The Legacy of DC Corruption

Colbert I. King at the Washington Post digs into the history of 1950s "numbers" runners and the trial that revealed their criminal cohorts in D.C. government, a spectacle that riveted him when he a kid.

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Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Photodisc/Thinkstock)

In the 1950s, America's capital was run by "numbers" men. Locals with names like Albert "Real Estate" Smith and Roger W. "Whitetop" Simkins headed organizations that orchestrated the city's largest gambling black market. When they were prosecuted during that decade, Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King writes, it was revealed that their ties stretched to the police and government officials. The legacy left by these offenders is still alive and well in D.C. in fallen leaders like former D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown.

That dark era in the '50s should serve as a reminder that corruption is not a one-time affair. It takes hold quietly, slowly, when no one's looking. The corrupt are always there, watching and waiting for the chance to score. They are aided and abetted by a climate of indifference.

The Post captured that climate in a 1951 editorial, "Respectable Racketeers." Ironically, the editorial took note of a deficiency that exists to this day.

Observing that an amateur detective uncovered the large-scale gambling operations, The Post asked, "Why was it necessary for an amateur -- who turned out to be more professional than the professionals — to do the work that law enforcement agencies should have been doing?"

Read Colbert I. King's entire piece at the Washington Post.

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