Tensions between local residents and the 1,000-strong community of foreign seasonal workers have been stretched to breaking point by the death of Sekine Traore, a 27-year-old worker from Mali, on Wednesday.
According to the official version of events, Traore was shot in self-defence after a police officer was ‘stabbed’ near his eye by the allegedly drunken, knife-wielding worker.
But the protesters, predominantly sub-Saharan Africans who lived with Traore at a tent camp in Rosarno, an area in the outskirts of the town of San Ferdinando, claim heavy-handed police tactics are to blame for his death.
“We’re not killers,” read one placard, “seven police Vs. one person…where is the police training?”
“We’re here to work, not to create trouble,” one of the protesters told La Repubblica. “The police should have come to the camp to make peace – not to kill.”
Police reported that the protest was peaceful, but the immigrant workers' arrival in the square created tense scenes in an area already notorious for hostilities between the local community and seasonal workers, who work up to 12 hours a day for as little as €15.
Protesters also carried signs and placards branding the police “racists”, “fascists” and “mafiosi”.
Despite the protest, prosecutor Ottavio Sferlazza told Ansa that the officer involved is unlikely to face any repercussions over the killing.
“Our theory is that it was almost certainly a legitimate use of force,” Sferlazza said.
The conditions in the tent camp, which houses thousands of people who work mostly in the area's orange groves, has been described by Doctors Without Borders as worse than those in African refugee camps.
Two days of unrest in 2010 prompted more than 1,000 Africans to flee the town after clashes left 67 people injured, between migrants, police officers and locals.