Organized crime is a common phenomenon across the world and more visible in developed countries such as the Americas and Western Europe, among others. In the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom, organized crime has been associated with groups such as the “mafias,” in some cases, these organizations are deemed as coming from Russia, among other countries. The trademark in organized crime is usually the use of violence to enforce their agenda. Since the term ‘organized crime’ was coined, research on the subject has often linked organized crime with violence. This paper aims to critically examine why violence, or the threat of violence, is such a key factor in organized crime.
Violence in Organized Crime
Organized crime needs strategies to enforce their agenda, and violence is one of its most effective tools. This discussion makes and supports a bold argument that violence is an important mechanism indispensable by criminals. Without violence, it will be hard for organized crime members to conduct their activities. Scholars in the research on organized crime have described violence as a strategy and as a resource for preserving reputation, increasing competitiveness, and maintaining their markets (Brancacio et al., 2016; Alesina et al., 2019). The success of organized crime groups depends on how well they are respected and feared in the underground markets. A good example is the drug cartels in the United States and their history and reputation of violence. These cartels have dominated the media with news of their violent strikes, wars, and retaliation when their leaders are killed or arrested by the American authorities (Resendiz, 2020a; Virgin, 2020; Resendiz, 2020b). Therefore, violence is part of the modus operandi of organized crime.
It can also be argued that organized crime thrives where there is instability. A social theorist, Walter Benjamin, wrote that great criminals have aroused secret admiration from the general public not because of their actions but because of the violence in which they accomplish their deeds (as cited in Schultze-Kraft, 2016). These perceptions, however, are created by the graphic media representation of organized crime and drug cartels. For example, the news article by Resendiz (2020a) reports that a former border patrol chief believes that the Jalisco cartel will retaliate after the extradition of one of its leaders. The opinion expressed is that such behaviors are the standard in drug cartels and organized crime. According to Schultze-Kraft (2016), such graphic media depictions are incorrect because organized crime is not necessarily and equally violent. Even though this paper supports that violence is an indispensable tool and resource for organized crime, it is important to understand that criminals will avoid violence when they can and prefer to undertake their activities in secret.
Drugs and drug cartels are the major forms of organized crime associated with violence. Even without the media bias, the history of some of the infamous cartels is synonymous with the presence of violence, especially shootings and murder. An article by The World Bank labeled urban violence as a challenge of epic proportions and described the violent history of cities such as Medellin (Urban violence: A challenge of epidemic proportions, 2016). This is a city that has been controlled by some of the largest drug cartels in Colombia, and, as a result, deaths and homicides have recently dropped to 20 in every 100,000 inhabitants (Urban violence: A challenge of epidemic proportions, 2016). The significance of this statistic is that Medellin in the early 1990s recorded a death toll of 381 people per 100,000 people (Urban violence: A challenge of epidemic proportions, 2016). This shows that without proper policing and mitigation, drug cartels could be a leading cause of death in any given urban area. The homicides are a painful experience and the epitome of organized crime.
Violence is a key factor in organized crime because of the people involved and the amount of destruction caused. In many violent actions, the organized crime groups compete with others or defend themselves against law enforcers. Hidden power is often regarded as the strategic logic of organized crime whose actions include arms trafficking, domestic assassinations, extortions, controlling investments in selected industries, drug trafficking, and money laundering, among others (Cockayne, 2016). Some of these activities are naturally violent, for example, extortion and assassinations. Law enforcers, including the drug enforcement agency (DEA), have become victims of drug violence (Heath, 2020; McDonnell, 2017; Mihalek & Frankel, 2020). Officers, therefore, are faced with a situation where dealing with an organized crime can be fatal. It can be argued that these assassinations are intended either to intimate the law enforcement or to eliminate those who have been frustrating their illegal dealings. Whichever the case, violence remains a key defining feature of organized crime.
The examples from Latin America and the United States help explain what any country, including the UK, could be facing. While much of the media attention on drug cartels is on incidences in the Americas, it is important to examine what is happening in the UK and other European countries. The Sun reports that some of the Mexican cartels could be taking violence to the UK from Ireland after one of the mobsters labeled as ‘volatile’ flee from Ireland (Harvey, 2020). Another news article in The Sunday Times reveals that a ‘brutal’ Mexican cartel has formed an agreement to flood the UK with its drugs (Simpson, 2017). The word ‘brutal’ in this article is used to denote that the mode of operation of the said cartel is brutality or violence. Besides the threat from the Americas, European drug rings such as the so-called Albanian mafia already have a presence in the country (Townsend, 2019). This cartel has been labeled the kings of cocaine because they have managed to seize control of the trade.
