Crime as a dictionary definition means “an act which is against the law” or “bad or unlawful activities or behaviour in general”. Organized crime on the other hand refers to “criminal activities organized and coordinated on a national scale, often with international connections” (Encyclopedia.com). Organized crime, around the world, is a critical concern of the law enforcement community as well as a social problem that must be fought with. Organized crime appears in weak states and weakens the state more as an alternative source of power.
Our world has seen widespread and sudden political, economic, social, and technological changes in the last few decades. Organized criminal organizations have been quick to take advantage of the opportunities created by these changes such as globalization to satisfy their greed and lust for power. The cost to communities and individuals, in terms of pain and suffering caused by the violence and exploitation associated with these organizations, is incalculable. Also the damage to society resulting from these criminal organizations and their influence on labor unions, political institutions, financial markets, and major industries is immeasurable. In fact, a look at the economic impact alone shows the importance of this issue. “The Center for Strategic and International Studies, Global Organized Crime Project, Financial Crimes Task Force estimates global organized crime reaps profits of close to $1 trillion per year”. This assignment is an attempt to show the seriousness of organized crime problem by explaining its nature and historical development by providing examples from different countries. It will be argued that organized crime must be fought with active state interventionism and necessary restrictive laws. In order to arrive at that point, it will be first started by the definition of organized crime and later it will be moved on to the explanation of its historical development. It will be especially focused on the development of Italian-American Mafia as an example of organized crime organizations. Lastly, the ways of preventing organized crime problem would be discussed in the light of important books written on this issue.
As it was mentioned earlier organized crime means “criminal activities organized and coordinated on a national scale, often with international connections”. Organized crime organizations engage in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, money laundering, bootlegging, racketting, gambling, smuggling, prostitution, theft. Although there is a huge discussion about the origin of the word Mafia, it is generally assumed that it was the abbreviation of the phrase “Morte Alla Franciese Italia Annella”. “The Mafia, also referred to in Italian as Cosa Nostra, which is generally translated “our thing” in the Italian language, is an organized criminal secret society which evolved in mid-19th century Sicily”. In transition from feudalism to capitalism, feudal landlords who are losing power steadily had to organize a group of armed men consisting of Sicilian peasants to protect themselves from French invasions and peasant revolts. So, Mafia was established as an illegal organization controlled by landlords who are in danger because of the state’s weakness and peasant revolts in Sicily. During time “through this activity, the emerging Mafia was able to solidify more economic and political power than other societal groups and became, for a short period, the only reliable source of law and order” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 241). Mafia soon became an independent association and began to work for itself. The Sicilian Mafia which was the role model of other organized crime associations was consisted of crime families and had a hierarchical structure. The family had a boss called “the Don”, an underboss, a consigliere (advisor), a caporegime (person who is responsible of lower staff) and several soldiers, associates working for the family. With the establishment of USA as the land of dreams and the new world, a huge migration started from many countries including Italy to America. “As one immigrant and minority group after another found their new society wanting in terms of a just system of law, order, power, and opportunity, the Mafia became an attractive alternative” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 241).
Although organized crime is not limited to Western countries (Japanese Yakuza, Russian mob, Turkish ultra-nationalist groups etc.), there is no doubt that its center was first Sicily and then New York, USA. In the 1920’s there were some specific conditions that allowed Italian-American Mafia to gain huge strength. First of all, due to huge migration wave ethnic based communities and neighborhoods were formed in New York (Italian, Irish, Jewish neighborhoods etc). Secondly, USA was in huge economic crisis and there were serious socioeconomic problems directing people to illegal activities and Mafia. Thirdly, “the efforts of federal officials to enforce the unpopular Volstead Act (also known as Prohibition Era) of 1920 generated the growth of highly organized bootlegging rings with nationwide and international contacts”. The Volstead Act ordered the implementation of 18th amendment to the U.S. Constitution and “for all intents and purposes, wine, beer and liquor were outlawed” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 242). Since alcoholic drinks were very popular in the country, the Mafia had a chance to legitimize itself and earn billions of dollars through bootlegging. So, starting from the 1920’s Mafia gained huge money and found sympathy among the people. New mob bosses like Al Capone, Charlie “Lucky” Luciano, Frankie Yale, John Torrio emerged in big cities like New York, Chicago and mafia organizations became very powerful. Until 1970’s when “due in part to laws such as the RICO Act, which made it a crime to belong to an organization that performed illegal acts, and to programs such as the witness protection program”, the Mafia stayed very powerful in USA. This RICO act for the first time achieved to beat Mafia’s famous silence code known as Omerta. In the mid-20th century, the Mafia was claimed to have infiltrated into many labor unions in the United States, notably the Teamsters, whose president Jimmy Hoffa strangely disappeared. It is widely believed that the Mafia planned the death of Jimmy Hoffa. There are also some rumours about the Mafia’s involvement in the assassination of liberal American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Although they were not proved, these examples show how mafia became a state within the state because of the lack of legitimacy and sanctioning power of the state. According to James M. O’Kane, the Italian mafia was later replaced by other organized crime groups starting from the 1970’s. According to O’Kane there are some reasons for this development such as the migration from other countries and the emergence of new ethnic organized crime groups and the rivalry and competition between Italian gangs (O’Kane, pg 81).
