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Protection Racket

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A character offers "protection" to another character in exchange for regular payments.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
randomtroper89 on Nov 17th 2018 at 11:35:26 PM
Last Edited By:
randomtroper89 on Dec 10th 2018 at 1:43:22 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

Now the guy's got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with the bill? He can go to Paulie. Trouble with the cops, deliveries, Tommy, he can call Paulie. But now the guy's gotta come up with Paulie's money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me.
Henry Hill, GoodFellas

A criminal, usually part of The Mafia or an ethnic equivalent, offers protection to the neighborhood. He will approach local small businesses and comment on their "nice things" and how they wouldn't want anything to happen to them. Most likely the person he is "protecting" them from is himself. The catch is that he will extort regular fees from the person they are "protecting", and if the character does not pay up, the criminal will make it clear who exactly they are "protecting" them from.

A more powerful and high ranking criminal may do this to other criminals, not tolerating crime in their territory unless they get a cut of the action.

In Medieval focused works, taxes from the local lord are usually portrayed in a similar manor.

Monster Protection Racket is when a character causes a threat, real or faked, so he can stop it and look like a hero.

Compare Loan Shark, the other main underworld means of extorting people. In this case the money is genuinely owed, albeit with steep interest.

Trope namespace currently redirects to Shame If Something Happened. The former is the motivation behind the threats, the latter is the manner the threats are delivered.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Film - Live Action 
  • Henry Hill from GoodFellas describes a typical mafia racket, a combination of protection scheme and bust-out scam, entered into by way of a deal with a restaurant owner who was sick of having to deal with vicious gangster Tommy DeVito disrupting his business and scaring off his customers and went to the guy's boss, Paul Cicero, for help. Henry notes that Paulie will help the owner with any problem, but the help comes at a steep prices, and he will accept no excuses for late payments.
  • Venom (2018): Shopkeeper Mrs. Chen is robbed by a man implied to be part of some sort of racket, given how regularly and brazenly he robs her. The first time, Eddie Brock shrinks away, but when Brock gains the Venom symbiote he confronts the man and bites his head off.

    Literature 
  • In Discworld the Ankh-Morpork Thieves' Guild switched from random theft to charging people theft insurance policies where they only burglarize them on a pre-determined annual date, after Lord Vetinari proposed the scheme and informed the Guild leadership that he knew where they lived.
  • In The Expanse novel Leviathan Wakes Joe Miller interviews a shopkeeper who used to pay protection money via a transparently fraudulent "insurance policy" to one of Ceres' criminal syndicates, but then they suddenly disappeared hired by Protogen as cannon fodder on Eros. Shortly after a teenager showed up at the shop and tried extorting the same money from him, but the shopkeeper refused and informed his friends in the Outer Planets Alliance, who dealt with him.
  • The Taking of Pelham One Two Three: Mr. Grey was fired from the Mafia for being too violent. The novel explains that Mr. Gray's taste for violence got in the way of running protection rackets effectively; the victims felt no obligation to cooperate since he tended to beat them whether they paid or not.
  • Yendi. Vlad Taltos is a leader in the Jhereg (fantasy equivalent of The Mafia and the Yakuza) in charge of the criminal activities of an area of the city of Adrilankha. One of his operations is the protection racket that extracts money from merchants in his area. It provides most of his income, and when a rival crimelord starts attacking the businesses under his protection, he must take action to stay in charge.

    Live Action TV 
  • Burn Notice:
    • "Broken Rules": A gang is shaking down businesses in a neighborhood in Little Havana. The shopkeeper who hires Michael to deal with them says that "at first they said it was for 'protection'. Now they don't even bother to lie". The gang turns out to be run by a businesswoman who is trying to drive out the residents so she can cheaply buy up the real estate.
    • "Friendly Fire": Team Westen tracks a fugitive who is hosted by a gang that is running a protection racket against another gang. The smaller gang robs baby formula and the like from warehouses to deliver to impoverished residents at a discount, whereas the bigger gang is pushing them to steal prescription drugs for black market sale.
  • Daredevil (2015): In season three this is the ultimate goal of Wilson "The Kingpin" Fisk, in Foggy Nelson's words, to became a "one-stop shop for bribery and protection". He becomes an FBI informant and blackmails his handlers to get them under his thumb, so he can prosecute any of his rivals at his leisure. He then gathers his rival crime bosses, offers then 20% of all their profits, and then kills the man who refuses so he can jack the price to 25%.
  • Parodied in a Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch. Two members of Cockney Mafiosi approach the colonel in command of a British Army base played by Graham Chapman. One of them says "You've got a nice army base here, colonel. We wouldn't want anything to happen to it." They further imply that the base's equipment could get broken and its personnel set on fire if the Army doesn't pay them off. They then ask for a ludicrously small payment.
  • The Sopranos: Played with in the final season. One of the family's minor protected businesses folds and is replaced with a Brand X Starbucks. Two of Tony's lieutenants go in to try this routine on the new manager. He immediately recognizes what they are doing, but in an almost sympathetic tone he points out the store's workforce isn't unionized and the company is a billion dollar multinational with complete insurance. What's more, every single bean is in the computer, so if he started skimming for the mob he'd be fired immediately and they'd have to start over. The two mobsters leave, complaining about the state of modern business.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Blades in the Dark, protection racket is one of the claims (sources of income) available to the Bravos crew type.
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • In the Forgotten Realms setting priests of the ocean goddess Umberlee often exploit their goddess' reputation for causing storms and drowning people on a whim to run protection rackets over harbours and shipping companies, charging ship captains a fee in exchange for travelling with their ship or mentioning it in their prayers so that it will be spared from Umberlee's destructive wrath.
    • Neverwinter Nights 2:
      • One of your first missions after arriving in Neverwinter involves a stubborn shop keeper who is being threatened by the local Thieves' Guild to join a protection scheme. You can either join the guild and 'persuade' the shop keeper that paying the guild is in his best interests, or join the City Watch and kill the thugs who come to shake him down.
      • A later quest involves an eccentric market stall owner who's actually overjoyed that thugs are trying to coerce her into paying their protection fee, seeing it as a sign of her successful her business has become.

