Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

Speaking to a small but very enthusiastic turnout at West Chester University, John King spoke on the history of the Black Mafia in Philadelphia, specifically his family’s history. This past Wednesday night, King, a professor at Temple University, visited WCU at the behest of The Contemporary Issues division of Student Services Inc.

He began his discussion by reading two passages depicting crimes, the first set in North Philadelphia and the second revolving around heroin trafficking. These, he later revealed, were case summaries of criminal activity involving Jesse James and Al Capone, respectively.

“Organized crime is indifferent to every community,” King said. “No community is immune.Crime is not something invented by criminals. Criminals are born out of a society that raises them.”

He related to the crowd that the Black Mafia never referred to themselves as a “Mafia,” but rather saw themselves as necessary organizations formed to protect the struggling communities of first-generation North Philadelphia residents.

“These organizations were created to keep outsiders from eating them alive,” said King.

In 1970’s, a group calling themselves The Brotherhood, all members of the Nation of Islam and mostly first-generation Northerners, came to power in Philadelphia.

“They came from the neighborhoods of Philly, came of age in a world of doo-wop, street gangs and protection of neighborhoods,” King said. “Because of that ethos, there was a toughness among the guys. They formed gangs, alliances.”

The Brotherhood engaged in illegal activities with the idea that if they could control the vices, then they could get rid of them. They used a street tax or extortion to muscle-out the non-black businesses in their mainly black neighborhoods, as well as to tax all “after-hours” houses, white and black.

Heroin distribution was present but, as King pointed out, was supplied mainly by the other crime groups in the area. The Brotherhood refused, however, to expand into vices outside the area of drugs and extortion; prostitution was never their method of choice.

King’s father was a high ranking soldier in The Brotherhood, which is how King came to be so familiar with the entire history.

A rival group’s leader, Abdul Khaalis, came back from a shopping trip with his first wife to his Washington DC home one day to find much of his family slaughtered. His second wife and five of his children, along with several other associates, had been brutally murdered in his house. This would become the largest mass-murder in the capitol’s history.

The FBI soon linked this to the Philadelphia Brotherhood, and indited seven men, eventually convicting four. One of the convicted was King’s father. Now, 34 years later, King’s father still claims his innocence, but remains in jail. King recalled how his family’s phones were wire-tapped, andhow his house was constantly under surveillance. Eventually his mother was made a witness for the prosecution, and King’s family became the first black family to be put into the Witness Protection Program in February of 1976.

Khaalis, angry at the massacre of his relatives, took matters into his own hands in March 1977, taking hostage some 134 people from the City Hall and Islamic Center in Washington D.C. He threatened that if the accused were not handed over to him, he would cut off the heads of his hostages and throw them out of the window.

“[The idea of] turning my father over for punishment was a very alarming thing for me,” King said. “I was grappling with the identity that I was, that I was born with, and my new one.”

Eventually, on March 10, the hostages were released, and later Khaalis was brought to trial. King related how the jurors wept for Khaalis, and how his family’s murder had been ignored by the community denied support. After King’s father was acquitted of the murder charges, the family was taken out of the protection program.

“We carry that legacy,” King stated, “We carry all the anxiety and frustration and pain. And also, as a human being, the loss of precious life in D.C.”

When asked why so many deny or are ignorant to the existence of the Black Mafia, King suggested that it is a matter of fear from the community, but also a matter of stereotyping the black man as a criminal.

“Archetypes of, to use the old word, ‘Negroes’ in the media and the culture leave a marked stereotype. When we think of the Black criminal, we think of a chicken thief or a chain snatcher. These people weren’t that. They wore business suits [and] read books.”

King and members of the audience also discussed concerns about the aftermath of the movie American Gangster, as well as the change in the image and expectations of the Black man and his work ethic.

“The pop counter-culture made null and killed the responsibility and work ethic of the Black man,” King stated.

Lisa DellaPorta is a second year student majoring in English Education. She can be reached at LD631585@wcupa.edu

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