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posted: 4/21/2014 5:01 AM

Mafia unworthy of academics' obsession

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"Et tu, "Brute?" We refer to Burt Constable's recent profile of Wayne A. Johnson's college course on "the mob." We know: Mr. Constable is just doing his job. But, it's funny how professors who don't share the media's -- and now, alas, academia's -- obsession with Italian-surnamed criminals never get equal time or coverage. Professor Robert Lombardo of Loyola University in Chicago, himself a former cop who also had run-ins with Outfit thugs, has written "Beyond the Mafia: The History of Organized Crime in Chicago."

Unlike Mr. Johnson's course, which appears to parrot the media party line with respect to mythologizing the Outfit (which is exactly what he's doing by writing the umpteenth book about it), Professor Lombardo digs deeper. He looks at the sociological roots of crime, and notes, as scholars like Professor Mark Haller and Professor Dwight Smith have also done, that the media's obsession with Italian thugs obfuscates the truth about the subject matter. Telling students that Tony Accardo lived nearby, or inspiring another student to sketch Sam Giancana's toe tag in a morgue, cheapens, rather than elevates, the topic.

And lest we be accused of being overly sensitive, we challenge Mr. Johnson to also write a book cataloging the murders of black, Hispanic, Asian, Arabic or Russian-Jewish criminals. If so, he would be tendering his resignation, not accepting kudos. Treating criminals of one particular ethnic group as "special," worthy of intellectual respectability, isn't scholarship. It is prejudice, masquerading as scholarship.

Bill Dal Cerro

Midwest Office

Italic Institute of America

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