The Auckland Star: WITH WHICH ARE INCORPORATED The Evening News, Morning News and The Echo.
TUESDAY, MARCH 16, 1909. THE BLACK HAND.
Tot the' cause that lacks assistance. For the wrong thai needs resistance. For the future in the distance, 'And the good that vie can do.
On Sunday last Lieutenant Petrosino was stabbed tb death by a band of assassins in broad daylight in the public square at Palermo. The intelligence will possibly make little impression on the public imagination on this side of ,the world. But in New York and throughout the United States, as well as in Italy, the name of petrosino is well known, and his tragic fate will revive in an acute form the sense of apprehension-and insecurity which the crimes of the "Black Hand" always produce. Petrosino was an Italian, but a naturalised American subject, and for twenty years he has been the director of the operations by which tho police in Italy, Sicily and America have striven to extirpate tbe secret societies which by blackmail and crime halve established an absolute reign of terror in Southern Italy and among the large Italian population in the United Staes. Mc has been described as " a strong, close, wise stubborn body of a man with a quiclc eye and a silent manner, giving off that inveterate bloodhound impression which belongs to one who never quits the trail." Tor the greater part of his life he has devoted himself to the thankless task of tracking down the desperate criminals "who flock to America from foreign shores, and now that he has fallen a victim to his sense of duty, possibly the authorities at Washington will feel compelled to devise some comprehensive plan of action to -check the inroads of that ferocious anarchism that unrestricted immigration has transplanted from Southern Europe to the new world.
It is not likely that many people have any dear idea of the extent to which the criminal excesses of the so-called 1" Black Hand" societies have run in America. It must be understood in the first place that in New York city and the ! adjacent suburban districts the Italian population numbers quite 600,000. The I annual income of these aliens has been cal--1 culated at fully £12,000,000 sterling-, and competent observers declare that the I " Black Hand" organisations secure at least one-tenth of this large sum—six I million dollars a year by blackmail. The process of collecting this tribute is I extremely simple and effective. The blackmailer sends to his victim a letter signed with the well known symbol lof the fraternity demanding a certain I sum of money at a certain time and place. These gangs have a complete j system of espionage by which they secure accurate knowledge of the incomes I and resources of the people with whom ' they are dealing; and their victims seldom venture to ignore these requests. I The penalty for refusal is death, sudden, violent and almost inevitable; and any .attempt to secure police protection or Ito entrap the blackmailers is followed by a swift and terrible vengeance. The number of crimes of this description recorded in New York alone is simply ; appalling. Petrosino's report for the first quarter of 1908 shows that 321 cases of violent crime were notified to him from the Italian quarter, of which 101 were "Black Hand" charges and 14 bomb explosions. The fact that 227 arrests' of "Black Hand" suspects and their accomplices were made in those three months shows that the police are by no means inactive. But they have to cope with men who are usually fearless and who rate their own lives cheaply. Petrosino's report refers to the frequency of bomb explosions. It is enough to point out that between January Ist and May 12th, 1908, at least twelve cases were reported of bombs thrown and houses dynamited by these blackmailers. Six people were blown to fragments, 19 were burned alive, and the number of wounded would have done credit to a battle. And this grim record stands for only a small section of New York for less than half a year.
What, then, is the "Black Hand"? It is frequently asserted that there is no secret society or organisation answering to that title, and that the term is only employed for the purposes of sensational effect by . Italian professional criminal classes. There is certainly evidence to be produced on the other side. Mr. A. H. Lewis, equally famous for his ability as a lawyer and his skill as novelist, has made a special study of these Anarchistic outrages, and he insists that the "Black Hand" criminals show every sign of direction and control by some central intelligence. ."The steady success with which they work, the cool assurance wherewith they place and explode their bombs; the savage certainty that marks the dealing out of death whenever — either for safety or revenge—death is held to be necessary, all go in proof of this. I do not scruple to'set down as my (belief that the whole body of Italian crime in .America is as thoroughly organised and as intelligently managed as Standard Oil itself." Against this view may be set the opinion still maintained by many experienced detectives and police officials in New York, that the "Black Hand" is only a convenient label, assumed independently for the purposes of blackmail by foreign criminals, and really adopted from the "yellow journals," which have seized upon the exploits of these ruffians as sensational "copy." Italy has always -been well pro-
vided with secret of which the Camorra of Na/ples and' the Malia of Sicily are typical instances.- Whatever political significance these organisations ever had has now practically and they are now chiefly convenient means for levying blackmail and f.or carrying into effect the countless "vendettas" which nave played so large a part in past Italian histoTy. -No doubt most of the so-called "Black Ha)nd" gangs are refiruited from these sources, and they have probably made use of the carefully devised methods of the Camorra and the Mafia to suit their own ends. But whether"' the "Black Hand" be an organised secret society or a heterogeneous body of criminals, working independently, there is no doubt aibout its dangerous character, or the appalling frequency and ferocity of its crimes.
The reason for the concentration of i these desperate criminals in and about New York is not far to seek. The Government of Italy for many years past '■ has conscientiously done its best to put down the Mafia and the Camorra; and a large proportion of criminals convicted and sentenced in connection with these secret societies have found their way to America. The cause of this influx is twofold. The lot of a Camorrist discharged from prison in Italy is anything but a happy one. He is under constant police surveillance; he is liable to be sent back to gaol if he is found out of doors between 8 p.m. and .8 a.m.; he cannot get employment without the permission and approval of the chief of police; he cannot change his -work ■without reporting to the police; he must not get drunk; and if he is found carrying even a penknife he is promptly locked up, as too dangerous to be a. large. .Naturally it is the desire of every criminal, who has served a term in Italy -or Sicily to escape as quickly as possible from such ■intolerable conditions, nad sdoner or later they find their way to the western "Land of Promise." The Mafia and the Camorra have members and adherents at every port and on every steamship on tho European coast, and the lax American immigration laws make the transition only too easy. "When the exconvict reaches New York, he finds difficulty as a rule> in getting honest work, and so he easily becomes the tool* of the blackmailers, who are constantly on the look-out for recruits. The "Black I Hand." practice is to impress the solemnity of its undertakings as forcibly as possible on all who take up this desperate work. The recruits are bound by oath to keep silence, to bear . false witness, to fight the police, to kill friend or brother, or father, if the safety of their leaders and colleagues demand ' these sacrifices. And the fidelity of these ruffians to their pledged word has often I won the unwilling admiration of even the police officials who daily risk their lives hunting them down. As to the possi-
bility of remedying this evil, it was the opinion of Petrosino that far more stringent regulations should be imposed to keep out " undesirable .mmigranis."' Deportation on a wholesale scale bas also been suggested. But it is clear, irom the dimensions that this plague spot has already attained that most drastic methods are needed to extirpate the infection of violent crime that has revived in New Yok for the time the lawlessness of mediaeval Italy.
Fairfax Media is the copyright owner for the Auckland Star. You can reproduce in-copyright material from this newspaper for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons New Zealand BY-NC-SA licence . This newspaper is not available for commercial use without the consent of Fairfax Media. For advice on reproduction of out-of-copyright material from this newspaper, please refer to the Copyright guide.
This newspaper was digitised in partnership with Auckland Libraries.
Use these buttons to limit your searches to particular dates, titles, and more.
Print, save, zoom in and more.