Italy: Immigrants fight back against racist attacks

On 18 September, in the southern Italian town of Castelvolturno, northwest of Naples, thousands of mainly African militants took to the streets after gangsters shot six men from Ghana, Liberia and Togo. The protesters tore up street signs and overturned cars and rubbish bins, accusing the police of racism for alleging the six victims had been drug traffickers. 500 soldiers were sent in to disperse the protest.

The same week, in the north of the country, protests erupted in Milan after a young black man from Burkino Faso was beaten to death by a shopkeeper and his son for stealing biscuits from their kiosk at Milan station. Protesters smashed motorcycles and overturned bins, chanting ‘Ignorant white bastards’.

Both the attacks and the spontaneous eruption of anger onto the streets by immigrant communities are a response to a sinister ratcheting up of racist rhetoric and actions by the right-wing, quasi-fascist Berlusconi government which swept to power in April on the promise of controlling illegal immigration and cracking down on Italy’s Roma population. Since then, the government has been accused by the UN of creating an environment of ‘hostility, antagonism and stigmatisation’ in which racism is flourishing. This is a government which, under the pretext of ‘tackling crime’ declared a ‘national state of emergency’ to fight illegal immigration, which announced plans for a census and national fingerprinting database of all Roma and their children and which features as a key member of the ruling coalition the Northern League, whose leader Umberto Bossi once said of the boatloads of illegal immigrants arriving on Italian shores: ‘I want to hear the roar of canon! Shoot them or this will never stop!’

What is clear is that for Italy’s immigrant population, enough is enough. In the same week that the protests took place, 85 mainly Algerian immigrants held at a detention centre in Sardinia launched their own protest, destroying buildings and furniture, to prevent the implementation of a deportation order. They were brutally quelled by 50 police in riot gear accompanied by the paramilitary Caribinieri, but the resistance to intensifying racism in Italy will not end there.

Cat Wiener

FRFI 205 October / November 2008


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