Mobs to Gangs: The Evolution of Chicago’s Organized Crime

Crime in Chicago has evolved over the years, with organized crime once responsible for most murders during the Al Capone era, and now street gangs taking the lead.

In the 1920s during Chicago’s most notorious crime era, Chicago accounted for about 25 killings each month compared to the 40 to 50 deaths by shooting Chicago now sees each month, according to the Chicago Tribune.    

Former Chicago police officer and current Loyola criminal justice associate professor Robert Lombardo said today’s crime problems revolve mostly around drugs and gangs.

“Once the gangs came into existence it was a whole new ball game. We have a whole new crime scene today than we did before,” said Lombardo.

From January to October 2015 there were 18,929 violent crimes reported in Chicago, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“It’s quite different today — well in some ways it is and in some ways it’s not,” said Lombardo. “If you were to look at when the mob emerged in the ‘20s they were very violent, but that faded as they got involved with politics.”

There are more than 70,000 gang members throughout the city of Chicago. The most populated gangs in Chicago include the Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, Black P Stones, Latin Kings and the Black Disciples. Most gangs are predominantly located in the south and west sides of Chicago but can be found all over the city. The street gangs are in the business of drug dealing, with heroin being a top product.   

Most gangs sell between 400 and 1,000 bags of heroin per day, profiting up to $10,000, according to CBSNews.  

Gang members today have become more violent, and when conducting gang activity, sometimes innocent lives are caught in the crossfire.

Less than one month ago, 9-year-old Tyshawn Lee was murdered in an alley allegedly because of his father’s connection with a gang. Lee’s death was at least the fourth gang retaliation killing in the past two months.  

The increased violence in gangs is attributed to the lack of leadership among them. Lombardo recalled Chicago long having street gangs but not becoming violent until their leaders were sent to prison.  

“The gang is fractionalized and now they’re competing with each other over street corners and are killing each other over it,” said Lombardo.  “Some may argue that through these unintended consequences of positive government action other problems emerged.”  

Lombardo published a book called Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia in 2012. It argues that organized crime is the result of the social structure in America.  

“It was called the succession theory, meaning that groups in society would use crime as a method of advancement in gaining wealth within American society,” said Lombardo.

Lombardo’s book also focuses on political machines, a method in which the mixing of politics and criminal activity was used to fund campaigns and elections.

“Vice activities and some other criminal activities paid protection to the reigning political organizations in order to operate,” he said.

There was a notable case in the 1924 Cicero, Illinois, elections. Al Capone used various violent tactics to ensure Mayor Joseph Klenha would win reelection by kidnapping election workers, terrorizing voters and disarming police officers. When Chicago officials heard what was happening, they sent officers to assist and Al Capone’s brother, Frank Capone, was shot and killed when he fired at officers coming to stop them.

The organized crime era is known for its violent ways of operation but once the mob became integrated into politics, it toned down the violence.  

“Many say Al Capone sent the word out for no more bank robberies, no hijackings and no street crimes because it created too much attention and brought too much heat from the police,” said Lombardo. “They were making tons of money through gambling and that was enough.”

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