Organized crime is one of the most popular crime types in most of the countries around the world and it can give enormous damage to societies and individuals. “In February of 1993, Boris Yeltsin, the first elected president of the Federation of Russian States, said, "Organized crime has become the number one threat to Russia's strategic interests and to national security... Corrupted structures on the highest level have no interest in reform". Moreover, these organizations’ profits are illegal and out of record by which they stole government’s money which can be used to find solutions to different social problems like poverty, unemployment, social security etc. Therefore, it is vital to fight against the organized crime to provide peace and stability in society. Organized crime harms society severely. Due to organized crime the legitimacy of states decreases enormously in the eyes of the citizens. These organizations earn illegal money without paying any taxes that which can be used to find solutions to different social problems like poverty, unemployment, social security etc. Due to Mafia, young people become addicted to harmful things like drug and violence.
There are many kinds of organized crime such as drug trafficking, money laundering, bootlegging, racketting, gambling, smuggling, prostitution, theft etc. Especially drug trafficking is one of the most profitable job for the mob. “While it is often assumed that the drugs industry is dominated by highly organized criminal syndicates, these are relatively few, and the industry largely consists of smaller enterprises organized around different functions” (Drugs and Crime, pg 116). There are also many different groups of organized crime such as African-American gangs, mafia (Italian-American mob) etc. These types of crimes and organizations are great threats to democratic states because they weaken the legitimacy and the power of the state and earn millions dollars of dirty money. For instance, the major threat to American society posed around drug trafficking and money laundering. In addition to this, another major threat to American society posed by Italian organized crime (IOC) groups which have been very influential starting from the Volstead Law. IOC groups have been involved in heroin trafficking for many decades. Two major investigations which targeted IOC drug trafficking in the 1980’s are known as the "French Connection" and "Pizza Connection". Pizza connection for instance marked the entry of the FBI into the war on drugs and received “media attention, perhaps more than it deserved relative to other ongoing and previous cases” (Tripodi & Desario, pg 256). These and other investigations have documented their cooperation in drug trafficking with other major drug trafficking organizations. IOC groups are also involved in illegal gambling, political corruption, extortion, kidnapping, frauds, counterfeiting, infiltration of legitimate businesses, murders, bombings, and weapons trafficking. Industry experts in Italy estimate that their worldwide criminal activity is worth more than $100 billion annually. In some countries organized crime associations can also have ideological background which can increase the support for their activies (PKK and ultra-nationalist groups in Turkey). For instance, ex-members of extreme rightist militants in Turkey later established mafia groups and engaged in extortion activities. Moreover, PKK still earns huge money from drug traffic and uses this money in its illegal politic and terrorist activities. Organized crime is still a very important problem for countries where the state’s authority is not well settled and there is not enough sensitivity, determination for fighting against these groups.
Another problem related to the Mafia is the use of organized crimes figures in movies, tv series and novels which leads to the increasing popularity and legitimacy of organized crime. “In 1972, many Americans were reading and watching The Godfather, which was soon followed by a flood of books and movies devoted to describing the ritual ceremonies and criminal behaviors of the Mafioso” (Eitzen & Timmer, pg 258-259). Gangster movies and novels became a genre in arts and people like Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Martin Scorsese became the stars of this genre. Although restriction in art is not something ethical, it is not suprising that this kind of works has a stimulating affect on young people’s sympathy for Mafia groups and the legitimacy of organized crime. In Turkey now there are similar discussions because some tv series like Kurtlar Vadisi and increasing high school violence in the country. “It has also been argued that young people’s activities may be more subject to criminalization as there is inevitable link between youthfulness and crime and many styles of youth subculture” especially when there are popular culture elements like mafia movies (Age and Crime, pg 59).
Finally, in my opinion organized crime is the most serious type of crime because it has a lot of power which affects a country’s political decisions, economic policies, social structuring etc. Italian-American mafia example teaches us that in order to fight against organized crime, governments should make necessary laws and should solve social problems. Organized crime became powerful especially in failed states as an alternative source of power center and justice mechanism. In addition, organized crime is strengthened by socioeconomic problems. Poor young people raising in ghettos have more tendency to engage in organized crime circles. If the state and the private sector are not able to respond to the employment need, then in order not to live people would have to engage in illegal activies and organized crime. Moreover, concerning the cultural area; films, tv series encouraging people to establish mafia organizations, showing criminals like heroes must be banned. Most importantly, people must be teached in a democratic way and must be taught that mafia is not an alternative source of justice but rather a very big thief and murderer that harms the society. A peaceful democratic social life can only be provided by the elimination of organized crime and crime in general. That is why, states and civil societal organizations should work together to destroy organized crime and create a democratic society.
- James M. O’Kane, “The Crooked Ladder (Gangsters, Ethnicity, and the American Dream”, 1992, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers
- Tom Tripodi & Joseph P. Desario, “Crusade (Undercover Against The Mafia and KGB)”, 1993, New Jersey: Macmillan Publishing Company
- D. Stanley Eitzen & Doug A. Timmer, “Criminology”, 1985, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company
- “Mirable Learner’s English Dictionary”, 2004, İstanbul: Mira Yayıncılık
- Crime Library web site, http://www.crimelibrary.com/
- Encyclopedia.com web site, http://www.encylopedia.com/html/o/orgcrim.asp
- FBI web site, http://www.fbi.gov/
- Wikipedia web site, http://www.wikipedia.org/
 Mirable Learner’s English Dictionary
 Wikipedia, http://www.wikipedia.org/
 Encyclopedia.com, http://www.encylopedia.com/html/o/orgcrim.asp
 “Bootlegging is a slang term to describe smuggling. Most commonly, the word refers to the illegal transport and sale of alcoholic beverages on which excise taxes have not been paid” (Wikipedia).
 “The omertà is a popular attitude, common in areas of Italy where the Mafia is strong, that implies never collaborating with the police. It can be intended also as a vow of silence among mafiosi” (Wikipedia).
 FBI web site, http://www.fbi.gov/hq/cid/orgcrime/eoc/eochistory.htm