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Us Prohibition And Crime

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During the 1920s to the 1930s the efforts in the United States to pass laws prohibiting the sale and consumption of alcohol substantially contributed to crime rates and violence. This was made possible through the ratification of Eighteenth Amendment.

The modern movement for prohibition had its main growth in the United States and developed largely as a result of the agitation of nineteenth century temperance movements. The history of the brewing industry in the United States and the history of the prohibition movement were closely related. Brewing became a big business in the later part of the nineteenth century. German immigrants brought lager beer to the United States, and it became popular. Saloons grew in abundance, enticing customers with the draw of alcohol, gambling, and prostitution.

In response to the rapidly growing market for alcohol and expansion of saloons, supporters of a different kind of America formed. The Anti-Saloon League, an organization formed in 1893 by representatives of temperance societies and evangelical Protestant churches, "had the intentions of bringing business-like methods to political and reform work." 1 With prohibition as a main focus, the League used the widespread dislike of the saloon among "respectable" Americans to fuel prohibition sentiments.

The mission of the Anti-Saloon League grew in support. It did not take long for other groups, such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union ("the largest female reform society of the late nineteenth century"), to join in the opposition of liquor sales in America. 2 With increasing support, Prohibition surfaced as a political issue.

The 1920s were a time of tremendous change in America. While the temperance movement had been around since the turn of the century, it was during the 1920s that prohibition was truly popularized.

The Eighteenth Amendment took effect in January 1920, "banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of all intoxicating liquors." 3 The Volstead Act (National Prohibition Enforcement Act), passed on October 28, 1919, provided enforcement of the recently ratified Eighteenth Amendment. The act, passed over President Woodrow Wilson's veto, "affirmed and further specified the provisions of the Eighteenth Amendment, delineated fines and prison terms for violation of the law, empowered the Bureau of Internal Revenue to administer Prohibition, and classified as alcoholic all beverages containing more than one-half of 1 percent alcohol by volume." 4

Referred to by supporters as "the noble experiment" (as President Herbert Hoover had called it), Prohibition succeeded at lowering the consumption of alcohol, at least in rural areas. 5 At the same time, the amendment created a productive black market for alcohol sales. Illegal, or bootlegged, liquor became widely available in cities. Typically, smugglers brought this liquor into the United States from other countries, while other Americans produced alcohol at home. "Speakeasies," illegal bars where men and often women drank publicly, opened in most urban areas. 6

In spite of the strict Volstead Act (1919), Prohibition proved to be difficult to enforce. Although overall drinking was generally thought to have declined, it continued uninterrupted in many parts of the country, particularly in large cities and in areas with large foreign-born populations. Smuggling on a large scale could not be prevented, and the illegal manufacture of liquor sprang up with such speed that authorities were unable to contain it. Thus began a period of illegal drinking, lawbreaking, organized crime, and the corruption of public officials.

The 1920s saw a rapid increase in the American crime-rate. This was mainly due to the illegal alcohol trade that had been developed to overcome Prohibition. "According to a study taken in 30 US cities, there was a 24 percent increase in crime rate between 1920 and 1921. The rate of arrests on account of drunkenness rose 41 percent, and arrests for drunken driving increased 81 percent. Thefts rose 9 percent, and assault and battery incidents rose 13 percent. Before Prohibition, there had only been 4,000 federal convicts, and less than 3,000 were housed in federal prisons. By 1932, the number of federal convicts had increased 561 percent and the federal prison population increased by 361 percent. Over 2/3 of all prisoners in 1930 were convicted on alcohol and drug charges." 7 Prohibition provided criminals with a financially rewarding new business. Corruption found its way into the world of high-ranking city and state officials, as many saw this as a business opportunity. All American cities experienced increases in crime.

Chicago became a prime example of this corruption. "Speakeasies" began popping up all over the city. The bootleggers and the city officials both found the arrangements very profitable. The bootleggers made money from their speakeasies and in turn paid off the police, politicians and corrupt prohibition agents. One politician in particular who made this arrangement possible was the mayor at the time, "Big Bill" William Hale Thompson. 8 He saw to it that bootleggers had protection from the city's police and politicians. Although Thompson was the delegated mayor of Chicago, the person holding the majority of power, known as "the mayor of crook county," was Alphonse Capone. 9

Born on January 17, 1899 in Brooklyn, New York to two Italian immigrants. 10 Capone grew up in an impoverished mostly Italian neighborhood. From a young age, he showed a tendency toward rebellion and violence. Capone attended school through the sixth grade when he proceeded to beat up his teacher. He was reprimanded by the schools principal and consequently left school for good. The streets became a new way of life, and soon, Capone became involved with the James Street Gang. Led by the notorious Johnny Torrio, Capone was taken under his wing. Torrio, and his partner, Frankie Yale, soon hired Capone as a bouncer at one of their saloons. It was there that he obtained his most famous nickname, "Scarface," after a bar altercation left his face slashed. 11

In 1919 Capone relocated to Chicago, Illinois. 12 After the implication of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act, Capone saw an opportunity for business. Together, Torrio and Capone made plans to build an empire based on the illegal trade of alcohol. Their influence gained as they received support and protection from corrupt police and city officials.

Taking control of Chicago did not prove an easy feat. Bootlegging was already becoming widespread and was mainly controlled by the Irish Gang of Dean O'Banion. O'Banion was born on July 8, 1892 to Irish Catholic parents in Aurora, Illinois. 13 He grew up in a mostly



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