VIOLENCE IN AMERICA
Ted Robert Gurr, Editor
Newbury Park, CA Sage Publications
THE CROOKED LADDER
GANGSTERS, ETHNICITY, AND
THE AMERICAN DREAM
James M. O'Kane
New Brunswick, NJ Transaction Publishers
206 pp., $29.95
Alien involvement in crime is a phenomenon that has not received the attention from social scientists and historians that it deserves. Those researching the mobility patterns of various ethnic groups have shown a marked reluctance to explore how some newcomers have chosen to pursue a life of crime as a means of advancing from the lower-class to middle-and-upper class respectability.
The following are among the relatively small number of titles that can be recommended to readers wishing to learn more about aspects of this topic
Violence in America The History of Crime edited by Ted Robert Gurr, includes two dozen articles representing a sampling of recent scholarship on the long-term dynamics of murder and other crimes of violence. Eight of the articles touch on the participation of immigrants in crime and collective violence (i.e. rioting). Among the chief contributors to the recurring epidemics of violent crime that have plagued the United States over the past 150 years, six authors cite the periodic waves of immigration. From the 1840s, when the Irish arrived, each new immigrant stream tended to add disproportionately to crime. Significantly, Roger Lane of Haverford College, in his essay on the 'Social Meaning of Homicide Trends,' points out that rates for serious crimes fell throughout the 1940s and 1950s, in large part because immigration declined to a trickle from what it had been before.
This adds support to those now calling for a 'Moratorium' on immigration to the U.S. Histori-cally, periodic 'time outs' have been necessary for the country to digest heavy inflows of aliens. As readers of this journal are only too well aware, we have been undergoing nearly three decades of uninterrupted, steadily increasing immigration, compounding the manifold problems associated with immigration of this magnitude.
In The Crooked Ladder Gangsters, Ethnicity, and the American Dream, James M. O'Kane, of Drew University, describes how members of various ethnic groups have engaged in organized crime as one means of trying to achieve upward mobility.
The author reviews theories that social scientists have concocted to try to explain what is often dismissed as simply 'aberrant' behavior on the part of minorities, who are frequently portrayed as 'victims of the system.' However, O'Kane notes, such interpretations tend to obscure the fact that many people choose to become criminals for very rational reasons. Especially for lower-class newcomers, crime is virtually the only way of having a chance of obtaining the material goods they associate with the American Dream.
Chapter Three provides a brief history of ethnic organized crime. Though now largely forgotten, organized crime did not originate in the U.S. with the Italian Mafia, but rather in the 1840s with the entry of Irish Catholics. By the second half of the 19th century, they dominated organized crime in the larger metropolitan areas. The Irish were themselves supplanted by Italians and Jews from Eastern Europe.
In his discussion of the historical dimensions of organized crime, O'Kane observes that not all ethnic groups entered into widespread illegal activity 'German immigrants, among the largest contingent of newcomers arriving in the mid-nineteenth century, had remarkably little involvement in crime... The same can be said of the Scandinavian newcomers who followed a pattern similar to the Germans. Thus, Swedes, Finns, Danes, and Norwegians are likewise largely absent from the annals of the major mobs and criminal syndicates of the past 150 years.'
The author charts the rise of new ethnic criminals in Chapter Four. He reminds us that among the Cuban exiles were people who had first sharpened their skills while employed in the casinos and other dubious operations that flourished on the island prior to Castro's takeover. The author goes on to cite the 1965 Immigration Act as a key development. This opened the U.S. to large-scale Asian immigration. In order for organized crime to take root, a critical demographic mass is necessary.
'Education' is dismissed as a pseudo-solution to crime. Contrary to the views promoted by sociolo-gists and professional educators, the author reiterates that gang members 'are not pushed into crime; instead they rush headlong into it, lusting for the thrills and opportunities that come with it... The primary factor motivating these youth is the opening of a new world where they see success, status, and power before them. No one coerces them to pursue this lifestyle. They consciously and eagerly desire it... The mobs never need to post 'Help Wanted' signs for these ambitious newcomers.'
'Assuming that there will be no end
to large-scale immigration [O'Kane]
concludes that 'the prognosis for the
elimination of ethnic organized
crime is indeed grim.''
In his last chapter, O'Kane considers the future of ethnic organized crime. He does not embrace the view that the post-1965 wave of immigrants and their descendants will necessarily join the main-stream, as earlier generations of immigrants often did.
The U.S. economy is undergoing fundamental restructuring. There are fewer and fewer job opportunities for those lacking the skills and values that are a prerequisite for stable employment. As O'Kane soberly states, substantial numbers of Blacks, along with Caribbean, South and Central American, post-1980 Cuban, Vietnamese, Mexican, and Chinese ethnic minorities, 'are economically useless they have no economic function in a society that has moved far beyond low-skilled employment.'
'Ethnic organized crime among current minority newcomers is flourishing and ever-expanding, with no end in sight,' O'Kane writes. Assuming that there will be no end to large-scale immigration, he concludes that 'the prognosis for the elimination of ethnic organized crime is indeed grim. Compounding this reality is an equally depressing one many of the former lower-income ethnic criminals have not necessarily become law-abiding citizens. Many have simply 'moved up' to white collar crime....'
Professor O'Kane has prepared a useful overview of the ethnic experience in organized crime. His findings should give pause to the disciples of Julian Simon, and the editors of the Wall Street Journal, who contend that the latest wave of immigrants yield a wide margin of benefits. ?
Other Books on Crime
Great Britain's decision to transfer control of Hong Kong to the rulers of Beijing by 1997 has spurred a flight from the colony. Among those seeking safe haven elsewhere are the Chinese criminal societies, known as the Triads. The two most recent books dealing with them are Gerald Posner's, Warlords of Crime Chinese Secret Societies - The New Mafia (New York McGraw-Hill) and Triads The Growing Global Threat from the Chinese Criminal Societies (New York St. Martin's Press). Both are well-written accounts which review the origin and current operations of these Asian crime syndicates.
David Kaplan and Alec Dubro are the co-authors of Yakuza The Explosive Account of Japan's Criminal Underworld (New York Collier/Macmillan). Ranking second only to the Chinese Triads in power, the Yakuza have been extending their reach into the U.S. This volume includes a photo of former President Jimmy Carter jogging with Ryoichi Sasakawa, a preeminent Yakuza figure who is also a major donor to the Carter Presidential Library & Center at Emory University.
Of the books published on the drug trade, two of the best are Guy Gugliotta and Jeff Leen's, Kings of Cocaine Inside the Medellin Cartel (NY Simon & Schuster) and Desperados Latin Drug Lords, U.S. Lawmen, and the War America Can't Win (NY Viking), by Elaine Shannon. Here we see how 'open borders' permit drug dealers to come and go as they please.
Those interested in learning more about the various ethnic gangs that flourished in America throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, will find that Herbert Asbury's books make for informative and entertaining reading. Especially recommended are The Gangs of New York An Informal History of the Underworld (NY Alfred Knopf, 1929); The Barbary Coast An Informal History of the San Francisco Underworld (NY Knopf, 1933); and Gem of the Prairie An Informal History of the Chicago Underworld (NY Knopf, 1942).