Feature Articles

August 28, 2000

John Gotti and Common Value

By John William Tuohy

John William Tuohy is a writer who lives in Washingon, D.C.

     John Tuohy's book, The Last Gangster; The Life and Times of Roger Touhy and the Chicago Mob, will be released by Barricade Books this fall.

     Last night I saw two things on television that impressed me. One was a video clip, showed on CNN, of that magnificently brave student, whoever he was, standing bolt straight in Tienaman Square not to many years ago, refusing to move out of the path of an oncoming tank. For him, at that moment, his life held less value then did the cause of common liberty. This, from a young man who knew nothing of true freedom, never having tasted it, and, it's important to note, was probably destitute.

     The other program that impressed, differently, me was an interview with a jewelry draped Victoria Angelo, John Gotti's daughter, who spoke from her multi million dollar Long Island mansion. I was troubled by the interview. Not by what she said, but, rather by what she didn't say.

     Like father, like daughter. Mrs. Angelo spoke of the governments obsession with jailing her husband, father and brother. However, she showed no remorse for their alleged crimes. No accounting as to why her father and brother belong to the Mafia, and organization dedicated to breaking the law. She had not even a passing explanation to decent Italian-Americans for the harm her family has done to their good name or their warm, rich culture.

     But the Victoria interview is just a precursor as the Sammy Gravano narcotics trial draws closer, we are guaranteed to be barraged with endless news clips of Bruce Cutler, John Gotti's former lawyer, anguishing with controlled outrage over the injustice of sending Mr. Gotti to jail at all, the unfairness of the jury system, and what he calls dubious testimony of Sammy Gravano against his client. Again, no apologies. No remorse. The victimizer becomes the victim.

     I'm taking into consideration the matter of values as they pertain to the world around us. As an example, for that noble soul in Tienaman Square, the value of freedom for his country was worth the cost of his life. For the Gotti's, there is no remorse because there is, apparently, no value for life, other then their own.

     And that's the problem.

     The stuff of society, any society, is the understanding that each person has a value; that indefinable light in each of us that declares the existence of life. Without the recognition of human value, societies degenerate to tossing the different among us into ovens, silencing writers, and oppressing free thinkers.

     Yet, the drive for recognition of value also brings out the best in what we can be as people. Thirty-eight years ago, thousands of American blacks marched peacefully into a billy clubs and fire hoses in Selma and a hundred other places that refused to recognize their value as humans and citizens of this Republic. More recently, it gave that scared and unarmed Chinese student the courage to stand up against one of the mightiest armies on earth.

     From each of these countless and seemingly endless confrontations to have value recognized, comes, eventually, the betterment and advancement of society. From this, we Americans, who are largely decedents of the little guy who was abused and cheated by legislation created for the benefit of the rich and powerful, have founded a nation based on fair and just laws.

     There is, often, abuse of the system, but the intention of the law, which is the recognition of individual value of every citizen, remains true.

     However, it appears that for the Gotti's and their hired mouth pieces, who seem to be willing to do and to say anything but admit guilt or remorse, the law is not an instrument to advance and protect society, rather it is a weapon used to attack society with baseless accusation, twisted logical, and wrongful blame, all intended to sow the seeds of doubt. They know that if they do that often enough, add some media exposure and with the time the victimizer becomes the victim.

     There are several highly orchestrated attempts by a variety of people who are working to have the government ease up on John Gotti. They want to change his banishment to a maximum security prison, to lighten his twenty hours a day in a tiny cell, and lessen his life without-hope-of-parole sentence.

     Without descending into a personal attack on a specific group, we need to get this straight; John Gotti is not in jail because he is an Italian-American or because he humiliated some federal prosecutors in court or even because he's a gangster. John Gotti is in jail because he declared himself God, Judge and Jury and executed five people. He determined that they did not have enough value to live on this earth.

     The Don's defenders also snivel over the inflexibility of his sentence and his prison conditions, and while I agree it's a harsh punishment to lock up Mr. Gotti, or anyone else for that matter, in a tiny cell for twenty hours a day, we need to remember this; it's punishment. The price one pays for willfully taking a human life is punishment. Punishment isn't intended to be troubled over the inconvenience it creates for those that we, society, have decided to discipline.

     I would like nothing more then to see John Gotti transferred out of a maximum security prison and released into the general prison population. I'd even like to see Mr. Gotti freed after he serves a reasonable term, in relation to his age, for the crimes he's committed.

     I'd like these things to happen for Mr. Gotti because I believe, like that Chinese student in Tienaman Square, that for reason and compassion to continue to exist in the world, it has to start with each of us first, and, occasionally, we must put our commitments of these principles to the test

.      I admire the fact that Mr. Gotti hasn't whined about the predicament he's placed himself in and we need to reconsider his plight from time to time because John Gotti has a value, and if he, and his, would simply acknowledge that he wronged society instead of claiming to be a victim of it, his value would probably be a lot easier to recognize.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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