How the murder of a black man put racism in the spotlight ahead of Italy’s snap election

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The murder of Alika Ogorchukwua Nigerian living in Italy, sent shockwaves across the country and sparked a series of debates on racism.

The 39-year-old was a street vendor in Civitanova Marche, a seaside resort in the central Marche region. The alleged attacker, Filippo Ferlazzo, allegedly beat Ogorchukwu to death after an altercation on July 29, which was filmed by bystanders, none of whom directly intervened. Investigators ruled out a racist motive, citing Ferlazzo’s psychiatric issues; activists, on the other hand, have challenged this decision and argue that bias was at play.

Just ten days later, the same city was the scene of another gruesome murder, when a 30-year-old Tunisian man was stabbed to death. Although the cause of the crime is yet to be determined, it is another horrific act of violence against an immigrant living in the country.

Ogorchukwu’s murder is far from the first major incident of violence against people of color in the country. Four years ago, a former local candidate for the anti-immigration Northern League party, Luca Traini, shot and injured six African immigrants in Macerata, also in Marche.

Anti-racism activists say heightened tensions and anti-immigration rhetoric are responsible for these acts of aggression. A series of protests and vigils were held across Italy earlier this month, with protesters demanding justice for Ogorchukwu.

It comes as polls indicate a ‘centre-right’ coalition, led by the far-right Brothers of Italy party, is set to triumph in a snap election next month. Giorgia Meloni’s party has based much of its electoral success on its anti-immigration stance, with many Italians of color and of immigrant background wondering whether the coming months could lead to an increase in instances of racist hostility or even outright violence.

What is the position of Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini on immigration?

The coalition includes three major parties – Meloni’s Brothers of Italy (Fratelli from Italy), a nationalist force with neo-fascist origins; the Northern League (Northern League), populist and formerly regionalist party led by Matteo Salvini; and the liberal-conservative Go Italy party of ex-Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi (Forza Italy).

Following the collapse of outgoing Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s coalition government last month, the country was thrown into an unexpected series of general elections scheduled for September 25, where the centre-right coalition – collectively voting in above the required majority threshold of 40% – is currently on the verge of winning.

Meloni’s iron-fisted approach affirmed her plans to stop “mass immigration” and “Islamization”, which she strenuously reaffirmed at a recent far-right conference in Spain.

His coalition colleague, Salvini, has also based his career heavily on anti-immigration rhetoric and is not doubling down in this election race. Leader of the populist Northern League and former Deputy Prime Minister of a short-lived coalition government with the Five Star Movement from 2018 to 2019, he is the signatory of the deeply controversial “security decree” (Security Decree), which would make it illegal to provide humanitarian aid to illegal immigrants crossing the Mediterranean.

In 2018, Salvini also call for a “street-by-street, square-by-square, neighborhood-by-neighborhood mass cleansing” of Italy, which some critics say has created the kind of tense and racialized atmosphere that led to the aforementioned Traini terror attack in 2018. The League politician himself blamed “uncontrolled immigration” for the shooting.

The third of the coalition’s main leaders – Berlusconi – took a somewhat less inflammatory approach to immigration, but also expressed equally tough attitudes.

In 2010, the infamous former prime minister – who was finally convicted of tax evasion and charged with sexual misconduct – said illegal immigrants were not welcome in Italy, but “beautiful girls” were.

More recently, ahead of the 2018 general election, Berlusconi pledged to deport 600,000 illegal immigrants from the country.

“Racism is a deeply rooted problem in Italy”

Tragedies such as the murder of Ogorchukwu have often been portrayed as freak incidents that do not reflect wider societal issues in Italy. But for some Italians of color and of immigrant background, it is the violent manifestation of an insidious structural problem.

Angelo Boccato is an Italian journalist of Afro-Dominican origin. A vocal critic of Italy’s nationality laws – which favor inheritance over education – he poses murder within a wider social malaise.

“Racism in Italy is a deep-rooted problem linked to its colonial and fascist history,” he told Euronews. “Colonial history has been denied

“Alika’s murder is not an extraordinary event at all,” he remarked. “Just a few years ago, a Nigerian was murdered in the same area… [and] it’s not just a problem in the Marches.”

