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- Courts and Criminals - 40/40 -


he was told in order that some other man who did know why might carry out a threat to blow up somebody who had refused to be blackmailed. It is practically impossible to get inside the complicated emotions and motives that lead a man to become an understudy in dynamiting. Rizzi probably got well paid; at any rate, he was constantly demonstrating his fitness "to do big things in a big way," and be received into the small company of the elect--to go forth and blackmail on his own hook and hire some other picciott' to set off the bombs.

Whoever the capo maestra that Rizzi worked for, he was not only a deep-dyed villain, but a brainy one. The gang hired a store and pretended to be engaged in the milk business. They carried the bombs in the steel trays holding the milk bottles and cans, and, in the costume of peaceful vendors of the lacteal fluid, they entered the tenements and did their damage to such as failed to pay them tribute. The manner of his capture was dramatic. A real milkman for whom Rizzi had worked in the past was marked out for slaughter. He had been blown up twice already. While he slept his wife heard some one moving in the hall. Looking out through a small window, she saw the ex-employee fumble with something and then turn out the gas on the landing. Her husband, awakened by her exit and return, asked sleepily what the matter was.

"I saw Rizzi out in the hall," she answered. "It was funny-he put out the light!"

In a moment the milkman was out of bed and gazing, with his wife, into the street. They saw Rizzi come down with his tray and pass out of sight. So did a couple of Italian detectives from Headquarters who had been following him and now, at his very heels, watched him enter another tenement, take a bomb from his tray, and ignite a time fuse. They caught him with the thing alight in his hand. Meanwhile the other bomb had gone off and blown up the milkman's tenement.

There is some ancient history in regard to these matters which ought to be retold in the light of modern knowledge; for example, the case of Patti, the Sicilian banker. He had a prosperous institution in which were deposited the earnings of many Italians, poor and wealthy. Lupo's gang got after him and demanded a large sum for "protection." But Patti had a disinclination to give up, and refused. At the time his refusal was attributed to high civic ideals, and he was lauded as a hero. Anyhow, he defied the Mafia, laid in a stock of revolvers and rifles, and rallied his friends around him. But the news got abroad that Lupo was after Patti, and there was a run on Patti's bank. It was a big run, and some of the depositors gesticulated and threatened--for Patti couldn't pay it all out in a minute. Then there was some kind of a row, and Patti and his friends (claiming that the Mafia had arrived) opened fire, killing one man and wounding others. The newspapers praised Patti for a brave and stalwart citizen. Maybe he was. After the smoke had cleared away, however, he disappeared with all his depositors' money, and now it has been discovered that the man he killed was a depositor and not a Black Hander. The police are still looking for him.

This case seems a fairly good illustration of the endless opportunity for wrong-doing possible in a state of society where extortion is permitted to exist--where the laws are not enforced--where there is a "higher" sanction than the code. Whether Patti was a good or a bad man, he might easily have killed an enemy in revenge and got off scot-free on the mere claim that the other was blackmailing him; just as an American in some parts of our country can kill almost anybody and rely on being acquitted by a jury, provided he is willing to swear that the deceased had made improper advances to his wife.

The prevention of kidnapping, bomb-throwing, and the other allied manifestations of the Black Hand depends entirely upon the activity of the police--particularly the Italian detectives, who should form an inevitable part of the force in every large city. The fact of the matter is that we never dreamed of a real "Italian peril" (or, more accurately, a real "Sicilian peril") until about the year 1900. Then we woke up to what was going on--it had already gone a good way--and started in to put an end to it. Petrosino did put an end to much of it, and at the present time it is largely sporadic. Yet there will always be a halo about the heads of the real Camorrists and Mafiusi--the Alfanos and the Rapis--in the eyes of their simple-minded countrymen in the United States.

Occasionally one of these big guns arrives at an American port of entry, coming first-class via Havre or Liverpool, having made his exit from Italy without a passport. Then the Camorrists of New York and Brooklyn get busy for a month or so, raising money for the boys at home and knowing that they will reap their reward if ever they go back. The popular method of collecting is for the principal capo maestra, or temporary boss of Mulberry Street, to "give" a banquet at which all "friends" must be present--at five dollars per head. No one cares to be conspicuous by reason of his absence, and the hero returns to Italy with a large-sized draft on Naples or Palermo.

Meanwhile the criminal driven out of his own country has but to secure transportation to New York to find himself in a rich field for his activities; and once he has landed and observed the demoralization often existing from political or other reasons in our local forces of police and our uncertain methods of administering justice (particularly where the defendant is a foreigner), he rapidly becomes convinced that America is not only the country of liberty but of license--to commit crime.

Most Italian crooks come to the United States not merely some time or other, but at intervals. Practically all of the Camorrist defendants on trial at Viterbo have been in the United States, and all will be here soon again, after their discharge, unless steps are taken to keep them out. Luckily, it is a fact that so much has been written in American newspapers and periodicals in the past few years about the danger of the Black Hand and the criminals from south Italy that the authorities on the other side have allowed a rumor to be circulated that the climate of South America is peculiarly adapted to persons whose lungs have become weakened from confinement in prison. In fact, at the present time more Italian criminals seek asylum in the Argentine than in the United States. Theoretically, of course, as no convict can procure a passport, none of them leave Italy at all--but that is one of the humors of diplomacy. The approved method among the continental countries of Europe of getting rid of their criminals is to induce them to "move on." A lot of them keep "moving on" until they land in America.

Of course, the police should be able to cope with the Black Hand problem, and, with a free use of Italian detectives who speak the dialects and know their quarry, we may gradually, in the course of fifteen years or so, see the entire disappearance of this particular criminal phenomenon. But an ounce of prevention is worth--several tons of cure. Petrosino claimed--not boastfully--that he could, with proper deportation laws behind him, exterminate the Black Hand throughout the United States in three months.

But, as far as the future is concerned, a solution of the problem exists--a solution so simple that only a statesman could explain why it has not been adopted long years ago. The statutes in force at Ellis Island permit the exclusion of immigrants who have been guilty of crimes involving moral turpitude in their native land, but do not provide for the compulsory production of the applicants' "penal certificate" under penalty of deportation. Every Italian emigrant is obliged to secure a certified document from the police authorities of his native place, giving his entire criminal record or showing that he has had none, and without it he can not obtain a passport. For several years efforts have been made to insert in our immigration laws a provision that every immigrant from a country issuing such a certificate must produce it before he can be sure of admission to the United States. If this proposed law should be passed by Congress the exclusion of Italian criminals would be almost automatic. But if it or some similar provisions fails to become law, it is not too much to say that we may well anticipate a Camorra of some sort in every locality in our country having a large Italian population. Yet government moves slowly, and action halts while diplomacy sagely shakes its head over the official cigarette.

A bill amending the present law to this effect has received the enthusiastic approval of the immigration authorities and of the President. At first the Italian officials here and abroad expressed themselves as heartily in sympathy with this proposed addition to the excluded classes; but, once the bill was drawn and submitted to Congress, some of these same officials entered violent protests against it, on the ground that such a provision discriminated unfairly against Italy and the other countries issuing such certificates. The result of this has been to delay all action on the bill which is now being held in committee. Meanwhile the Black Hander is arriving almost daily, and we have no adequate laws to keep him out.


Courts and Criminals - 40/40

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