50.50: News

Black Italians’ plea to media and politicians after killing of Nigerian man

Public discussions have failed to take gender, race, class and disability into account, says Italian Anti-Racist Coordination

Nadeesha Uyangoda
5 August 2022, 11.50am
Black Lives Matter protest in Lecce, Italy in 2020
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RM Flavio Massari / Alamy Stock Photo

Black Italians have made a plea to politicians and news organisations to tell the truth about racism and ableism after the killing of a disabled Nigerian street vendor in the coastal city of Civitanova Marche.

Alika Ogorchukwu, a 39-year-old married father, had resorted to selling goods when he lost his job as a labourer due to injuries sustained in a bicycle accident. Ogorchukwu was working on the streets of the city in central Italy when he was attacked a week ago using his own crutch.

The Italian Anti-Racist Coordination says media coverage of the event has been “steeped in colonial and racist imagery”, pointing to terms like “the peddler”, “the Nigerian”, “the clandestine” in press reports.

Video footage shows a man wrestling Ogorchukwu to the pavement. The attack, which lasted less than four minutes, was filmed by onlookers. A voice can be heard shouting: “You will kill him like that.”

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According to investigator Matteo Luconi, “onlookers called the police”, but no one attempted to intervene physically.

Video footage was posted on social networks and widely shared by media outlets, shocking the nation.

A 32 year-old Italian man, Filippo Claudio Giuseppe Ferlazzo, has been charged with murder and theft over the incident. Italian media reports that he is accused of lashing out after Ogorchukwu tried to sell trinkets to Ferlazzo and his girlfriend.

Ferlazzo, who claimed to have acted in self-defence and to have believed Ogorchukwu was alive after the attack, has apologised to the victim’s family though his lawyer.

White men used their ownership of the white female as a terrain on which to lynch the Black male

Hazel Carby

When in custody, however, Ferlazzo reportedly tried to justify his actions by claiming Ogorchukwu had touched his girlfriend’s arm.

Colonial-era Europe was obsessed with the idea of uncontrollable Black male desire for white women: “White men used their ownership of the white female as a terrain on which to lynch the [B]lack male,” as academic Hazel Carby writes.

These kinds of power dynamics are not in the past. The dynamic of white women’s virtue used as a justification for the oppression of racialised bodies is still very much in effect today.

To address the distorted narrative that seems to taint how racist events are reported in Italy, a collective of racialised Italians have addressed an open letter to political institutions, newsrooms, feminist and queer associations, and labour unions. It highlights how the public discussions have failed to analyse this attack from an intersectional perspective, taking into account gender, race, class and disability.

Race and cultural studies professor Dr Angelica Pesarini, who worked with other activists on the collective document, told me: “The colonial legacy is something that deeply affects our society, yet it seems invisible to many.

“It is very difficult to have conversations on these issues as it triggers white fragility and denial. Italy is still unable to face, and name, racism as demonstrated by the lack of laws and measures to contrast racial violence.

“There is the idea that somehow racism here doesn’t exist. Rather, [racist acts are dismissed as] ignorance, or the gesture of an individual, which completely overlooks the structural character of racism.”

In other words, racism in Italy is regarded not as a pervasive phenomenon, but as isolated incidents. That may be the reason why in the homicide of Alika Ogorchukwu the aggravating factor of racism hasn’t been yet taken into consideration. (According to Ferlazzo’s lawyer, Roberta Bizzarri, “he has explained that the attack wasn’t racially motivated”.)

‘Italy is still unable to face, and name, racism… There is the idea that somehow racism here doesn’t exist’

Dr Angelica Pesarini

Those who insist Ogorchukwu’s death was not racially motivated have compared it to another recent fatal attack: Yuan Cheng Gau, a 56-year-old Chinese business owner, was killed by a Nigerian migrant last Saturday in the southern town of Monteforte Irpino.

But, according to author and Chinese culture expert Jada Bai, “these two attacks are referable to two different situations: [Ogorchukwu’s murder is about] white supremacy and patriarchy, [and Gau’s is related to] poverty and small-scale crime”. It does not mean that neither of them are hate crimes, rather that in the first one race and disability plays a more predominant role.

If the attack was racially motivated, it would not be a new phenomenon for the central region of Marche.

Another city, Macerata, was the site in 2018 of a terror shooting targeting African immigrants. Luca Traini, affiliated with the far-right party League, injured six people. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison and Italy’s highest court qualified it as a hate crime.

Two years earlier, in 2016, Emmanuel Chidi Namdi, another Nigerian man, was fatally beaten in the town of Fermo moments after he tried to defend his wife from racist abuse.

The aggravating factor that the offence was racially motivated added three months to Amedeo Mancini’s sentence – a fraction of the five additional years available to the judge – even though the mitigating factor of ‘provocation’ (Namdi had initially retaliated after the abuse of his wife) was applied to its fullest extent: three years and five months were taken off the eventual sentence. Mancini plea-bargained for four years under house arrest, but at the end he got out in less than a year for good behaviour.

Italy is holding elections on 25 September and the far-right party Brothers of Italy is the favourite to top the ballot with 24% of votes based on recent polling. The coalition of Brothers of Italy, League and Forza Italia is tipped to win. Among their priorities are immigration and national security.

The statement by Black Italians, which is called “We’re Still Standing”, also mentions national regulations that contribute to the marginalisation and exploitation of immigrants and their children: right-wing parties have always opposed reform of the citizenship law that considers children like Ogochukwu’s, born to immigrants on Italian soil, to be foreigners.

In her book Racist By Law, Clelia Bartoli, professor of human rights at the University of Palermo, writes that: “To determine racism of an institution it is not necessary that functionaries have oppressive bias and intentions, or that an explicit racist ideology is involved.

“It is sufficient that a certain law, policy, or practice effectively creates, perpetuates, or aggravates the inequality of ethnic, cultural, religious, or national minorities.”

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