Crime and corruption

Crime and corruption

Prohibition and Emergence of Organised Crime

  • Prohibition, the ban on production, sale, and transport of alcohol implemented by the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act in 1920, had significant effects on American society.
  • The ban led to the rapid rise of organized crime, particularly notorious figures such as Al Capone who built criminal empires through illegal activities like bootlegging and moonshining.
  • The 1920s saw the expansion of speakeasies, underground bars where illegal alcohol was served, often protected by bribed police and officials.
  • As police were often corrupt and laws were hard to enforce, organized crime had significant power, contributing to widespread corruption.

Corruption in Politics and Business

  • The period also witnessed significant political corruption, notably the Teapot Dome Scandal which involved bribery, illegal sale of national oil reserves and revealed deep seated corruption within the Harding administration.
  • Business experienced similar corruption, epitomized by business leaders, or Robber Barons, using unethical means to amass large fortunes.

Impact on Society

  • The increased control of organized crime, public flaunting of Prohibition laws and high-level corruption eroded the public’s faith in authority and legality.
  • Organized crime led to public violence, such as the St Valentine’s Day massacre, that turned cities like Chicago into battlefields.
  • Fallon’s System, which was a practice of renting out police protection to criminals, further highlighted the extent of police corruption and undermined faith in law enforcement.

End of Prohibition and the Fight Against Corruption

  • Facing enormous societal pressure, corruption, and crime, the US government repealed Prohibition in 1933 through the 21st Amendment.
  • With the end of Prohibition, the power of organized crime groups began to wane, and efforts were made to combat corruption.
  • Significant measures included the creation of the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, also known as the Kefauver Committee, which led substantial investigations into corruption and organized crime.
  • However, the fight against corruption and organised crime would continue throughout much of the 20th century.