Protection racket

A protection racket is a scheme whereby a group provides protection to businesses or other groups through violence outside the sanction of the law. Through the credible threat of violence, the racketeers deter people from swindling, robbing, injuring, sabotaging or otherwise harming their clients. Protection rackets tend to appear in markets where the police and judiciary cannot be counted on to provide legal protection, either because of incompetence (as in weak or failed states) or illegality (black markets).

Protection rackets are often indistinguishable in practice from extortion rackets since, for the latter, there will be an implied threat that the racketeers themselves may attack the business if it fails to pay for their protection. In an extortion racket, the racketeers agree simply to not attack a business. In a protection racket the criminals agree to defend a business from any attack. Conversely, extortion racketeers will have to defend their clients if threatened by a rival gang to avoid the client transferring their allegiance.

Certain scholars, such as Diego Gambetta, classify criminal organizations engaged in protection racketeering as mafia.


A protection racket is an operation where criminals provide protection to persons and properties, settle disputes and enforce contracts in markets where the police and judicial system cannot be relied upon.

Protection racketeers operate mostly in the black market, providing buyers and sellers the security they need for smooth transactions.

Two elements distinguish racketeers from legal security firms. First is their willingness to deploy violent retribution that falls outside the limits the law normally extends to civilian security firms, going as far as premeditated murder. The other element is that racketeers are willing to involve themselves in illegal markets.

Territorial monopolies

A protection racketeer cannot tolerate competition within his sphere of influence from another racketeer. If a dispute erupted between two clients (e.g. businessmen competing for a construction contract) who are protected by rival racketeers, the two racketeers would have to fight each other to win the dispute for their respective clients. The outcomes of such fights can be unpredictable, and neither racketeer would be able to guarantee a victory for his client. This would make their protection unreliable and of little value--their clients would likely dismiss them and settle the dispute by other means. Therefore, racketeers negotiate territories in which they can monopolize the use of violence in settling disputes.[1] These territories may be geographical, or they may be a certain type of business or form of transaction.

Providing genuine protection

Sometimes racketeers will warn other criminals that the client is under their protection and that they will punish anyone who harms the client. Services that the racketeers may offer may include the recovery of stolen property or punishing vandals. The racketeers may even advance the interests of the client by forcing out—or otherwise hindering/intimidating—unprotected competitors.[2]

Protection from theft and vandalism is one service the racketeer may offer. For instance, in Sicily, mafiosi know all the thieves and fences in their territory, and can track down stolen goods and punish thieves who dare to attack their clients.

Protection racketeers establish what they hope will be indefinitely long bonds with their clients. This allows the racketeers to publicly declare a client to be under their protection. Thus, thieves and other predators will have little confusion as to who is and isn't protected.

Protection racketeers are not necessarily criminals. In A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright notes on p.49, "The warrior caste, supposedly society's protectors, often become protection racketeers. In times of war or crisis, power is easily stolen from the many by the few on a promise of security. The more elusive or imaginary the foe, the better for manufacturing consent."


Government protection rackets

Government officials may demand bribes to look the other way or extort something of value from citizens or corporations in the form of a kickback. It need not always be money. A lucrative job after leaving office may have been in exchange for protection offered when in office. Payment may also show up indirectly in the form of a campaign contribution. Stopping governments agencies as a whole, and buying protection in the government is called regulatory capture.

See also


  1. Gambetta, The Sicilian Mafia, pp. 68-71
  2. Diego Gambetta. The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection
  3. Barbara Mikkelson (April 16, 2012). "Etymology of blackmail". Snopes. Retrieved April 23, 2012.
  4. "Couple plans 'mafia-free' wedding". BBC News. 1 April 2009. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  5. El Diario de Juarez - Suben 57% denuncias por extorsiones 10 August 2009
  6. The Washington Post Banditry Threatens the New Russia 2 May 1997
  7. Misha Glenny (2008). McMafia. Vintage. ISBN 978-0-09-948125-6
  8. Andrew Cockburn (October 2000). "GODFATHER OF THE KREMLIN: Boris Berezovsky and the Looting of Russia. - Review - book review". Washington Monthly.
  9. Metropolitan Police Service - The Kray twins - jailed in 1969
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