15. Prohibition Backfired and Led to the Rise of the Mafia
Until the twentieth century, America had next to no history of organized crime as the term is understood today. American cities had plenty of gangs, but they were nothing as powerful as what the mafia would eventually become. Instead, city gangs were local affairs, comprised of street thugs whose reach and influence seldom extended beyond a radius of a few city blocks. Irish immigrants in particular had dominated the street gang scene in the nineteenth century, as dramatized in the 2002 Hollywood epic, Gangs of New York.
As new immigrant waves washed on America’s shores, Irish gangs found themselves rubbing shoulders with, then gradually getting shouldered out of the way, by other ethnic street gangs. By the early twentieth century, Italian gangs, the predecessors of the Italian-American mafia, were established in numerous American cities. Like their Irish predecessors, the Italian gangs were small-scale operations of no particular distinction. Their operations were confined to Italian neighborhoods, where they preyed upon Italian immigrants in a variety of ways, such as extortion, blackmail, protection rackets, prostitution, theft, and robbery.
Read More: 20 Significant Mafia Hits.