Neapolitans take to the streets to protest series of attacks by violent teen gangs

Neapolitans take to the streets to protest series of attacks by violent teen gangs
Police on patrol in suburban Naples. File photo: Mario Laporta/AFP
Around 2,000 people in Naples joined a protest on Wednesday calling for a stop to the recent series of violent attacks in the city's suburbs.

Many of these attacks are believed to have been carried out by gangs of teenagers, often under the age of 18 and referred to in Italian media as “baby gangs”.

A 15-year-old boy, named in Italian media as Gaetano, had his spleen removed after a violent beating in early January, and marchers walked from the city's outskirts to the Chiaiano metro station where this attack took place.

Some of the protesters, most of whom were students, carried banners reading “We are all Gaetano”. The slogan was not only a display of solidarity with the victims of violence, but also an indication of how the problem has become increasingly widespread.

Italy's Interior Minister Marco Minniti chaired a meeting on the violence on Tuesday, in which he said the perpetrators were using “terror tactics”.

Marchers pictured with a banner saying: Enough violence, Gaetano we're with you.

Minniti pledged to crack down on the gangs and said that those behind the most recent attacks had all been identified by police. On Thursday, Naples police announced that they had apprehended two minors suspected of an unprovoked attack on Sunday, in which they punched a 16-year-old, breaking his nose.

As well as the perpetrators, many of the victims of the attacks have been minors. In late December, a 17-year-old was stabbed in the throat in the north of the city, an incident which prompted around 900 students to march through the city along with its mayor to protest violent crime. The boy has recovered from the attack and has since returned to school. 

It is possible that the escalation in violence is linked to the deeply entrenched presence of organized crime in Naples, where successful campaigns to arrest mafia bosses have led mafia clans to recruit younger members.

READ MORE: Young guns take charge of mafia clans – with deadly results

But the gangs are not necessarily linked to organized crime groups. The juvenile state's attorney for Naples, Maria de Luzenberger, told Italian radio that over the past year, authorities have seen a rise in youngsters committing violence “apparently for no reason, simply to assert themselves and their presence”, as well as teenage members of mafia clans.

She linked the problem to a lack of sufficient social services, especially in the outskirts of Naples.

The governor of the Campania region, Vincenzo De Luca, has suggested lowering the age of criminal responsibility to help tackle the problem. Under the age of 14, children cannot be held liable for any criminal offences, and 14-17-year-olds are only treated as criminally responsible if judged capable of forming criminal intent. This is thought to be one of the reasons they are increasingly taking on more responsibilities within mafia clans. 

De Luca also proposed issuing fines to the parents of violent teens, while Minitti suggested community-based measures and more police patrols in vulnerable areas.

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