The Mafia started early in the 9th century. This was the period in which the Arab forces occupied Sicily. Sicilians needed a place to escape to. The word Mafia means refuge in Arab language. The Normans invaded a Sicily in the 11th century. Once again they were forced to work for these invaders as slaves. The only way to escape this was to hide in the hills of the island. When Sicily was invaded the refuges were pursued just as every time that they had been invaded before. These people in the hills formed groups to fight against these enemies. This group wanted to create ancestry and heritage. These beliefs were developed and used in the basic structure if the organization. Atop of all stood the dons, or chiefs, who were the bosses of the Mafia groups in each village. They report to the don of dons, who live in the Capital. The capital of Sicily was Palermo. They were inducted into the Mafia through an oath which to this day says:
A vow never to reveal any Mafia secrets or members under the threat of torture or death.
Always help out fellow Mafia members.
Avenge attacks on members of the family, because every sheep is part of our flock.
Stay away from police and other government disciplinarians.
In the 19th century the Mafia grew into a large criminal society. Creating the Mafia’s own forms of authority. The Mafia began to extort many people by handing out Black Hand notes, which been around since the 1700s. They hand out black notes to people requesting money in return for protection. The only people that these victims needed protection against were the same criminals who handed them these notes. Victims had to give the money up or else their families would be victims of violence, kidnapping, bombings, and murder.
In 1876 Don Raffaele Pazzolo ran for political office to infect the Sicilian government with the Mafia. By having voters vote under gunpoint he reached his goal. He used his power to get Sin Cripso to be the Prime Minister of Sicily. Sicily was now under Mafia control due to this manipulation. This created trouble with honest politicians, which resulted in much violence. Such as the case with Emanuel Notarbartolo, the director of the Sicilian banks. Emanuel promised to rid the country of the Mafia once and for all. He was assassinated in 1893, and Don Palizzolo took over for him. When Notarbartolo’s son tried to get justice for his father’s death he managed to get Palizzolo indicted. Witnesses refused to cooperate and police reports were unavailable to the court.
When Europeans started to move to America searching for opportunity the Mafia groups saw their chance to avoid being caught in the country they once ruled. This is how the Mafia organization came to America. They recognized opportunity just as others did. Mafia members thrived in the Italian neighborhoods of large American cities. New Orleans was the largest Mafia base in this country. The New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessy investigated the murder of an Italian immigrant and Mafia member. This slowly began to teach him about the Mafia society. He interviewed Italian citizens, requesting the help of the Palermo police department. Hennessy prepared to destroy the Mafia organization in New Orleans. But the Dons of the city had him assassinated.
A public outcry followed Hennessey’s elimination, and over a dozen people were charged with his murder. The people of NO had grown angry and scared, however, and in March 1891, a large group of citizens formed a vigilante group. They attacked the prison in which the suspects of the murder were being held, dragged them out onto the street, and lynched them. As a direct response to these rash actions, the Italian Ambassador demanded that the lynch mob themselves be brought to justice, and several Italian-American citizens organizations organized protests. Initially they got cold-shouldered by the American government, but eventually the matter was settled when President Harrison went before Congress to express his disapproval of the conduct of the people of NO, and awarded $25,000 to the families of the lynched men.
In the overall growth of the Mafia in the US, the NO lynchings did little to deter the Sicilian criminals from setting up new chapters all over the country. By the early 1900s every large city had its own Mafia chapter, most of which concentrated on protection rackets in the vein of the Black Handers. The dons soon expanded their options, however, by creating new rackets in areas such as prostitution, gambling, and, with the dawn of the Prohibition era in the 20s, bootlegging. This time is probably the most legendary in gangster history, with gangsters almost openly declaring their power and wealth. In cities all over the US the Mafia flourished. Al Capone in Chicago and Charles Luciano in New York (among others) amassed millions of dollars by selling alcohol and women and controlling every other aspect of crime imaginable.
Towards the end of this decade the first national crime syndicate came into existence under the guidance of Luciano. Supported by strong arm, Murder, Inc., the syndicate succeeded in bringing all the individual cities under one command. Of course, if a particular boss declined to pay his tribute to the Syndicate, he could be certain to be convinced in very unpleasant ways. Of all the bosses that served as Directors of the Board of the Syndicate, only Meyer Lansky would remain in criminal life in the US after World War II. All the others had either been successfully prosecuted and locked up, or murdered by rivals.
By this time the Mafia’s control spanned across almost all areas of business, and perhaps life, in America. Not only did the bosses control the criminal rackets, they also ventured out into legitimate businesses, partially to make more money, but mostly to launder the illegal millions coming in from their rackets. Benny Siegel had been the first to build a super-casino in Las Vegas, but was murdered before it became profitable. Within ten years of his death, however, Las Vegas had become the prime spot for gangster investments, with enormous amounts of cash flowing in from skimming the casinos.
The Mafia has since long had vast influence in the field of labor unions. This serves a number of purposes: it extends their control over legitimate businesses, it provides the opportunity to obtain and invest large amounts of money ‘legally’, and it increases the influence the Mafia boss has in political life. Jimmy Hoffa, former Teamsters union president, was probably the most famous corrupt union leader until he mysteriously disappeared in 1975.
The Mafia in the 90s is an undercover organization that continues to grow in undercover power since its big drop in the late 80s. Luciano and his “associates” remain firmly in control over the larger part of organized crime in the United States. Other parts of the world have experienced an increase in organized criminal activity. The most publicized is due to the Colombian drug cartels in the 70’s.