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Robert M. Lombardo’s book: “Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond Mafia” … Or, in short, “Chicago = America”

Robert M. Lombardo’s book: “Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond Mafia” … Or, in short, “Chicago = America”

Tom Verso (July 1, 2013)

Robert M. Lombardo’s “Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond Mafia” is a MUST read for students of the Mafia. However, NOT for the conclusions the author states about “organized crime in AMERICA”! … … Lombardo, a life long Chicagoan, suffers from a common American ideological illusion – ‘the Midwest is or equals America’. The manifestation of this ideological malady is the propensity to represent America by Midwestern symbols such as farmers and cowboys, infinite wheat fields and herds of buffalo displayed against giant American flags robustly waving in the wind. The Midwest is characterized as the “Heartland”. The heart is a life force. So too, the “Heartland” is represented as the essence of American national life. … … Understandably, Midwestern scholars are prone to succumb to that ideology, generalizing and characterizing Midwestern social anecdotes as representative of America itself. Lombardo is no exception. His book is an invaluable collection of Chicago journalistic crime stories (anecdotes) that empirical Mafia researchers will want to take into consideration. However, the author's incredible fallacious generalizations about Mafia in America indeed the world is shocking; unless one takes into consideration that the book is based on his PhD dissertation at the University of Illinois – Chicago. Chicago is a quintessential Midwestern city; not surprising, Lombardo’s dissertation advisor and committee at a Chicago based university would see America through the Midwest prism and approve of his work. My advice to social science students – Don’t “Go West Young Man”.



“Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town / Chicago, Chicago, I'll show you around, I love it /...Chicago, Chicago that's my home town (Frank Sinatra)

