The Chicago Syndicate: The Badge Still Shines

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Badge Still Shines

Friends of ours: Al Capone
Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito, Steven Caracappa


The shock and disappointment over the two New York detectives who sold their homicidal services to the Mafia is no more than a lot of hooey.

Louis Eppolito and Steve Caracappa - the two convicted "mob cops" - do not represent the NYPD, they represent that special community of criminals who submit to greed and corruption.

I recently read about the gang wars of Chicago in the 1920s. I was surprised by what Al Capone said of a city prosecutor who had been accidentally killed by mob assassins as he was leaving a speakeasy. Why would he have had the man killed, Capone asked. He went on to say that he had paid the prosecutor a pile of money and had gotten his money's worth. The deceased prosecutor was highly regarded for having sent a number of gangland soldiers to the electric chair. The public of Chicago, tired of the mob wars, had great faith in him only to find out that their man had been another Capone employee tattooed by the greasy stains of graft.

Gangsters are always on the lookout for their own double agents. These have to be people ready to accept pay for revealing information about police investigations and, if full of enough ice and moxie, who also will kill.

Sometimes, the degree of corruption is extremely large and the willingness to abuse power seems unlimited. In fact, when I arrived in New York from the spiritual dust bowl of Los Angeles 30 years ago, it was easy to do or see many things. Some cops could be bribed out of giving a citation for a traffic offense. Or some cops were seen being too chummy on Bleecker St. during the holiday season when their rounds included picking up gifts from mob-owned joints. Oh, yeah.

But there is also the hard, irrefutable fact that crime has been reduced steadily over the past 11 years and the effect on communities such as Harlem has been remarkable. Harlem has now moved out of the slum category to become a full member of the real estate boom, which guarantees refurbishing. Neighborhoods which cab drivers used to avoid for fear of being robbed or wounded or killed are now traveled to with a feeling of veritable impunity. Compared with the reigns of terror that urban street gangs impose across the country, the thug variations of groups like the Crips remain largely low-key in our town.

Does that mean that New York is really heaven in disguise? Far from it. New York is still the capital of overwork that makes long distance sprinters of all of us. We all move far too fast for the lengths that we have to travel, but we travel those miles with a feeling of safety that makes New York the most comfortable and fulfilling version of soul and pressure in urban America. The people and their spirit are largely responsible for making this city feel that way.

But the underpaid army of professional urban soldiers and protectors we know as the New York Police Department cannot be accused of failing to hold up its end because two of them were mob hit men. The overwhelming bulk of the force sustains the fundamental identity of the job, which is this: Law enforcement is one of the three noblest of professions dedicated to community service, equal in importance to education and medicine.

We know that determined criminals can come from any class, ethnic group, religion, gender or profession.

Still, for all that it suffers, the New York Police Department is the sort of light always willing to fight the darkness.

Thanks to Stanley Crouch

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