Crimes

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crimeCrimes activities provide you with the opportunity to consider why people commit crimes and what are the best ways to reduce people from doing them. These activities are centred around the theme of Experiences from the IB Language B curriculum which considers how events that take place can impact our lives.

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The date was the morning of February 14th, Valentines day, a day for romantic gestures. Though the 4 men walking down North Clark street hardly seemed to have got into the spirit of the occasion. Watch the video and answer the questions that follow.

Click here to view transcript

The location was the city of Chicago and the year was 1929. It was at the height of the Prohibition when it had become illegal to import, produce or buy alcoholic beverages in the United States.

The date was the morning of February 14th Valentine’s Day a day for romantic gestures. Though the four men walking down North Clark Street hardly seemed to have gotten to the spirit of the occasion, they were grim-faced with a determined look. Two of them were uniformed police officers with revolvers drawn, the other two were in suits and ties armed with Thompson Sub-Machine Guns.

Maybe these two were plainclothes detectives out fighting organized crime that was so rampant in Chicago at the time. The fact that they all had weapons drawn showed they meant business as they burst into the car garage at Number 2122. The well-known hangout of the Moran’s North Side Gang, the dominant Irish-American criminal organization.

Then, just a few minutes later, there was a sound of rapid gunfire and then all went quiet. About a minute later the policeman emerged with two prisoners with their hands up at gunpoint. So a successful raid capturing two gangsters after a short gunfight. Well, it was not all that. It seems for inside lay seven men each with multiple gunshot wounds six were dead and one would die a few hours later in hospital. It had been a very one-sided gun battle as all seven had not even had a chance to draw their weapons having been caught totally by surprise. They had all been ordered to line up against the wall guns were taken away in arrest and were then sprayed with machine-gun fire in cold blood even as they lay on the floor.

Two of the men were finished off with shotgun blasts. It is thought that the two men armed with the submachine guns fired a total of 17 rounds. Five of the dead were members of Moran’s gang and the other two were associates one an optician and one a mechanic, his dog was the only survivor.

From observation, you wouldn’t notice that the two men being led out of the garage by the uniformed police officers were the same two men who had entered earlier carrying submachine guns. So what was going on? It has been universally accepted that it was a hit by Al Capone’s Organization vying for power in a protracted turf war between the two gangs. The police investigation also concluded that the two uniformed officers were impostors. The sole survivor of the massacre Frank Gutenberg a Moran gang enforcer lay dying in hospital from 14 bullet wounds. When questioned about who did it he replied, ‘no one shot me’, keeping the code of silence.

Not surprisingly, he passed away three hours later from his injuries. The actual target that day had been George Bugs Moran himself. Scarface Al Capone had been behind the death of Hymie Weiss the previous North Side gang leader. In 1926, he was machine-gunned down in a street by Al Capone’s men.

So it seems that history was about to repeat itself. Moran had been due for the meeting at the garage – supposedly finalize the purchase of a stolen shipment of Canadian whiskey. But he had second thoughts when he neared the garage as he saw a police car slowly circling the block. So he decided to go with one of his Henchmen to a nearby coffee shop instead, in order to figure out what to do next. And luckily escaped the fate of the men inside the garage.

Capone’s lookouts had mistaken one of Moran’s men for Moran himself because he was wearing the same type of coat he wore and was similar in height and build. This set things in motion. Moran would later comment on the massacre saying ‘only Capone kills like that’.

Al Capone was apparently at his home in Florida at the time of the violent crime. He would say to reporters mockingly, ‘the only man who kills like that is Bugs Moran’. No one was convicted for the murders and the massacre was not officially linked to Capone. But the photos of the victims shocked the nation and increased his notoriety.

Over the course of the next few years, many criminals and gangsters had been linked with the murders. Even the machine guns used in the massacre were recovered but no one was charged. For Moran, his gang activities never recovered from the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. And with the loss of some of his top men, he faded into obscurity within a few short years as other gangs muscled in on their gambling operations which were their main source of income after the repeal of prohibition.

Moran died from lung cancer in 1957 at the age of 63 a penniless man. Many years later in 1935, the FBI arrested a small-time criminal called Byron Bolton in a shootout. Under interrogation, he tried to turn informant and claimed he knew what happened at the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, but his story was full of inconsistencies compared to the known facts. The FBI, therefore, took no further action and the massacre is still classed as an unsolved crime.

St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (1929)

Listen to the podcast about the reasons why violent crime is down in America’s big cities.

Click here to view transcript

Violent crime is down in America’s big cities. It may not seem so if you watch any “CSI,” “NCIS,” “Laws & Orders” (ph) or “Chicago P.D.” crime dramas. But homicide, assaults and rapes are down a lot in big cities since the 1970s. Even Chicago, which has seen so many murders in the past few years, had a 16 per cent decline last year to 650 homicides. The city had 970 killings in 1974. What’s been the reason for such progress? What should we learn? And have there been unforeseen consequences?

Patrick Sharkey, chair of the sociology department at NYU and scientific director of Crime Lab New York has looked into the statistics and programs of the last 40 years. His new book – “Uneasy Peace: The Great Crime Decline, The Renewal of City Life and The Next War on Violence.” He joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

PATRICK SHARKEY: Sure. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: So as you might want to list them, what are some of the reasons big city violent crime has gone down?

