The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia

What are the hottest books and magazine articles on urban culture, hip hop, and street life?
Post Reply
User avatar
Christina Marie
Posts: 9305
Joined: August 11th, 2005, 4:58 pm
Country: United States
If in the United States: Pennsylvania
What city do you live in now?: From LB to PA
Location: CA

The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia's Black Mafia

Unread post by Christina Marie » December 8th, 2005, 7:03 am

Posted on Thu, Dec. 08, 2005
Book Review | An equal-opportunity plea for Phila.'s bloody Black Mafia

Black Brothers Inc.
The Violent Rise and Fall
of Philadelphia's Black Mafia
By Sean Patrick Griffin

Milo Books. 336 pp. $14.95

Reviewed by Joseph N. DiStefano

Black Brothers Inc. was a phony South Philadelphia anti-gang program, briefly funded by taxpayers, with help from mainstream politicians, in the early 1970s.

That particular scam lasted only until angry neighbors tipped off the city's newspapers that the program was a front for members of a criminal group, the Black Mafia.

Sean Patrick Griffin, a Philadelphia police officer turned professor at Penn State Abington, uses this near-comic interlude in an otherwise bloody tale to illustrate the group's ability to insinuate itself into the city's political and business life - and to suggest that it has continued, even though most Black Mafia members and associates ended up dead or in prison.

Emerging from street-corner gangs of second-generation Southern immigrants whose battles pocked city neighborhoods in the 1960s, the Black Mafia dealt in drugs, terror, extortion, and a homegrown, prison-fed variant Islam. Griffin says that organized African American criminals haven't been given their due alongside Italian, Irish and Jewish outfits in popular books and videos; in an unusual call for equal opportunity, he hopes to elevate Philadelphia's black gangsters to a similar level of public marvel.

The core of the book is a thorough reading of contemporary accounts - what reporters call a clip job. Griffin provides an impressive 100 pages of source notes showing how he extracted the guts of his book from contemporary news accounts, mostly in the Philadelphia Daily News and The Inquirer, by reporters Tyree Johnson, Jim Nicholson, Kitty Capparella, and scores of others (even this reviewer), backed up by Griffin's own review of federal and local investigators' records, though not by interviews with gangsters who are the subject of the book.

It's a gripping story, and it doesn't need Griffin's overreaching attempt to give it extra relevance by associating his subjects, directly or indirectly, with everyone from onetime U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to Mayor Street.

Yes, Kennedy was among the public officials who in the 1960s supported the idea of co-opting black radicals with cash and jobs. So, as Griffin notes, was then-District Attorney Arlen Specter; so was South Philadelphia's future congressman, Tom Foglietta; so was Specter's aide, future judge Paul Dandridge, according to the book.

The book's racial focus puts, for example, Dandridge's later (and legal) dealings with penny-stock companies and would-be city contractors under a microscope, without putting them in the context of the connections with much bigger businesses that any successful politician - Specter, for instance - makes routinely in the course of getting reelected.

For all its organization, outreach and over-the-top badness, the Black Mafia burned itself out, as Griffin richly documents, through repeated gratuitous, ugly and public killings of innocents and witnesses as well as rival criminals, ripped from the headlines of 30 years ago. Unbelievably, trial records show the gang even kept detailed written records of its meetings, enabling law enforcement to track, wiretap and document its moves, so prosecutions could be made without terrorized witnesses.

It's true that an occasional Black Mafia member or associate eventually came back from prison and got on with life. One, Shamsud-din Ali, after his murder conviction was thrown out, went on to some prominence. On the strength of Ali's successful career as a Philadelphia mover and shaker, and his conviction last spring on fraud and racketeering charges involving the use of city funds by a Muslim school and other enterprises, Griffin tries to show the Black Mafia's continuing relevance.

That leaves us wanting to know more - not about the defunct Black Mafia, but about what might have made Ali different and specially adaptable to the city's political culture. ... irer_daily

E the Magnificent
Straw Weight
Straw Weight
Posts: 81
Joined: September 3rd, 2006, 2:52 pm
Location: Saint Paul, MN

Unread post by E the Magnificent » December 20th, 2006, 5:27 am

Its an interesting book, I have no respect for the way they ran their business though. Alot of uncessary killings occur. Drowning babies in tubs and etc...

User avatar
Middle Weight
Middle Weight
Posts: 350
Joined: February 10th, 2004, 1:13 pm
Location: chicago, il

Unread post by dopekid127 » December 20th, 2006, 10:59 am

wtf? drowning babies? dats real fucked up

Post Reply

Return to “Book & Magazine Club”