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Rock Street, San Francisco

The first gangs in America are comparable to the gangs of modern America. In the early 1900’s, most of the gangs were poor European immigrants doing anything to get by. These gangs were small in size and mainly existed in less desirable urban areas (source 2, 3). Typical criminal acts consisted mainly of robberies and burglaries, but that was not the case for long.Organized crime varies from common crime in the sense that the former can be considered a business while the latter is more of a hobby. Organized crime takes months of advanced planning whereas common crimes are typically committed on a whim. The gangs and criminals who were well known for committing organized crimes in the 1900’s were more like business people, making a steady income off of their illegal deeds. The game changer for these so called businessmen and women was prohibition.Most people do not realize that prohibition and the start of organized crime are separate entities. Organized crime was around long before the famous 18th Amendment made selling alcohol was illegal. Instead of bootlegging these gangs and criminals were making a profit through other illegal markets, such as gambling and prostitution (source 3, 1). As long as there was a demand for something legally unattainable, there was a group of criminals ready to cash in. Prohibition started with the idea of initiating a “dry” movement brought to life by the American Temperance Society and the Women’s Christian Temperance League. The movement gained momentum and by the year 1919, the 18th Amendment was ratified and the Prohibition was put into place (source 3, 1). Countering the massive support behind Prohibition were hundreds of thousands of people who still wanted to drink. Enter bootleggers, people who were not afraid to break the law and make money. Crime rates that were already increasing almost doubled as gangsters brought in illegal alcohol or manufactured it to sell undercover. The readiness of consumers was also spurred by the fact that selling alcohol was considered illegal but the consumption of it broke no law (source 1, 1). These customers would flock to the most bizarre of places if it meant another drink.The solidifying influence that Prohibition held on organized crime helps explain why we still see it today. Without Prohibition, Organized crime might have fizzled out eventually. Instead, it created a booming business of bootleggers and rum runners ready to fill their wallets. Prohibition also helped create the image of a typical gangster in the 1920’s.The American gangster in Chicago is what we think of from the movies. With characters such as Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, and other members of the Chicago Outfit, the acts they committed were nothing short of terrible crimes. The movies portray gangsters as ruthless killers and Johnny Torrio is a prime example of that. Torrio ran the Chicago Outfit for several years, but not before having his old boss killed just because the latter didn’t want to get into bootlegging (source 8, 4). After his boss’s death, Torrio took over and started a bootlegging operation immediately. To avoid conflict, Torrio would share profits and territory with neighboring gangs to avoid unneeded trouble. Somewhere along the line Al Capone, one of the most infamous gangsters, came into the picture and became Torrio’s right hand man. Over time, Capone began taking on more and more responsibilities of his boss and eventually forced Torrio into retirement (Source 9, 2).

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