How bitterly ironic that in an age rife with fundamentalist Islamic terrorism – and Al Qaeda cells ensconced in cities and suburbs all across this land – the media, law enforcement and the courts continue to hype shopworn Hollywood stereotypes of Italian American criminals.
To that end, the Department of Justice should start focusing on the overriding existential threat facing America – and stop using the term “crime family” when referencing criminal syndicates. “Crime family” calls to mind Puzo, Coppola and corpulent capos – both real and imaginary. And the term has become a code word for Italians. Thus wrote former PBS newscaster Robert MacNeil in The Story of English.
Only surnames ending in vowels are equated with the phrase “reputed family member” with a sneering smile and the listen knows you’re talking about wiseguys.
Indeed, anyone with an Italian surname can be pigeonholed with a phrase like “reputed family member.” This is not to say that such goons don’t exist. Victoria Gotti – the apologist for a vile and contemptible clan – and her ur-simpleton sibling, Junior, spring to mind. But they are not emblematic of the Italian people. In fact, they are an aberration.
Therefore, the government and media ought to call them rings, gangs or syndicates. The use of “family” makes them a cultural connation. Recently, The New York Times reported on an Israeli-American “crime ring” that was made up of eight relatives. Crime family, it seems, is used solely to stigmatize Italians. Let’s call a spade a spade, no code words, please.
Rosario A. Iaconis