February 12, 2007: 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" moves into Philly's present with coverage of recent
federal investigations of municipal corruption and its
connection, via several figures, to the bygone Black Mafia.
Related probes of development deals involving Philadelphia
International Airport and the city's Delaware River waterfront
(an area stretching from Penn's Landing south of the city to the
Philadelphia Naval Yard) are discussed in an appendix. "Black
Brothers, Inc" is due to be re-issued soon. Updates will be included.
Back To The Future
In 1973, Black Brothers Inc. (BBI) was the name of a community
action group, established with the stated purpose of "suppressing
gang activity and youth crime in South Philadelphia's African
American neighborhoods".* In truth, 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
Like the Nation of Islam, the Black Mafia was highly structured.
At the time, Philadelphia law enforcement believed regional
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
The initial focus of the Black Mafia was robbery, white collar
fraud, and extortion. They shook down legitimate businesses and
churches, as well as numbers operations and drug dealers. By
taking a cut from dealers and not getting involved with the
actual drug trafficking, the Black Mafia avoided some of the
risks of the business. Eventually 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 spent bloody time in South Jersey across the Delaware River.
Visiting Atlantic City, Camden (Philly's sister city in crime)
and its upscale satellite, Cherry Hill. At times the Black Mafia
travelled further. In January 1973, seven 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 NOI's Harlem mosque in
New York City. Khaalis 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
traditional 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.
Khaalis' transition from the NOI to a form of Sunni Islam was not
singular. Malcolm X and Wallace D. Muhammad (Elijah Muhammad's
son and successor) took similar paths. Like them, Khaalis sparred
publicly with Elijah Muhammad over theology. 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 of the Khaalis family were caught, none
received the death penalty. Several got considerably less than
life sentences, and one beat the rap by cooperating with the
prosecution. It was never established that either Elijah Muhammad
or Jeremiah X. Shabazz, the head of Temple 12, ordered the
While religion lay behind the murder of the Khaalis family, Black
Mafia violence was most typically driven by greed and self
interest. Drug debtors and rivals went down, as did those who
resisted extortion. Witnesses were targeted relentlessly. 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 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, over a period of years, 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 Wallace Mohammad, who as an
apostate had feared the NOI's "punch-your-teeth-out" squads***,
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 was a captain in 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 became head of what
was once Temple 12. (Under Wallace Muhammad,
the NOI was renamed the World Community of al-Islam in the West,
and "temples" became "masjids"-- the Arabic word for mosques.)
As imam of the Philadelphia Masjid, 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. Eventually
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 the city treasurer and several
investment 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
"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:
"On streets of Philadelphia, crime is back," Jon Hurdle, Reuters,
"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
"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
"Shamsud Din-Ali, Farad Ali, and Five Others Charged in Connection
with Racketeering Enterprise," U.S. Department of Justice,
"Dueling images of Philadelphia's Imam Ali," Nancy Phillips, George
Anastasia, Maria Panaritis, Philadelphia Inquirer, 09/27/04
"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
"Islam in Black America," Edward E. Curtis IV, State University of
New York Press, 2002
*All quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from "Black Brothers
Inc." by Sean Patrick Griffin.
**Hammas Abdul Khaalis believed that if his family were white,
the legal outcome would have been different. By 1977, Khaalis had
snapped: he and a group of followers invaded the offices of the
B'nai B'rith and the Islamic Center in Washington, took hostages
and made a series of demands, including that the killers of
Khaalis' family be delivered into their hands. One hostage was
killed, forty others were injured. Khaalis and his followers
eventually surrendered. Khaalis was sentenced to 41 to 123 years
in prison for murder and kidnapping.
***"Islam in Black America," Chapter 6, "Wallace D. Muhammad, Sunni
Islamic Reform, and the Continuing Problem of Particularism,"
Edward E. Curtis IV, State University of New York Press, 2002
Note: This article was revised and expanded on February 18.2007. The original version appears on Blogger News Network.
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