The role of vigilante justice in Whitey Bulger’s death

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Last week, something incredible happened that may have missed the eyes of most people. James “Whitey” Bulger, the former mob boss of the Boston affiliated Winter Hill Gang, was murdered in prison on Tuesday, a day after being transferred to a high-security prison in West Virginia. 

According to the New York Times, two inmates at the Hazelton penitentiary, where Bulger had been recently transferred to, were seen beating Bulger with a padlock stuffed inside a sock. 

Other reports from TMZ and other local news sites say that the suspects were also trying to cut out his tongue and gouge his eyes out. When the prison staff intervened, they tried everything to save his life but were unsuccessful. He was 89 years old.

Whitey Bulger had been the crime boss of the Winter Hill Gang during the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s. He participated in murder, racketeering, money laundering and a laundry list full of crimes. He was known to be one of the most vicious and notorious crime bosses of the modern era. In 2013, he was found guilty of 31 counts that included weapon charges, racketeering and money laundering and 11 of 19 murders he was accused of committing. He was serving two life sentences and five years when he was murdered. The movie Black Mass was about his life and Jack Nicholson’s character in The Departed was based on Bulger himself. 

The question comes down to whether or not his killing was seen as some kind of vigilante justice, or a miscarriage of the prison system in West Virginia. 

According to CNN, two inmates had been killed this year before Bulger at the same institute and letters were sent to the Justice Department bringing up safety concerns for prisoners and if it had enough staff.

A suspect in Bulger’s murder is Fotios ‘Freddy’ Geas, who has been known for hating rats in the Mafia and is serving time for murdering another crime boss in 2003 and another man believed to be an informant.

While he was a notorious crime boss, he was also an FBI informant — or as the Mafia would call him, a “rat.” This would make him a big target in the underworld of organized crime because those who ratted on their brothers were despised.

An opinion piece by the Washington Post’s Editorial Board believes that Bulger’s death was a betrayal of justice because the prison system didn’t do enough to protect him. They poetically noted at the end “Mr. Bulger was sentenced to life in prison, not to death.” 

The U.S. justice system is not always perfect in matching punishments to crimes. But the alternative is the justice of the mob — a ratification of Mr. Bulger’s life work rather than the repudiation it deserved.

Looking at what happened to Bulger, I could argue that the prison system did mess up in protecting a prisoner. But I believe the Mafia used the system’s faults against them. Any kind of organized crime group takes the ratting out of any members of their own as frowned upon. 

It doesn’t matter if you are a low life thug, a consigliere, or the head honcho of a gang, the code of silence applies to everyone. And if you break that code, then you are as good as dead. That’s the way the Mafia or any other organized crime group works and that’s the way it’s been for close to 100 years in North America. 

A suspect in Bulger’s murder is Fotios ‘Freddy’ Geas, who has been known for hating rats in the Mafia and is serving time for murdering another crime boss in 2003 and another man believed to be an informant.

Did the prison system at Hazelton fail? Absolutely. But did they really believe they could prevent the Mafia from closing the book on a man who betrayed many of their own? Absolutely not. There can be all the prison reform in the world, but that will never stop the mob and how they feel about informants and rats.

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