Robert Lombardo
was born and raised in CHICAGO.
Officer Lombardo served thirty years with the CHICAGO Police Department.
Sheriff Lombardo was the Deputy Chief of the Cook County [CHICAGO] Sheriff’s Department for five years.
Professor Lombardo received a PhD in Sociology from the University of Illinois –CHICAGO and is Associate Professor and member of the Graduate staff at Loyola University – CHICAGO.  
All scientific knowledge begins with descriptions of observations made:
- under a microscope,
- through a telescope,
- in a test tube,
- on a street-corner, etc. 
In this respect, Professor Lombardo’s book is an invaluable contribution to the study of organized crime IN CHICAGO! The book is an enormous compendium of anecdotal descriptions of various types, and ethnic groupings, of “organized crime” IN CHICAGO!
However, scientific knowledge is not limited to observations. Valid Logical inferences are at least as important in the corpus of science, and therein lies the weakness of the Lombardo book. The author’s propensity to generalize about organized crime in America (indeed, other countries) is so obviously logically fallacious (i.e. "hasty generalization") that it’s perplexing.
He provides no descriptions of organized crime in New Orleans, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Miami, Brazil, Argentina, or most egregiously ignored southern Italy; yet posits generalizations, based on Chicago descriptions, that encompasse those locations.
For example he writes in the “Conclusion”:
"This study has demonstrated that traditional organized crime in America is not the result of a transplanted Sicilian Mafia but is directly related to the social conditions that were found in American society during the early years of the twentieth century. 
This argument is supported by the fact that Italian-dominated organized crime does not exist in Brazil or Argentina, other countries that experienced major southern Italian immigration... (e-book Location L. 4182)
No mention or consideration of the very eminent scholars who have provided voluminous documentary evidence to the contrary. 
For example, Letizia Paoli writes:
Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ′NdranghetaNot only are these Italy's most dangerous criminal organizations, but they have also profoundly influenced the mafia phenomenon in North America.
It was from the Sicilian Cosa Nostra's nineteenth-century forerunners that the Italian American mafia developed,
The Calabrian ′Ndrangheta also has offshoots in the Anglo-Saxon world. In the early twentieth century, 'Ndrangheta groups were established in both Canada and Australia, and these are still active now, maintaining close contacts with their Calabrian counterparts. (Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, p.vii)
Or, the Schnieders who wrote:
“In 1957, Sicilian-American boss Joe Bonanno initiated a meeting in Palermo, where he mobilized the heads of several Sicilian cosche to create a translocal coordinating “commission, ” similar to that of organized crime families in New York...
“…clandestine emigration of mafiosi to America under fascism…
“… families from the Trapani towns whose Sicilian-American connections were well developed.” (Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo Jane C. Schneider & Peter T. Schneider p. 63-64)
Or, Salvatore Lupo who wrote:
"In the 1970s [Mafiosi] Salvatore Greco and his cousin moved to Venezuela...they might have chosen to invest their skills in the network of trafficking and business, the South American territory began to constitute a significant terminus p234
“…Buscetta showed up in Brazil and went to see Buscetta...(History of the Mafia p. 234, 245)
One could go on and on with examples of Professor Lombardo’s undocumented generalizations that stand in stark contradiction of numerous highly respected Mafia study scholars.
One wonders: How can an obviously well trained sociologist indulge himself in such grandiose generalizations about national and international organized crime without first positing a rigorous factual basis of organize crime in America, beyond the Chicago City Limits (or Cook County)?
A ‘House-Cat’ is not a ‘Lion’, but they have a lot in common.
To my mind, the fundamental fallacious flaw in Professor Lombardo’s thesis is the failure to differentiate between characteristics of a genus and characteristics of species.
Genus characteristics, by definition, can be observed in all members of the genus. However, species, within the genus, have defining characteristics, which cannot be observed in all members of the genus. Species characteristics differentiate one species from another.
The relation between genus and species may be illustrated with a Venn diagram:
In the above diagram, all the individual members in Species 1, 2, 3 share the common Genus characteristics. Nevertheless, each species have individual characteristics that separate them from each other.
For example, the members of the genus Homo all share common characteristics such as: ‘upright posture’, ‘large brains’, ‘high intelligence’, ‘hairlessness’, etc.
However, the members of the Homo genus are subdivided into Homo species (e.g. Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo heidelbergensis, Homo neanderthalis, Homo sapiens), which are differentiated one from the other by characteristics not shared with other species in the homo genus.
The species Homo sapiens (i.e. humans) share common genus characteristics with other species in the Homo Genus, but they are differentiated by unique species characteristics (e.g. anatomical, physiological, intellectual, etc.)
To my mind, Professor Lombardo’s book is an excellent study of the Genus ‘Organized Crime’. However, by ignoring the differentiating characteristics of the various species within the genus organized crime (e.g. African American, Irish, Neapolitan, Sicilian, etc.), he deduces fallacious and inaccurate generalizations about organized crime.
Southern Italian and Southern-Italian American “Organized Crime”
Other Ethnic “Organized Crime” Groups
Professor Lombardo identifies the defining characteristic of the Genus “Organized Crime”:
What is organized Crime? It's crime that has political protection … part and parcel with government ... two sides of the same thing: upper world and underworld ... vice money used to fund political activities…”
(C-Span Book TV interview June 9, 2013
"The term organized crime is used to define the political corruption that afforded protections to gambling, prostitution, and other vice activity in large American cities (Organized Crime in Chicago, e-book location L 173)
For example, Lombardo writes:
Organized crime in Chicago had its beginning in the 1870s with the activities of Michael Cassius McDonald who owned a tavern which was the largest liquor and gambling house in downtown Chicago.
McDonald was also active in politics and headed what was commonly referred to as the ‘gambler’s trust.’
In an effort to overcome the reform activities of Mayor Medill, McDonald organized Chicago’s saloon and gambling interests. ‘Mike McDonald’s Democrats’…and elected their own candidate as mayor of Chicago in 1873.
McDonald organized the first criminal syndicate in Chicago composed of both gamblers and compliant politicians…and alliance between gambling interests and politicians. (L. 986, 994 emp. +)
This Generic Definition of Organized Crime entailing a symbiotic relationship between Crime and Politics lends itself to the contention that organized crime is not peculiar to southern-Italian Americans, for it can be shown that virtually all ethnic and immigrant groups engaged in organized crime. Any ethnic or nationality groups that melds criminal activity with political actions may be considered an organize crime organization.
Thus for example, studies and discussions of organized crime typically ignore African American organized crime. Professor Lombardo writes:
“The historical role of African Americans in organized crime in Chicago…has been greatly ignored by the academic community…[whereas] sophisticated African American organized crime groups existed in Chicago independent of white organized crime…(L.398)
He goes on to describe, consistent with his generic definition of organized crime as the symbiotic relationship between crime and politics, how African American criminal groups used money from vice to affect Chicago politics. He writes:
“Chicago blacks learned early that the political life of community was powerfully allied with the world of the saloon and the gambling house. (L. 1371)
However, while there is no doubt that both African Americans and southern-Italian Americans engaged in organized crime (crime and politics), it does not logically or empirically follow that there are not significantly different (species differentiating) cultural characteristics.
For example, there is a preponderance of evidence that various individual unique southern-Italian American organized crime organizations (“Families”) had integrating relationships with one another at the city, national and international levels. In New York City there were five individually operating crime Families organized into a coordinating Commission. In turn, southern-Italian Families in various cities had coordinating relations at the national level (e.g. the famous 1957 Apalachin, NY meeting which brought together gangsters from New York, Florida, Los Angeles, etc.). Further, southern-Italian Americans also had internationally, as noted above, integrated activities with southern Italy.
There is no evidence of such a comprehensive magnitude of inter-organizational relations existing with other organize crime groups such as African American, Irish, etc. The inter-organizational relations of southern-Italian American and southern Italy organize crime groups is a species differentiating characteristic; i.e. it differentiates them from other ethic organize crime groups.
Culture and Crime
Professor Lombardo’s book is a good historical description of various ethnic organized crime groups in Chicago and should be read as such. His extensive descriptions of the genus neighborhood and poverty conditions that give rise to organize crime across ethnic lines are excellent.

