Notorious American Gangster Al Capone and Great Depression

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The Great Depression created a tremendous amount of difficulties to many families during the early 1900s. With unemployment skyrocketing, homes were being lost and these families were left with barely enough to get by. Some packed up and journeyed West in pursuit of new opportunities, while others remained to establish opportunities for themselves. The Prohibition in 1920 was intended to minimize the growing crime rate, but those who rebelled against the government only contributed to the escalation of organized crime. Al Capone became the most notorious American gangster, by building a criminal empire with his illegal schemes in defiance of the government during the Prohibition Era.

“Alphonse “Al” Capone was born in the Brooklyn area of New York City in January 1899 (Encyclopedia).” His parents Teresina and Gabriele immigrated to the United States in 1893 through Ellis Island. They later settled in Brooklyn, New York where they raised their 9 children. Although Capone’s parents were both hardworking, his mother a seamstress and father a barber, they struggled to make ends meet like countless other immigrant families.

During his childhood years he always struggled with authority, especially in the public school system. He maintained B’s up until 6th grade when his grades and behavior hit a rapid deterioration and he was subsequently held back. “One Day, Capone’s teacher hit him for insolence and he struck back. The principal gave him a beating, and Capone never again returned to school (HISTORY).” The brutality he faced in school left him with a lasting impression that would influence his future violent acts. Shortly after his son’s expulsion, Gabriele decided to move his family to a better home in the outskirts of Brooklyn. He had hoped the move would take away the destructive influences in Al’s life. This move would prove to do the opposite, shifting the trajectory of his life, and ultimately the future for this budding crime syndicate.

Their new neighborhood, Park Slope, was a ghetto made up of immigrants from many different cultures. It was a rough, gang-populated area. Coincidently, Capone got his start in organized crime at age 14 when he joined two local street gangs, the Forty Thieves Juniors and the Brooklyn Rippers. These gangs were essentially composed of juvenile delinquents committing petty crimes. His involvement led him to his fateful encounter with Johnny Torrio, who became his mentor in organized crime. Capone began running small errands for him before he moved to Chicago. In spite of Torrio moving the two remained close. While working for Frankie Yale, introduced by Torrio, Al earned his nickname ‘Scarface’ during an altercation. “Capone inadvertently insulted a woman while working the door, and he was slashed with a knife three times on the left side of his face by her brother Frank Galluccio; the wounds led to the nickname ‘Scarface’ which Capone loathed (Wiki)”. It was at this same bar in Coney Island that taught Capone the business aspect of organized crime when Yale hired him to be a debt collector and a member of the Five Points Gang.

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As time went on his intellect and strength didn’t go unnoticed, and he quickly climbed the ranks. Just like his mafia career, his legal issues were also on the rise. After learning of an arrest warrant for attempted murder, Capone fled to Chicago where he and Torrio were reunited. The ratification of the Eighteenth amendment prohibited the sale and manufacturing of alcohol, but to Capone and Torrio it generated a supply and demand. “The country wanted booze and I supplied it. Why should I be called the public enemy? (Capone)”. Although the Chicago Outfit was founded by Jim‘Big Jim’Colosimo he would meet his demise waiting for a shipment of alcohol. According to Wikipedia, it is believed that Torrio and Capone hired Frankie Yale to carry out the hit due to his opposition to boot-legging. Colisimos death allowed the duo to seize control of the gang.

Torrio and Capone expanded their criminal activities to include murder, political corruption, gambling, prostitution, extortion, and loan sharking. Tensions rose among rival gangs and bloody gang-wars ensued. Torrio felt the violence was bad for business and attempted to join forces with one of their biggest rivals, the North Side Gang led by Dean O’Banion. The Outfit and the Northside Gang were able to have a peaceful partnership, but it was short lived. Torrio put a hit out on O’Banion after he conned him out of $500,000 and set him up to be arrested. The assassination of O’Banion reestablished the bitter rivalries with the Northside Gang. Out for revenge, the Northside gang attempted to assassinate the pair. Their attempt on Capone was unsuccessful, they completely missed him. As for Torrio, his hit left him in critical condition but he survived. Scared by his brush with death, he handed over the entire organization to Capone, and moved to Italy. Without Torrio’s even-tempered guidance Capone used ruthless problem solving strategies to enforce his power. Enraged by the attack on Torrio and himself, he set out to eradicate anyone involved, bringing himself into the public eye. With corrupt politicians working with him and fear of his vicious reprisal, Capone was untouchable.

For nearly a century gang-related deaths had become a norm for Chicago, with each gang fighting for control. Capone’s ruthless brutality had already made him one of the most powerful gangsters in America, but what he did next would shock the nation. On February !4, 1929 his brutality hit its peak, 7 rival gang members of the Bugs Moran gang were set up to receive a shipment of alcohol. Instead they were met by whom they believed to be policeman, only they wouldn’t be arrested for illegal sales of alcohol, they were gunned down by members of Capone’s gang. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre captured the attention of all of America, including President Hoover.

Government agencies became determined to end his reign of terror, but the criminal mastermind left little evidence linking him to any of the violent crimes he was responsible for. A Supreme Court ruling in 1927, that stated illegal income was still subject to income tax, would be his downfall. Capone was arrested in June 1931 for tax evasion, later sentenced to 11 years. Capone only spent 9 of those years in prison before his wife Mae fought for his early release due to his diminished mental state. This was the effect of untreated syphilis he contracted during his teenage years. Upon his release, he returned to his home in Florida to live out the rest of his life.

Al Capone died in 1947 but his legacy lives on to this day. His criminal empire was responsible for the proliferating mayhem and corruption that dominated Chicago during the Prohibition Era. The outlawing of alcohol in an attempt to curtail crime only gave members of organized crime the demand they needed to capitalize off of the illegal distribution, by giving the public what was being withheld from the government. Capone’s defiance of the law and his rags to riches success story gained the attention of the media and public. Even after his death his role during the roaring twenties will forever be marked in history.    

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