The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre -- the machine-gunning of seven hoodlums in a Lincoln Park garage -- was one of the most shocking crimes of the 1920s.
Americans were already fed up with the crime wave that resulted from Prohibition. Bootlegging gangsters were killing each other at rates higher than America had ever experienced, and that the country would not experience again until the drug wars of the 1970s and ’80s.
As Chicago author Jonathan Eig wrote in his book Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster:
--Chicago may have already been known as the nation’s gangland murder capital, but this crime was shocking even by Chicago standards. It was not only because of the number of men murdered at once, but because of the cold-blooded manner in which they were gunned down.
The crime stirred people in a way they had seldom been stirred before. From coast to coast, people seemed suddenly to be reaching the conclusion that a line had been crossed, that the violence had become too much to bear, that the experiment known as Prohibition had blown up once and for all.--
President Hoover appointed 400 more Prohibition agents, but that wasn’t the solution the country wanted. Three years later, Hoover was thrown out of office in favor a “wet,” New York Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt. A year after that, the nation ratified the 21st Amendment, ending Prohibition.
If seven gangbangers were shot to death in Chicago this St. Valentine’s Day, would it change the nation’s mind about our drug laws or our gun laws? Hardly.
Last year, the nation experienced five mass shootings whose body count equaled or exceeded the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre -- in Oakland, Calif., Aurora, Colo., Oak Creek, Wis., Minneapolis and Newtown, Conn. And in all those cases, the dead were innocent victims of a deranged gunman. The victims of another St. Valentine’s Day Massacre would hardly be mourned by the nation -- they’d be seen as products of the inner-city gang culture, who had received the expected reward for their lifestyles.
In today’s America, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wouldn’t be shocking -- and that in itself should shock us.