Growing up in Chicago during the 1940’s and 1950’s on the city’s blue-collar Southside, there was a saloon on every street corner and mid-block as well. Among its beer-and-a-shot clientele of factory workers, truck drivers, police and firemen, would sit the only man in the joint wearing a business suit.
Always on the same stool at the end of the bar and always in attendance, day or night, he was the neighborhood’s liaison with Mayor Daley’s well-structured, downtown patronage machine, the “go to” guy for a wide range of favors that might include getting the heaved and buckled city sidewalk in front of your house fixed—”My mother-in-law keeps tripping on the damn thing,” to appeals for employment—”My kid just got out of the army and is talking about wanting to be a fireman;” in all cases “Sheik” (the only name he went by) would see what he could do.
Sheik was also the man to see if you needed a new wristwatch at an affordable price—he kept them in the trunk of his car, some still in their original boxes. It went unspoken that at the very least, come election time, you would help get out the vote…you know, one hand washes the other. Sheik had juice.
In this particular rough and tumble neighborhood, and it wasn’t the only such one in the city, policing was done up close and personal. Detectives commonly carried brass knuckles and didn’t hesitate to employ them when the need arose. Same for the cop on the beat who was respected by the citizenry and who was viewed as the enforcer of law and order. “Street Crime,” somewhat uncommon during this period, was so, shall we say—discouraged by law enforcement of the time that at least repeat offenders were relatively rare.
And the courts weren’t clogged ! And a thief wouldn’t dream of suggesting his rights had been violated. And you didn’t live behind locked doors.
Chicago was, of course, as politically corrupt as you could imagine, with all manner of graft. Should you be uncertain of what graft means, the dictionary defines it as “the acquisition of money, gain or advantage by dishonest, unfair, or illegal means, especially through the abuse of one’s position or influence in politics, business, etc.”
Graft. At any rate, Chicago had plenty of it. Probably still does. But lest you think my musings are nothing but a trip down Memory Lane, I would be remiss not to point out how some things have changed for the better.
In Chicago and beyond, all over the U.S., prosecutions for white collar crime—graft, for example—send people to prison all the time. With increasing frequency, clerks, politicians, bankers, mayors, governors, behind-the-scenes abettors, money launderers, attorneys, are all being given some quiet time (years) to contemplate things and have a long talk with themselves.
Many people are incapable of self-reflection, but at least it’s an opportunity to do so! Many more white collar criminals will be joining the ranks of their trail blazing brethren as the world becomes less and less opaque, that is—”not transparent; impenetrable to light; hard to understand; not clear; obscure,” Opaque.
White collar crime is not the most difficult of crimes to solve, because it always leaves a traceable trail. We only tolerate it because it’s so common. But my contention is that change is already here—globally due to the Internet—and a populace that demands social and economic justice, accountability and transparency from those who govern them, and the complete refusal to accept the social disintegration that is a result of disengaged and cowardly judiciaries, shall in the end prevail and have lives worth living.
But then, this is just the opinion of an old man from Chicago. Bless.