In 2006 Philadelphia became the top spot for murder among America’s ten largest cities. Victims numbered 406. The majority were inner city residents. Among the dead were drug turf rivals, innocents caught in the crossfire, and witnesses who made the mistake of talking. Witness intimidation of the fatal variety is big in Philly. It’s why many murders go unsolved, or can’t be prosecuted. Some think “snitch and die” is a new trend. But for those familiar with Philadelphia’s criminal history in the 1960’s and 70’s, it’s deja vu all over again.

That history is laid out by Sean Patrick Griffin in Black Brothers, Inc. Subtitled The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia. (Milo Books, 2005.) Griffin is a former Philadelphia police officer turned university professor. His book reflects both his experience as a cop and criminal justice academic. Brothers is a crisply written true crime story enhanced by Griffin’s eye for detail and time lines. It’s also a deeply researched examination of how a well organized group of brutal career criminals rose to power, while staying below the radar of law enforcement and exploiting the social and political milieu of Philadelphia in the 1970’s. Brothers also covers recent federal investigations of municipal corruption in Philly and their connection, via several figures, to the bygone Black Mafia. Black Brothers, Inc is due to be re-issued soon. Updated material re the investigations will be included.

Black Brothers Inc. (BBI) was originally the name of a bogus community action group, established in 1973 with the stated purpose of “suppressing gang activity and youth crime in South Philadelphia’s African American neighborhoods”.* In reality, BBI was a criminal central committee and a modus operandi for assorted community development scams. Over the portal of BBI’s storefront headquarters hung a sign reading “Through These Doors Walk the Finest People”. BBI founders who walked through those doors were members of the Black Mafia. A group formed in the late 1960’s, with strong ties to Temple 12, Philadelphia’s branch of the Nation of Islam (NOI). The NOI was then under the national leadership of Chicago based Elijah Muhammad.

Like the Nation of Islam, the Black Mafia was highly structured. At the time, law enforcement agencies believed organized crime was strictly Italiano. Crimes committed by Black Mafia members were seen as random events rather than parts of a pattern. The organization behind the crimes went unrecognized for years.

The initial focus of the Black Mafia was robbery, white collar fraud, and extortion. They shook down legitimate businesses, churches, numbers operations and drug dealers. By taking a cut from dealers and not getting involved with the actual drugtrafficking, the Black Mafia avoided some of the risks of the business. Later they became more hands on. Doing so contributed to their demise. Before that day came, Black Mafia enforcers subjected Philly’s inner city neighborhoods to a reign of terror. Not that they stayed within city limits. They also crossed the Delaware River to spend bloody time in South Jersey. Visiting Atlantic City, Camden (Philly’s sister city in crime) and suburban Cherry Hill. At times they travelled further. In January 1973, seven Black Mafia enforcers went to Washington D.C. to visit Hamaas Abdul Khaalis, a former member of the Nation of Islam.

In the 1950’s Khaalis had belonged to the Harlem mosque in New York City, but broke with the NOI after angering Elijah Muhammad with criticisms of the Black Muslim version of Islam. Khaalis went on to form his own group, which followed a more orthodox strain of Sunni Islam. By the 70’s the group was headquartered in a residential Washington neighborhood. Hamaas Abdul Khaalis and his extended family lived in the building.

Over the years, Khaalis continued to spar theologically with Elijah Muhammed. On January 5th 1973, Khaalis sent a proclamation to a number of mosques (including Philadelphia’s Temple 12) in which he excoriated Elijah Mohammad and the Black Muslims. Calling them “false prophets” and denouncing Elijah Mohammad as “a lying deceiver”. On January 17th the Black Mafia crew invaded Khaalis’ home. Khaalis was out. Over a period of hours seven members of his family were slaughtered, including four infants between the ages of 9 days and 22 months. The babies were drowned in a bathtub and sink. When one enforcer had qualms and asked another why the babies had to die, the answer was “because the seed of the hypocrite is in them”.

Though the murderers were eventually caught and some degree of justice delivered, it was never established that either Elijah Muhammad or Jeremiah X. Shabazz, the head of Temple 12, had ordered the killings.

Black Mafia violence was most typically driven by greed and self interest. Drug debtors and rivals went down, as did those who resisted extortion or turned witness. Family members weren’t spared. Unlike other organized crime groups, the Black Mafia didn’t give wives and children a pass. Meanwhile, folks with tight Black Mafia and Temple 12 ties moved in high circles. Wielding political clout at city and state levels. Talking community development and safe streets. Collecting and dispensing government funds, jobs, and contracts. Denouncing those who raised questions of criminality as racist or anti Islam. Many sincere progressives echoed the accusations– as did pandering and/or complicitous pols. Meanwhile, on Philadelphia’s inner city street, the government goodies and hoi poloi support confirmed suspicions that the Black Mafia was connected to the max.

