August 05, 2005

Adventures in Mafia Inquiry

Near the beginning of a review of Robert Neuwirth's Shadow Cities, Robert Nelson had this to say about the lawlessness of urban-squatter societies in Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, and Nairobi:
Anarchist political theorists have long dreamed of such a society; some of their ideas are today being put to the test. As Neuwirth reports, squatter anarchy can work surprisingly well. In the favela squatter settlements of Rio, law and order is privately maintained by local drug lords, and there is hardly any crime, comparing favorably in this regard with most Rio neighborhoods served by the city police.
Hardly any crime with the drug lords around, eh? So then I wonder: can that be true elsewhere? Does the presence of organized crime in an area ever lead to lower levels of street crime (e.g., random violence, petty theft, mugging)? One can see why and why not. Drug trafficking would muck everything up. But a bit of Googling on the subject yields nothing, sadly, except that I did find this fascinating article from Chicago magazine in 2000 which details all the ways in which the Chicago mafia, which goes by the pitiful name "the Outfit," has become a leaner, more efficient—and often virtually invisible—organization over the years. Indeed, for a while the police didn't even know they existed! (They fly under the radar by avoiding violence, and instead making their money off of gambling, or labor racketeering, or... video poker.)

Very cool, but not quite what I wanted—though it occurred to me that blogs should totally link to more stuff that was written pre-2001. Also, a daily blog that only linked to and discussed news from, say, exactly one year ago would probably give the world a bit of much-needed perspective. (For instance, today we would discuss all the Times headline stories from August 6, 2004.) Anyway, a few clicks later, the ol' search engine churned up this this alarming statistic: "More law enforcement agencies patrol Washington, D.C., (population 572,000) than all of the United Kingdom (population 59.6 million)." Really? Then along comes this article about organized begging in Indonesia—which turns out to be both surprisingly lucrative and, when it involves forced child labor, horrifying—and finally this article about a guy who studies pickpocket techniques around the world. (Lepers in India sometimes reach their decaying hands out to tourists, and snatch the wallet while the victim is cringing mightily.) Still never found an answer to my original question, but those links are all worth reading.
-- Brad Plumer 8:50 PM || ||