- -Drug trafficking through ships, airplanes, and borders (especially the U.S.-Mexican border) is a huge problem for the United States. Like prohibition and the importing of liquior from foreign nations, gangs and cartels transport various types of narcotics over the U.S. border for sale to American citizens. This has caused hightened federal juristiction and force to prevent such actions along the nation's border and cities. This responce is very similar to the Coast Guard's responce to rum smugglers.
- - Issues with drugs in the U.S. has led some citizens to argue for full legilization of most narcotics (mostly marijuana). Advocates argue that this would increase jobs and internal revenue while decreasing the national debt. The economic arguement was also used and eventually successful in repealing the 18th amendment and ending prohibition.

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