Crime and Violence in the Great Depression and World War II From 1919 to 1933, Prohibition had the unintended effect of increasing organized crime in America, as manufacturing, importing, and selling illegal alcohol provided a financial windfall for gangs of criminals in the cities. The money was used to expand the influence of organized crime into gambling, prostitution, narcotics, and some legitimate businesses. Murder increased during Prohibition; the national rate rose from 6.5 homicides per 100,000 people in 1918 to above 8 for most of the 1920s. The murder rate spiked to 9.7 in 1933, the last year of Prohibition, and then began a long decline until the 1970s. In cities, robbery and theft were also commonplace, and prostitution was conducted more openly than before. To compound matters, corruption in law enforcement was a problem. To counter this surge in crime, the professionalization of police forces begun earlier in the 20th century continued in the 1930s. The most famous law enforcement organization to be officially established during this time was the Federal Bureau of Investigation under the leadership of J. Edgar Hoover. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, commonly called the FBI, did not get that official designation until July 1, 1935. However, it traces its origins back to July 26, 1909, when the attorney general at that time ordered the formation of a group of special agents to report to Chief Examiner Stanley W. Finch, in the Justice Department. In March 1909, this force was named the Bureau of Investigation (BOI). The passage of the Mann Act in 1910 (also called the White Slavery Act), gave the BOI significantly more jurisdiction over interstate crime. Even so, the agency had very few powers. When Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office in March 1933, the mood in the country was bleak. In his inaugural speech, he tried to reassure a worried populace with his now famous line: "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Roosevelt paused, then said, "This nation asks for action, and action now." He went on, "We must move as a trained and loyal army, willing to sacrifice for the good of a common discipline … I shall ask Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis-broad executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given me if, in fact, invaded by a foreign foe." One part of the country's emergency was domestic crime, and Roosevelt would fight this internal war through the man who would become his FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover. Known for wielding power over both powerful politicians and ordinary Americans, Hoover began his career young and rapidly acquired power. He both hunted violent criminals who were
wreaking havoc in the streets, and persecuted others by backing Senator Joseph McCarthy's anti-Communist campaign and by keeping tabs on civil rights leaders. His legacy is problematic, but at the time of his rise the country was in need of a check on rampant mafia violence, Ku Klux Klan activities, bank robberies, illegal gambling, and even spying. He achieved
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- Fall '19