Indeed, Italy itself has a colonial history following its exploits in North and East Africa under Fascist rule in the 1920s and 1930s – a history that many activists believe does not has not received adequate public attention. For example, the legacy of the late journalist and author Indro Montanelli – who had served in Italian Ethiopia and expressed white supremacist views – came under attack in 2020, amid Black Lives Matter protests. The country’s record of violent incidents against people of color was also exposed and concurrently reviewed.

Regarding a possible Meloni-Salvini-Berlusconi coalition government, Boccato noted how “the strength of far-right and right-wing opinions is so broad[spread]… in 2018 alone, support for the Brothers in Italy was only 4-5%.”

“The prospect of victory for the right is really worrying,” he added. “[But] the signals are already in the country. This is a country that is still not able to face its past and change its citizenship laws to make them modern and inclusive.”

Boccato’s thoughts are echoed by Oiza Obasuyi, junior researcher at the Italian Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights (Coalition Italiana per le Libertà ei Diritti civili), who cites the country’s citizenship laws and immigration policies unveiled during Berlusconi’s tenure in 2002 – which added obstacles for migrants wishing to settle in the country – as an example of the more structural racial problems of Italy.

“Italy constantly denies systemic racism,” Obasuyi told Euronews. “We only talk about racism in the face of blatant acts of aggression with a racist connotation, but we never question the system in which we live.”

Watching the murder of Ogorchukwu, Obasuyi claimed that she was less interested in the motive of the killer himself, but more in the conditions the victim was in.

“You have to think about the working conditions in which he found himself,” she said. “Foreigners in Italy, following [the country’s immigration laws]are those who most often live on the margins of society, working in precarious and exploitative employment sectors.”

But for Obasuyi – unlike Boccato – a potential far-right government is not the primary concern, as she sees structural racism as a problem for all major parties in the country.

“Just talking about racism during election season is seeing racism only on the far right,” she said. “Racism is not just an ’emergency’…it is the constant reality in this Holocaust denier country.”

‘I hope they govern’: Italians of color support the right

While many immigrants and Italians of color fear the prospect of a Meloni-led government, there are others who have taken an entirely different attitude.

Meet Asha Fusi, 22, a psychology student in a small town outside of Milan. Born in India, she was adopted by an Italian family at the age of four and wrote a book about her experience moving to her new country.

In 2018, she also made national news when she became a councilor in her city – Ceriano Laghetto – and, at just 18, the youngest councilor in the country.

Fusi, unlike many of his age and background, is enthusiastic about the possibility of a right-wing government and, moreover, does not believe that Ogorchukwu’s murder reflects a wider racial malaise in Italy.

“I hope the centre-right can ascend to government, I am positive and I believe this can finally be the turning point for change,” Fusi told Euronews.

“I think [Ogorchukwu’s] murderer has mental issues and probably also has racist ideas,” she told Euronews. “I don’t think it’s part of a larger structural problem.”

Indeed, Ogorchukwu’s own widow, Charity Oriakhi, did not support the idea that her husband’s murder was racially motivated, stating that she had never experienced racism prior to the incident. .

The Northern League and the Italian Brethren may be known for their anti-immigration rhetoric, but Fusi is far from the only Italian of color to lend her support to the right-wing coalition.

Tony Iwobi, of Nigerian origin, is a senator for the Northern League and shares Salvini’s strong line against illegal immigration.

“The Lampedusa hotspot is the result of a failed migration policy that fuels social insecurity and precariousness,” he tweeted in July, criticizing the former government’s approach to processing refugee claims. asylum on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, off the coast of Tunisia.

Despite fears that a Meloni-Salvini-led coalition could lead to heightened xenophobic and racist sentiment, Fusi sees no reason to worry.

“I don’t think a Salvini/Meloni government can create that,” she remarked. “These kind of ideas against immigrants arise first in people’s minds. So whatever the government is, they can never change people’s ideas and thoughts regarding this issue.”

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