SHARKEY: Well, when I look at what happened in the 1990s, which is when crime started falling, what I see is that the entire country really kind of, for the first time in a while, saw violence as a national crisis and mobilized to deal with it. And so that took many forms. It took the form of more police on the street, more aggressive policing, more aggressive prosecution, shutting down open-air drug markets. But another piece of this that I kind of draw attention to in the book is there was also a mobilization in the communities hit hardest. Residents organized and really started to fight against violence started to fight to take back public parks, playgrounds, public streets. And I think all of these things together explain why violence started to fall.

SIMON: More police on the streets and tougher sentences had an effect, though.

SHARKEY: It did have an effect. If we’re having an honest conversation, then those factors are part of the conversation. They also brought great costs as well. So we have millions of Americans who are under the surveillance of the criminal justice system. We’ve all seen instances of aggressive or violent policing. So these are part of the reason why crime fell, but they’ve also brought some of the worst costs of the crime decline as well.

SIMON: A tricky question – is that force we call gentrification an effector or cause of the dip in crime?

SHARKEY: Well, probably both. But we’ve looked at how the crime drop has affected changes in the population of low-income neighbourhoods. And what we’ve found is that as violence declines, new populations enter into very poor neighbourhoods. It’s a drop in the degree to which the poor are kind of isolated, separated from the rest of the city. Now, nationally, we found no evidence that this leads to the displacement of the poor. What it means is that residents with more education, higher income are moving into neighbourhoods where poverty was concentrated.

SIMON: But does this mean that in, let’s say, inner-city neighbourhoods in Cleveland, Detroit, Baltimore – become safer? Poor families are pushed out by increased rents before they have a chance to finally live in a safer neighbourhood.

SHARKEY: Well, they’re not pushed out to a large extent. That’s one of the findings that we have. Now, in some cities – in New York and San Francisco – there are very visible examples where this happens, so I certainly don’t want to dismiss it. But over the…

SIMON: What about Washington, D.C.? Would you add it to that list?

SHARKEY: D.C., yes. Of course, yeah. So there – in those cities, it’s crucial that we have policies in place that preserve affordable housing, make sure people are not displaced – not just physically but also culturally, politically. You know, 25 years ago the biggest problem in cities, beyond the problem of violence, was the issue of concentrated poverty, a lack of demand, people leaving central cities. Now we have this problem of too much demand and the problems that come with that. I don’t want to dismiss them, but it’s a much better problem to have than we had 20 years ago.

SIMON: In times when I believe, all the polls say a lot of Americans are in despair, what have the gains been by having a lower homicide rate in so many big cities? Obviously, more people are alive but beyond that.

SHARKEY: Yeah. Beyond the lives that have been preserved, we have found gains in things like economic mobility. So in places that have become safer, we found a causal effect on the chance that children from low-income families will move upward out of poverty as they reach adulthood. We found impacts on academic performance. So in the places that have become safest, academic achievement has improved the most. And actually, racial achievement gaps have narrowed the most in the places that have become safest.

And beyond all that, I think the most profound change is just in the experience of urban poverty. So across the country for several decades, living in poverty used to mean living with the constant threat of violence. That hasn’t gone away. There are certain cities that are still intensively violent, but it’s no longer true in most of the country.

SIMON: Patrick Sharkey of NYU and Crime Lab New York – his book, “Uneasy Peace.”

Thanks so much for being with us.

SHARKEY: Thanks for having me.

This podcast ‘Crime is down in American cities’ is available online here.

Read the text about if we can prevent crimes from happening.

Read the text about a gang who were arrested for trying to sell a painting.

Here are the words and phrases covered in these activities about crimes:

  • assaults
  • commit crimes
  • convict
  • crimes
  • criminals
  • criminal organization
  • criminal justice system
  • gangsters
  • gentrification
  • keeping the code of silence
  • killed in cold blood
  • homicide
  • illegal
  • legal system
  • massacre
  • notoriety
  • obscurity
  • plainclothes detectives
  • prisoners
  • repeal of prohibition
  • stolen shipment
  • tougher sentences
  • uniformed police officers
  • unmarked banknotes
  • violent crime
  1. Discuss the following questions with your friend. Why do people commit crimes? What are the best ways to reduce crime?
  2. Watch the scene of the St. Valentines Day Massacre and discuss how the filmmaker was trying to communicate the events through imagery and sound (Please note there are some scenes that may cause distress).
  3. Write an article for an international magazine about if we can do anything to prevent a crime from happening.
  4. Write an opinion piece for the school newspaper on crime, guns or violence.
  5. Debate one of the following statements: ‘Guns don’t kill, people do.’ ‘The procession of a firearm is a person’s right.’ ‘All guns should be illegal in the United States.’
  6. Create a club at your school where you raise awareness about violence or crime in the local or global community.
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This topic provides students with an opportunity to discover their interests, values, belief and culture.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to consider how events which take place impact an individual's life.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the sciences, technology and creativity.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to explore the way in which groups of people organise themselves through common systems or interests.

This topic provides students with an opportunity to look at the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals and communities in the modern world.

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