With the many drug cartels entering the UK, it can only be surmised that their competition will be aggressive and violent. The situation can again be illustrated using the drug wars of the United States, specifically the Miami drug wars, whose history is presented in Recovery First (Florida’s history of crime and drug culture, 2020). The UK has its history of drug wars, as described by Rafaeli (2019), who states that destruction, violence, and corruption have been a trademark in the drug wars in the UK’s streets. The brutality, however, has not always been the result of competition. A case study of Birmingham labels violence as a behavioral code used by the gangs (Rahman, 2016). The savagery and aggression were often retaliatory, especially considering that there existed rules that regulated the use of ferocity. Those members who are inclined to cruelty were engaged in violent encounters only in approved ways. Regardless of how brutality was practiced, its presence in almost all forms of organized crime makes a critical factor.
It is important to understand that organized crime’s greatest hindrance is the government, which explains why cartels always fight the state. In these wars, deaths in both camps become a normal occurrence. The logic of violence in state-cartel wars is explained by Lessing (2018), who states that purely defensive violence is intended to physically reduce the losses from government repression. Even in forms of organized crimes that are not violent by default, for example, money laundering, the efforts of the government to frustrate the underground economy may result in armed conflict between money laundering rings and the enforcement officers. In the UK, money laundering has been labeled as ‘victimless crime,’ denoting the fact that there is no violence involved (Osborne, 2019). The seriousness of this crime in the country, however, emanated from the fact that the UK has become a major money-laundering hub which threatens the entire economy (Neate, 2019). The money laundering in the UK is often used to finance other forms of organized crime, including those that involve violence such as child trafficking, drug peddling, and extortion.
The government involvement, however, is rationalized by the fact that violence is labeled a public health problem. Public health policymakers are, therefore, concerned with the amount and level of violence emanating from organized crime in their efforts to formulate and implement the necessary programs. In the 21st century, scholars such as Mitton (2019) express that several public health models have increasingly taken center stage in global violence. With organized crime being the major source of violence, it can be argued that these models present interventions for curbing the expansion of organized crime in terms of what has been defined as alternatives to criminal-justice-centered approaches. Initiatives such as Cure Violence are among the most prominent in the United States. The major point is that violence or the threat of violence is an important factor in organized crime because it shapes government policy.
Besides the public health policy, violence and the threat of violence in organized crime also shapes the political climate and policies of a country. The concept of cartel-state conflict can help explain the politics of organized crime violence. The government often implements repressive policies against organized crime (Lessing, 2018). As a retaliation, the criminals develop anti-state policies characterized by violence and confrontation. Duran-Martinez (2018) presents a novel theory stating that violence is the result of complex interactions between two major actors in the criminals and the states. When police and politicians get involved, the violence in organized crime becomes a matter of national and international politics.
The political relations between the United States and Latin America, especially Mexico and Colombia, present a perfect example of international politics defined by violent organized crime. The Trump administration made the border wall a political theme during his campaigns and regime. Politics and reality are often different considering that violent drug criminals were seen as crossing the border and posing critical threats to the US despite facts showing that more Mexican immigrants coincided with a sharp drop in violent crime in the country (Gonchar, 2019). The politics surrounding the wall and immigration have been based on violent crime. While it is true that organized crime is a major source of violence in any country, the media and politicians tend to shape how the entire nations feel about certain groups and communities. The politicians in government then use these public opinions to develop the relevant policies.
The discussion offered here uses multiple examples not only from the UK but also globally from major regions such as the Americas. Even though some arguments have been presented that organized crime is not necessarily brutal or equal to violence, there is evidence to suggest that most forms of organized crime are indeed ferocious. The UK and US drug cartels have been known to be cruel and to cause an alarming number of homicides. Non-violent delinquencies, for example, money laundering, have a relationship with a violent misconduct whose organizations require the service of launders to operate. Violence in organized crime, therefore, becomes an important factor because it is the major result of organized crime. The drug wars in the UK, with examples from Birmingham’ violent gangs, are a perfect case study on the relationship between cartels and savagery (Rahman, 2016). The devastating effects of violence have become both political and public health matters.
The question of what makes violence, or the threat of violence, such an important factor in organized crime can be answered by examining the effects of violence on society. The discussion presented shows that violence is a common theme in organized crime, especially in drug, human, and sex trafficking. Additionally, violence in organized crime has become a matter of public health and, therefore, influences the policymaking in public health. Lastly, violence in organized crime has been known to affect national and international politics, as evidenced by the Mexican border wall and the shift in the immigration politics in the United States. These factors have combined, therefore, to make the violence or the threat of violence a critical element in organized crime.
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