In a Blaze of Glory

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of an Italian American gangster resisting arrest.  They all seem to go peaceably when the police or feds come.  Did their parents give them “the Talk” before they embarked on their life of crime?

The very idea that “capos,” “captains,” “soldiers,” and “made men,” the cream of our glorious Mafia, could be cuffed and shuffled off to jail without a scuffle or shoot-out must sadden media reporters.  Songs like The Night Chicago Died imagine Al Capone and his Outfit going out in a blaze of glory “and a hundred cops were dead.” In reality, Capone went quietly for tax evasion.

 Our gangsters prefer plea bargaining, jail time, or the witness protection program to resisting arrest.  Death-by-cop rarely afflicts the Cosa Nostra.  The main cause of death for these “men of honor” is other Italian American gangsters, except for one to be mentioned later.

Who isn’t appalled by the dozen or so African Americans who have died at the hands of police officers?  In almost all instances, the proximate cause was resisting arrest.  Each of these sad stories is more complicated than the media version.  [In the case of Breanna Taylor, the young EMT trainee who was killed by police during a no-knock raid, it had all to do with her ex-boyfriend – a drug dealer whom the police were after.  Taylor’s new boyfriend was with her at the time, and was armed.  When he heard the door crash in, he immediately thought it was Breanna’s ex-boyfriend and fired his weapon at the intruders. The police fired back, killing poor Breanna.]

Often on television news, Black parents explain how every Black child, regardless of age, should be given “the Talk” before being sent out into the world.  It is a ritual that no other group in America conducts, we are told.  Essentially, it is a summary of how to behave when a policeman approaches you: “Don’t escalate, don’t raise your voice, don’t hide your hands, don’t run.”  The question is whether this advice is being followed?  It doesn’t appear so from videos of the various fatal encounters.

Transforming such advice into public service announcements to save lives seems out of the question, if aimed solely at African American youth.  However, an all-purpose message “Don’t Resist Arrest!” is actually good advice for any group or individual.  Perhaps Madison Avenue could spin this common sense message into something “awesome” for Millennials.

It is possible that some in the Black community, after seeing videos of these fatal encounters, seek racial revenge.  I noted some weeks ago that Paul and Lidia Marino were executed pointblank by an African American shooter in Delaware last May while visiting a cemetery.  It appears that this heinous crime was of no interest to the national media, and therefore provided the American public no balance in race violence.  After a number of unsuccessful calls to the Delaware State Police to find out if this was a hate crime – the couple wasn’t robbed and didn’t know the shooter – we filed a Freedom of Information Request.  We’ll see what develops.

You may recall the 1971 fatal wounding of Joseph Colombo by Jerome Johnson, a Black shooter, at an Italian American Civil Rights League rally in Columbus Circle. Colombo lingered on for seven more years in a vegetative state.  Johnson was shot to death at the rally by a bodyguard.  The police determined Johnson was “a crazed lone gunman,” and closed the case.  Colombo was considered an organized crime figure and Mafia watchers ascribed his murder to other Italian American gangsters.  They creatively connected Johnson to mobster Joey Gallo who had ties with African American gangsters in Harlem.  Gallo was whacked, probably in revenge, a year later at Umberto’s Clam House in Manhattan’s Little Italy.

Investigators never found a link between Jerome Johnson and any Italian Americans.  He wasn’t a gangster or even had a criminal record.  He had a pistol permit and had dreams of producing movies.  He showed up at the rally with a press ID; Colombo allowed him to take a photo – his undoing.

Colombo didn’t go out in a blaze of glory, but had he not been a mobster, his murder by a Black gunman would parallel the death of Martin Luther King who was murdered by a White assassin.  Yet, even in his questionable foray into civil rights, Colombo couldn’t hold a candle to Dr. King. -JLM

2 thoughts on “In a Blaze of Glory”

  1. Another event that the mainstream media did not describe as a hate crime was the rape and murder of a young Italian-American jogger, Karina Vetrano, in Howard Beach (an Italian enclave within Queens). Apparently, Chanel Lewis, the convicted African-American killer, told one officer “I don’t like those people over there.”

    Frankly, I cannot blame Lewis for hating Italians. Hollywood and media have always described Howard Beach, Bensonhurst, Ozone Park and any other Italian neighborhood as Mafia infested places inhabited by racist Italian bigots.

  2. Another point about the media’s treatment of Italian American criminals: They simultaneously mythologize them (make them scarier, more all-powerful, more larger-than-life) and downsize them; that is, treat them as “colorful,” down-to-earth figures. In fact, many of their nicknames were given to them by reporters. Just recently, former Chicago Outfit associate and career burglar Frank Cullotta passed away. For the past year, however, he hosted his very own YouTube “show” called “Coffee With Cullotta,” where he took viewers’ chat questions, talked about his various crimes (including two murders), and told anecdotes about fellow low-lives. The show wasn’t his idea; it was a “fan’s”–in short, a member of the unwashed American public who have been conditioned to find people like Cullotta fascinating. Hollywood is behind much of this. The damage, of course, is that such people become de facto representatives of the Italian American community. The public still remains committed to the idea that organized criminals/violent gangsters are exclusive to our community.

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