(Also published as a column in the Providence Journal http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/20181025/my-turn-joe-broadmeadow-ris-misplaced-affection-for-crime)
Many Americans have a macabre fascination with Organized Crime, the mob, or the Mafia depending on your preference. Rhode Islanders cling to the myth of Organized Crime like the memory of their first love. They’ve forgotten the pain of loss, clutching the pasteurized reminisces of infatuation. The mesmerizing allure of benevolent mob figures ruling the streets of Providence is a fallacy disproven by reality.
For a time in Rhode Island, two governments ran the state. One was elected by the voters. The other was a shadow government, unelected but more powerful, controlled by the mob under the leadership of Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
One ran for office every two years. The only limitation on Patriarca’s rule was mortality. Yet the organization continued after his death.
The constancy of change has taken its toll on the mob. The bodies dug up today are skeletons buried decades ago. The gunfire on the streets of the city is between rival gang members. Loosely affiliated drug distribution rings, lacking the organization of “this thing of ours,” now rule the streets.
But Rhode Island misses its first love, longing for a return to their days of self-deception. The mob has always been a promise more gorgeous than its realization, but many did not care.
The most telling sign of Rhode Island’s misplaced affection is the continuing fascination with the Mafia and the persistent myth of what they were.
Hollywood painted a noble veneer on the Mafia and gave us The Godfather, Goodfellas, and the Sopranos. They wrapped murder, extortion, hijacking, and loan sharking with catchy phrases and comic banter, making them appear legitimate.
People believed they were safer living under the ‘protection’ of the Mafia, ignoring their corrupting the courts, the cops, and government. Because they could leave their doors unlocked, they accepted paying more taxes because of mob-controlled contracts for construction, trash collection, and myriad other services.
The workingman on the way home could stop at the local bar and wager his family’s future on horse races whose outcome the mob dictated.
And people were okay with that.
When the money wasn’t there to cover the bet, the leg breakers came.
And they were okay with that.
When the mob ran a successful publicity campaign hiding their involvement in drugs, then flooded the country with heroin produced in mob-run laboratories or facilitated the rise of the cocaine business, people were okay with that.
Today’s Mafia may be diminished, but they are not dead. They’ve evolved like a malignant tumor sending out tentacles into new areas of society. They’ve branched out into new scams; gas tax fraud, online gambling, and wind power subsidies fraud while maintaining their hold on many labor unions.
The targets may have changed, the tactics have not. We can learn from the past once we strip away the fallacy of honor and respect.
The recent show, Crimetown (www.crimetownshow.com Season 1), unmasked the reach of corruption by the mob when it laid bare the infiltration of city departments and personnel under the Cianci administration.
In an upcoming book, Choices: You Make ‘em You Own ‘em, (Amazon.com) Jerry Tillinghast, one of the most recognized names of the Patriarca era, unmasks the reality of life within organized crime and the cost to us all.
I wrote the book with Jerry to understand the realities of how people follow such a path. I discovered much I did not expect. A troubling aspect of those years is how even well-intentioned efforts to curtail the mob can subvert the course of Justice.
Rhode Island’s misplaced affection for organized crime cost the people of Rhode Island. It is time to put it into perspective. To recognize that the reality of the mob is masked by misconception and willful self-deception.