However, he not only ignores the significant cultural characteristics of the manner in which the respective ethnic groups conduct their criminal business, he categorically rejects the notion that cultural differences determine the character of organized crime groups. He writes:
“Italian historian Humbert Nelli argues that what set the Italians apart in their struggle to dominate organized crime in Chicago and elsewhere was their cultural heritage …
However, the idea that southern Italian culture lent itself  to organized crime has its critics and is a point well taken." (L.4233 -4248)
To my mind, the idea that there are no culturally determined characteristics of respective ethnic organize crime organizations is categorically, empirically and demonstrably false
In any detail comparative study of respective organize crime groups one will see (science begins with observation) differences. As noted above, only the southern-Italian American groups (Families) had integrating city, national and international relations between the groups.
Further, not only are there cultural differences between southern Italian organized crime groups and other ethnic groups; there are cultural differences between the southern Italian groups themselves. 
John Dickie in his presentation to the American Association of Italian Studies noted:
“The Cosa Nostra in Sicily did not engage in prostitution; Sicilian mafiosi did not pimp women. However, in Naples, pimping women was very common among the men of the Camorra. (AAIS Conference 2012, video)
Similarly, in her very scholarly Mafia Brotherhoods: Organized Crime, Italian Style, Letizia Paoli also reports that, unlike the Neapolitan Camorra, the Sicilian Cosa Nostra and the Calabrian ′Ndrangheta had prohibitions against prostitution. 
Indeed, she notes: "American Mafia organizations had similar prohibitions with the exception of the Chicago area, which had a large Neapolitan population." (pp. 7, 159, 217)
In sum
Again, Professor Lombardo’s book is a good and important read for factual detail descriptions of organized crime IN CHICAGO. However, it suffers from an overly Chicago centric point of view, and failing to appreciate the differentiating cultural characteristics of respective ethnic organize crime groups; all of which lends itself to fallacious sociological generalizations.

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candeloro's picture

Chicago Centric is what the book sets out to be

to criticize a book for focusing on the subject in its title is not logical.