    Video Games 
  • One of your missions for the Mafia in Grand Theft Auto III has you chauffeuring a mafioso as he makes his rounds on a protection racket. At one point he goes into one business that hasn't paid with a baseball bat while we don't get to see what happens, but what we hear isn't pleasant.
  • Honkai Impact 3rd: around 500 years before the present, the Schicksal Organization lost a lot of their members and resources in their crusades against the Honkai threats. They had to resort to extorting money from the closest people (in Europe) at the time to cover their loss, under the pretense of "buying 'indulgences' as a means to pay for their 'original sins' for those who didn't go to the war".

    Web Original 
  • The Heaven Cycle: King of hell Azazel offers random cities to renegade demon Naberius to destroy and to turn their inhabitants into his twisted art projects, so Naberius does not prey on Azazel and his fellow demons.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "Zuko Alone", a group of Earth Kingdom soldiers do this to the small Earth Nation village their supposed to be protecting, threatening violent consequences if they aren't paid. The group is much less organised than most examples, but it works because almost anyone who could fight back against them is off fighting in the war.


Feedback: 20 replies

Nov 18th 2018 at 1:20:36 AM

Literature

  • Yendi. Vlad Taltos is a leader in the Jhereg (fantasy equivalent of The Mafia and the Yakuza) in charge of the criminal activities of an area of the city of Adrilankha. One of his operations is the protection racket that extracts money from merchants in his area. It provides most of his income, and when a rival crimelord starts attacking the businesses under his protection, he must take action to stay in charge.

Live Action TV

  • Parodied in a Monty Pythons Flying Circus sketch. Two members of The Mafia approach the colonel in command of a British Army base. One of them says "You've got a nice army base here, colonel. We wouldn't want anything to happen to it." They further imply that the base's equipment could get broken and its personnel set on fire if the Army doesn't pay them off. They then ask for a ludicrously small payment.

Nov 18th 2018 at 1:18:31 AM

  • Examples section
    • Added a line separating the Description and Examples section.
    • Added [[foldercontrol]] .
    • Added media section titles as per Media Categories.
    • Put media sections in alphabetical order.
    • Corrected spelling (symbioate).

Nov 18th 2018 at 1:29:03 AM

  • In the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons And Dragons, priests of the ocean goddess Umberlee often exploit their goddess' reputation for causing storms and drowning people on a whim to run protection rackets over harbours and shipping companies, charging ship captains a fee in exchange for travelling with their ship or mentioning it in their prayers so that it will be spared from Umberlee's destructive wrath.

  • Neverwinter Nights 2:
    • One of your first missions after arriving in Neverwinter involves a stubborn shop keeper who is being threatened by the local Thieves Guild to join a protection scheme. You can either join the guild and 'persuade' the shop keeper that paying the guild is in his best interests, or join the City Watch and kill the thugs who come to shake him down.
    • A later quest involves an eccentric market stall owner who's actually overjoyed that thugs are trying to coerce her into paying their protection fee, seeing it as a sign of her successful her business has become.

Nov 18th 2018 at 6:08:40 AM

Perhaps there's a related trope (especially in older works, or those set in older times) where it's country tax instead of racket.

Nov 18th 2018 at 6:18:24 AM

The Monty Python sketch, where a couple of Cockney Mafiosi who haven't quite got the idea of a protection racket attempt to menace Graham Chapman, as The Brigadier. They are attempting to point out that an entire Army tank division needs protection and they can facilitate this, for a fee, pointing out that it would be a shame if any of those expensive-looking heavy battle tanks were to get damaged, know what I mean, squire?

