The Black Mafia’s Collapse – External Factors
There was a time when many anticipated that the black mafia would succeed the Italian one, and dominate American organized crime. It seemed like a plausible, or even probable prediction at the time. As things turned out, however, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, by the late 1970s and early 1980s, the black mafia had, to all intents and purposes, vanished.
Prophets of the rise of the black mafia had not anticipated the seismic shifts in the criminal underworld caused by the explosion of cocaine, and the explosive rise of the Colombian cartels in the 1980s. Nor could they have anticipated the collapse of communism in the late 1980s, and the rise of the Russian mob from the wreckage and rubble of the Eastern Bloc.
By the late 1970s, the traditional props upon which black organized crime had rested for decades were getting knocked out, one after the other. The illegal numbers rackets were losing in popularity and market share to the state lotteries, whose huge payouts were more tantalizing to casual bettors than the street numbers. Brothels, another mainstay of black organized crime, were getting shuttered by increased community policing, putting a dent into prostitution’s profits. Protection rackets suffered when big department stores and corporate franchises, largely impervious to extortion, displaced the mom and pop businesses whose owners were much easier to shake down. By 1980, all that was left to black organized criminals was drugs, and as seen in the next entry, that was bad news for them.
Even as other ethnic players from Asia, South America, and Russia were appearing on the scene, the feds were winning convictions against major black crime bosses, and taking them down one by one. Unlike the Italian mafia, which worked City Hall and bought enough judges and politicians to fend off law enforcement until the 1980s, black organized crime lacked such insider connections. Part of it was a failure to make serious efforts to suborn the system, unlike the Italians who invested heavily in bribing officials. But part of it was that most dirty officials would not have taken their money anyhow: racism extended even to bribery.