10 Fascinating Things About New York's Black Mafia
10 Fascinating Things About New York’s Black Mafia

10 Fascinating Things About New York’s Black Mafia

Khalid Elhassan - April 12, 2018

10 Fascinating Things About New York’s Black Mafia
Frank Lucas in 2012. NY Daily News

The Black Mafia’s Collapse – Internal Factors

As seen in the previous entry, outside factors were sufficient in of themselves to doom the black mafia. However, black organized crime did not help itself with internal flaws that would have doomed any similar enterprise. Perhaps the biggest factor that did in the black mafia was that it was built on a flawed business model, that was doomed to failure: drugs. Large scale drug operations are guaranteed to attract the attention of the feds, and the attention of the feds and the assets at their disposal, from FBI to DEA to RICO, is very bad news for criminal enterprises. Also, the flamboyance of some black mafia figures, such as Nicky Barnes who sat down for an interview with the NY Times Magazine, guaranteed extra attention from law enforcement, state and federal.

The Colombian cartels could get away with it, at least for a while in the 1980s and 1990s, because they were headquartered in a foreign country. Like the Mexican cartels today, that put them beyond the immediate reach of the feds, who had to jump through foreign bureaucratic and diplomatic hoops to get at them. That cushion or separation from the immediate reach of the massive resources available to the feds is what allowed those cartels to survive and thrive.

The black mafia anticipated the Latin American large drug enterprises, but had the misfortune of being headquartered in US soil. That meant that their operations, and all levels of their enterprises, from street level dealers all the way up the chain to the highest black crime bosses, were readily accessible to the feds. Moreover, unlike the Latin Americans or Italians, black drug traffickers never controlled the wholesale end, but were limited instead to distribution. Distribution is always the most vulnerable and legally exposed part of the drug trade. Once the feds targeted them, taking down black mafia operations was as simple as flipping street level drug dealers, working up the chain to ever bigger fish, and using RICO to roll up the entire enterprise.

Additionally, the absence of a regimented criminal culture built over generations, of the type that made the early Italian mafia a tough nut to crack, helped doom the black mafia. It lacked both a solid organizational structure, and a long term plan. Instead, the criminal enterprises constituting the black mafia seem to have simply lived in and operated in the moment, in an ad hoc manner. The black mafia did not have a criminal visionary, such as Lucky Luciano who created a structure that brought America’s Italian crime families into a single organization.

Most importantly, the “black mafia” might have been more theoretical than an actual coherent enterprise. The various criminal enterprises and crime lords that were collectively described as a black mafia often cooperated, but just as often were at loggerheads. Quite frequently, their connections were nominal and ad hoc, and their alliances were temporary. Thus, other than in the imagination of contemporary criminologists, the various criminal enterprises making up the black mafia were never integrated into a single organized criminal entity.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Sources & Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Frank Lucas and the True Story of “American Gangster”

Biography – Frank Lucas, Drug Dealer

Biography – Nicky Barnes

Black Then – The Dossier: The Council

Guardian, The, November 17th, 2007 – Original Gangster

Mob Museum, The – Did Frank Matthews Get Away With It?

National Crime Syndicate – What Was The Commission?

New York Times Magazine, June 5th, 1977 – Mister Untouchable

New York Times, October 18th, 1983 – Barnes Testifies About ‘Council’ of Drug Dealers

New York Times, January 13th, 1984 – 4 Drug Dealers Sentenced to Life; Barnes Helped in the Prosecution

New York Times, March 4th, 2007 – Crime’s ‘Mister Untouchable’ Emerges From Shadows

Salon, December 28th, 2017 – The Long Rise and Fast Fall of New York’s Black Mafia

Wikipedia – Bumpy Johnson

Wikipedia – The Council (drug syndicate)