Issue date: 27 February 2002

Organized Crime and American Power – Michael Woodiwiss
University of Toronto Press ISBN: 0-8020-4700-9

Organised crime in the United States and internationally has been positively boosted by inadequate business regulation and counter-productive prohibition laws according to a book by UWE researcher, Michael Woodiwiss, from the Faculty of Humanities.

In his latest book, Organized Crime and American Power, Michael Woodiwiss offers up a different perspective on the United States (US) past and suggests that the US can claim no legitimacy whatsoever when it comes to the analysis and control of organised crime. Far from using the legal system to uphold law and order the book argues that the U.S. government has paved the way for organised crime by creating a host of criminal opportunities not just for gangsters but for many more respectable transgressors.

Michael Woodiwiss said, “Most people think of the Mafia in relation to organised crime and I have dealt with the Mafia in some depth in the book. However the first real wave of organised crime in the US was the explosion of racially motivated hate crime in the US South after the Civil War. Although the Ku Klux Klan and other similar groups were pledged to criminal activity, and engaged in intimidation, killing of witnesses, and racketeering their activities have been ignored in previous histories of organised crime.”

Moving through saloons, boardrooms, and government offices, Woodiwiss points to the rise in organised crime during Prohibition, examines the unenforceable morality laws of the period, catalogues the illegal activities of corporate America, traces the corrupt dealings of officials and law enforcement representatives, and looks at collaboration between government and criminals.

Woodiwiss also locates the racist roots of the 'foreign invasion' theory of organised crime, demonstrating that organised crime has never had a specific ethnicity, and has never been distinct from legitimate society. Woodiwiss says, “There is little evidence for the existence of the all-powerful international Mafia organisations popularly scapegoated by government and media commentators; these myths have only served to deflect attention from the more serious crimes of US governments and corporations. Organised crime is not a foreign import that corrupts legitimate government, legal, and business authority, it is a home-grown product, inextricably interwoven with the activities of legitimate power.”

Organized Crime and American Power tackles the misguided origins of the war on drugs, decries the billions of dollars invested in the resulting 'drug abuse industrial complex,' examines the dubious ethics of asset forfeiture, and exposes the greed, chaos, and corruption that have resulted from government refusal to consider alternatives to prohibition, despite all the evidence that current drug policies have failed spectacularly.

Finally, Organized Crime and American Power looks at the dumbing down of American and global discourse on organised crime, surveying U.S. government and corporate complicity in international organised crime, and questioning the export of the U.S. government's counterproductive organised crime policies to the rest of the world.

Woodiwiss’ book also poses a powerful critique against US international intervention on organised crime control matters, contending that ‘the country with the gravest crime problem tends to claim proficiency in crime control and continues to set the agenda for international crime control.
The book's powerful warning is that until government and lawmakers see themselves as part of the problem, there can be no effective solution to global organised crime.

Michael Woodiwiss has written and taught on the subject of American organised crime for many years and has often spoken on the history of organised crime on radio and television. He is currently senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of the West of England.


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