Nov 18th 2018 at 9:48:48 AM

TV:

  • Burn Notice:
    • "Broken Rules": A gang is shaking down businesses in a neighborhood in Little Havana. The shopkeeper who hires Michael to deal with them says that "at first they said it was for 'protection'. Now they don't even bother to lie." The gang turns out to be run by a businesswoman who is trying to drive out the residents so she can cheaply buy up the real estate.
    • "Friendly Fire": Team Westen tracks a fugitive who is hosted by a gang that is running a protection racket against... another gang. The smaller gang is suspected in robberies of baby formula and the like from warehouses (delivering it to impoverished residents at a discount), whereas the bigger gang is pushing them to steal prescription drugs for black market sale.

Nov 18th 2018 at 1:37:24 PM

Note that Protection Racket is currently a redirect to Shame If Something Happened, with six wicks.

Nov 18th 2018 at 6:00:40 PM

  • In the Avatar The Last Airbender episode Zuko Alone, a group of Earth Nation thugs do this to a small Earth Nation village, threatening violent consequences if they aren't paid. The group is much less organised than most examples, but it works because almost anyone who could fight back against them is off fighting in the war. (And indeed one character complains that the thugs should be doing so, too.)

Nov 18th 2018 at 6:34:06 PM

Compare Loan Shark, the other main underworld means of extorting people.

Nov 18th 2018 at 10:46:02 PM

  • Henry Hill from Good Fellas describes a typical mafia racket, a combination of protection scheme and bust-out scam, entered into by way of a deal with a restaurant owner who was sick of having to deal with vicious gangster Tommy DeVito disrupting his business and scaring off his customers and went to the guy's boss, Paul Cicero, for help.
    Henry Hill: Now the guy's got Paulie as a partner. Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with the bill? He can go to Paulie. Trouble with the cops, deliveries, Tommy, he can call Paulie. But now the guy's gotta come up with Paulie's money every week, no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning, huh? Fuck you, pay me. Also, Paulie could do anything. Especially run up bills on the joint's credit. And why not? Nobody's gonna pay for it anyway. And as soon as the deliveries are made in the front door, you move the stuff out the back and sell it at a discount. You take a two hundred dollar case of booze and you sell it for a hundred. It doesn't matter. It's all profit. And then finally, when there's nothing left, when you can't borrow another buck from the bank or buy another case of booze, you bust the joint out. You light a match.

Nov 19th 2018 at 9:23:10 AM

Literature

  • In Leviathan Wakes Joe Miller interviews a shopkeeper who used to pay protection money via a transparently fraudulent "insurance policy" to one of Ceres' criminal syndicates, but then they suddenly disappeared hired by Protogen as cannon fodder on Eros. Shortly after a teenager showed up at the shop and tried extorting the same money from him, but the shopkeeper refused and informed his friends in the Outer Planets Alliance, who dealt with him.

Nov 19th 2018 at 9:29:23 AM

This is sometimes called "insurance".

Nov 19th 2018 at 2:38:20 PM

^ So we're saying that the insurance companies nowadays are the nicer version of this?

Nov 20th 2018 at 2:47:47 AM

  • Honkai Impact3rd: around 500 years before the present, the Schicksal Organization lost a lot of their members and resources in their crusades against the Honkai threats. They had to resort to extorting money from the closest people (in Europe) at the time to cover their loss, under the pretense of "buying 'indulgences' as a means to pay for their 'original sins' for those who didn't go to the war".

The "protection" here is against said "Honkai threats", by the way.

Nov 20th 2018 at 4:45:12 AM

  • One of your missions for the Mafia in Grand Theft Auto III has you chauffeuring a mafioso as he makes his rounds on a protection racket. At one point he goes into one business that hasn't paid with a baseball bat and...well, we don't get to see what happens, but what we hear isn't pleasant.

Nov 20th 2018 at 10:01:52 AM

  • In Discworld the Ankh-Morpork Thieves Guild switched from random theft to charging people theft insurance policies where they only burglarize them on a pre-determined annual date, after Lord Vetinari proposed the scheme and informed the Guild leadership that he knew where they lived.

Dec 6th 2018 at 10:35:59 PM

  • The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three: In the original novel it's mentioned in passing that one of the crooks that has taken the titular subway train hostage, "Mr. Grey", used to work for the Mafia as a racket collector. The problem with his former work is that he's such a Psycho For Hire that he eventually got kicked out of the Mafia for being too violent — to explain, Mr. Grey's obsession with brutalizing anybody he felt like meant that people that were victims of his racket eventually decided to stop paying altogether, because what was the point of doing so if they were going to be clobbered anyway?

Dec 6th 2018 at 11:57:45 PM

  • In Blades In The Dark, protection racket is one of the claims (sources of income) available to the Bravos crew type.

Dec 10th 2018 at 10:31:01 AM

Compare Puppet State, which can be similar to this on a national level.

Dec 10th 2018 at 1:43:22 PM

  • The Legend Of Korra: The Establishing Character Moment of the Triple-Threat Triad is a few members of the Triad walking up to a shopkeeper and asking for protection money: either the man will pay or they will use their Bending abilities to wreck the establishment.

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