Still, by the mid 80’s the Black Mafia as an organization was over. A number of factors contributed. Direct involvement in drug dealing made them too visible. There were too many murders in the public’s face. An investigative reporter detailed the organization in print and supplied a phone number for tips. People who wouldn’t talk to the police burned up the line. Elijah Mohammad died and his successor cracked down on the superbad image of Temple 12. Law enforcement agencies realized that organized crime comes in all colors and collaborated on a take down. Prison doors were slamming…

That was then. How about now?

Over the last few years a federal investigation of pay-to-play corruption in Philadelphia’s city government has swept away a number of people close to current Mayor John Street. Including Imam Shamsud din-Ali, an influential figure in the city’s black community and a good friend of Mayor Street. The corruption probe grew out of a drug ring investigation, during which FBI tapes caught dealers discussing corruption in city hall and talking with– and about– Shamsud din-Ali. On one tape, din-Ali was allegedly heard extorting a dealer. On another a dealer complained that “Cutty” (a din-Ali nickname) was “walking with kings and we’re out there hustling”. In 2005, Shamsud din-Ali was convicted on 22 racketeering and fraud charges related to public contracts. He was never charged with any drug related crime.

Back in the day, Shamsud din-Ali headed the Fruit of Islam (the Nation of Islam’s security force) at Temple 12. In 1972 he was convicted of first degree murder. The killing was a Black Mafia affair and took place during a home invasion. The victim was an elderly black minister. The motive was either robbery or extortion. Shamsud din-Ali’s conviction was overturned several years later on the grounds that the police pushed the one witness (the minister’s daughter) into an identification. The case wasn’t retried. The witness no longer wished to testify.

After being released from prison din-Ali started an offshoot of the Nation of Islam. Imam Shamsud din-Ali moved in high circles. Wielding political clout at city and state levels. Talking community development and safe streets. Collecting and dispensing government funds, jobs, and contracts. Serving as Mayor Street’s appointment on the Philadelphia Prison System board. As for the municipal corruption probe, din-Ali declared it a racist conspiracy by a government secretly ruled by Satan. Many sincere progressives, plus pandering and/or complicitous pols echoed the accusations. (Though most left out the part about Satan.) After the investigation resulted in a slew of convictions (including of the city treasurer and several bankers) and a jury found Imam Shamsud din-Ali guilty of extorting kickbacks for municipal deals, looting a local Muslim school, and serving as a front for white businesses to obtain minority business advantages, the chorus quieted.

Mayor John Street hasn’t been charged with any crime and will be term limited out of office come Autumn. Several of the pols who denounced the corruption investigation as a racist conspiracy are among those seeking his seat. They promise to crack down on crime and deliver safe streets. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia’s inner city neighborhoods, life– and death– go on as usual.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

“Police were able to identify the child when they found an unsent Valentine’s Day Card to his mother in his backpack.”

“Schoolyard slaying trial highlights Philadelphia’s witness problem,” Maryclaire Dale, Associated Press, 03/16/06

“So I’ll go out before work now, and clean up the empty little glass bottles, and the discarded pipes. I’ll take an all the way out of my way route to get to my bus to avoid this cocky, lousy, dangerous creep who continues to sell drugs right in front of his sisters home. He’s endangering my family…”

“Ace”, Drugs Drugs Drugs, www.phillyblog.com, 07/25/05

Sources include but are not limited to:

Black Brothers Inc., The Violent Rise and Fall of Philadelphia’s Black Mafia, Sean Patrick Griffin, Milo Press, 2005, Distributed in the U.S. by Consortium Book Sales & Distribution www.cbsd.com

“On streets of Philadelphia, crime is back,” Jon Hurdle, Reuters, 01/31/07

“Philly mayoral race dwells on crime; Has incumbent done enough?”Patrick Walters, Associated Press, 01/28/07

“Snitch and Die,” Capital Commentary, The Center for Public Justice, 04/03/06

“Pennsylvania Company Owner Jailed Seven Years and Ordered to Pay Over $625,000 for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) Fraud and Other Schemes,” Office of Inspector General, Department of Transportation, 09/15/05

“Shamsud Din-Ali, Farad Ali, and Five Others Charged in Connection with Racketeering Enterprise,” U.S. Department of Justice, 09/29/04

“Dueling images of Philadelphia’s Imam Ali,” Nancy Phillips, George Anastasia, Maria Panaritis, Philadelphia Inquirer, 09/27/04

*All quoted material, unless otherwise noted, is from Black Brothers Inc. by Sean Patrick Griffin.

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