Naples’ youth gangs are “a phenomenon that can no longer be tolerated”, said Minnitti, who was due to meet the city’s prefect, law enforcement chiefs and juvenile court magistrates.
So-called “baby gangs” stand implicated in a string of recent street attacks in Naples, most of them on other teenagers. At least eleven incidents were reported in the past two months, according to Il Giornale, including the stabbing of a 17-year-old, the mugging of two teens by a gang armed with chains, and a beating so violent that the 15-year-old victim had to have his spleen removed.
The problem may be another consequence of organized crime’s deeply entrenched presence in Naples, where local mafia clans are recruiting younger and younger foot soldiers.
A successful campaign to arrest and jail the bosses of the Neapolitan mafia, the Camorra, left a power vacuum that “a younger, more reckless generation of aspiring clan leaders are now vying to fill”, according to Felia Allum, senior lecturer in Italian and Politics at the UK’s University of Bath.
“With no guidance from established camorristi, inexperienced young men are inflicting chaos on the city,” Allum said, glorifying mob culture, threatening rivals on Facebook and driving around the city on mopeds firing into the air.
But “baby gangs” don’t necessarily have ties to organized crime. According to the juvenile state’s attorney for Naples, Maria de Luzenberger, in the past year authorities have become aware not only of teenage mafiosi but also of “very young kids who commit violence, apparently for no reason, simply to assert themselves and their presence, to mark their territory”.
“It’s a grave social emergency as well as a criminal emergency,” said de Luzenberger, who linked the problem to a lack of social services, especially in the outskirts of Naples.
Minnitti indicated that he would seek a community-based approach to the violence, which he told Il Mattino could not be solved simply by sending extra officers onto the streets of Naples. In any case, even if arrested some of the youngest suspects cannot be charged: in Italy, only those over 14 are considered criminally responsible.
Police arrested seven “baby gang” members on Tuesday, four of them minors, who are suspected of carrying out 17 robberies in two months. They are accused of threatening fellow teens with toy guns and taking their mobile phones.