100 Years Later, an NYPD Legend Is Remembered

One hundred years ago, New York City Police Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was assassinated in Palermo, Sicily, where he was investigating the Mano Nera – or Black Hand – organized crime syndicate that had been extorting protection money from business owners and residents in New York’s Little Italy. Lieutenant Petrosino is believed to be the first Italian-American law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty, and he remains the only member of the NYPD ever to die in a duty-related incident outside the United States.

On Thursday morning in Washington, DC, under crisp blue skies, Italian government officials joined NLEOMF Board members, staff and supporters at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial to remember Lieutenant Petrosino and pay tribute to his service.

NLEOMF Chairman and CEO Craig Floyd described Lieutenant Petrosino as a “tough, hard-working and very effective law enforcement professional” who set out on a mission of crime-fighting and delivered for his community.

“Early on, Joseph Petrosino decided to devote his law enforcement career to fighting these [Mano Nera] extortionists. He convinced his superiors to let him form the ‘Italian Squad,’ and Joseph Petrosino would quickly become the Mano Nera’s worst enemy,” Craig remarked. “His squad made thousands of arrests. The results were dramatic: crime against Italians in New York City was reduced by an astonishing 50 percent.”

In early 1909, Lieutenant Petrosino set out on a secret mission to Sicily to collect evidence that would smash the Black Hand once and for all. On March 12, he planned to meet a man he thought was an informant. Instead, he was greeted by Mano Nera assassins who gunned him down. When his body was returned to New York City, the funeral procession lasted five-and-one-half hours and was attended by a crowd of more than a quarter million people – a richly deserved tribute to a true American hero.

Representing the Region of Sicily was the Honorable Robert Leonardi, Director General for International Affairs. The President of Sicily, Raffaele Lombardo, was originally scheduled to attend the ceremony, along with Columbus Day events in New York City, but horrible flooding that has claimed more than two dozen lives in Sicily required that he stay home.

Dr. Leonardi said that, a century after the death of Lieutenant Petrosino, the fight against organized crime continues to be carried out vigorously on two fronts: in the United States and in Sicily. “For Sicily, fighting organized crime is not just a law enforcement issue, but an economic development issue,” he said. He added that despite serious threats to his own safety, President Lombardo “has pledged himself to the fight against the Mafia.”

At the conclusion of the remarks, Officer Marcello Muzzatti of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, DC, and the Fraternal Order of Police’s representative on the NLEOMF Board of Directors, joined Dr. Leonardi and two Embassy of Italy officials – Sebastiano Cardi, Deputy Chief of Mission, and Giannicola Sinisi, Counsular – in placing a wreath in memory of Lieutenant Petrosino at the Memorial’s central medallion.

Then, the officials brought the wreath to Panel 56-East, where Lieutenant Petrosino’s name is engraved on Line 7. There, Dr. Leonardi and several other attendees, including members of the Order Sons of Italy in America and the National Italian American Foundation, completed etchings of Lieutenant Petrosino’s name as lasting reminders of his commitment, service and courage.