The Black Mafia Modeled Itself After the Italian Mob’s ‘Commission’
An even greater influence upon the black mafia than The National Crime Syndicate was that of the Italian mafia’s governing body, “The Commission”. When Nicky Barnes set up The Council in 1972 to coordinate the activities of the black mafia and arbitrate disputes between its members, he consciously modeled it after The Commission.
The Commission had been created by Lucky Luciano after he engineered the 1931 murders of Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, rival mob bosses whose struggle to dominate the Italian-America mob led to a disastrous gang war. Luciano set out to end the old Sicilian mafia structure, headed by a capo di tutti capi, or Boss of All Bosses, and replace it with rule by consensus of the new crime families. So he abolished the Boss of All Bosses position, and established a committee known as the Commission, that acted as a de facto board of directors for the mob. It regulated the mafia’s affairs, settled disputes, and averted ruinous gang wars between rival crime families.
As set up by Luciano, the Commission consisted of the five NYC crime families, the Buffalo family, and the Chicago Outfit. Over the years, membership changed as crime families’ fortunes waxed and waned, but the basic concept of a committee of America’s most powerful mob families was unchanged. Today, it consists of the five NYC families, the Chicago Outfit, and the Philadelphia family.
The Commission did not prevent all gang wars, but it lessened their frequency and intensity by making crime families think hard before going to war: an aggressor family could find itself at war with the Commission and all its firepower. That gave all families a strong incentive to negotiate. When wars did erupt, the Commission often ended them by murdering the offending leaders.
1985 was the last time all the met at the Commission meeting. The federal government finally started pursing the mafia aggressively in the 1980s, zealously investigating its activities and successfully prosecuting its leaders. With the authorities breathing down their necks, and the ever present risk of FBI bugs, in person meetings between bosses became too risky. From then on, the Commission worked through cutouts.