What lay behind the brutal killing of a Nigerian in Italy?

After the shocking killing of a Nigerian street vendor in broad daylight in a small Italian town, the police investigation should consider racist motivations, says Judith Sunderland at Human Rights Watch.

What lay behind the brutal killing of a Nigerian in Italy?
A protester holds a sign reading ‘to racism and unfounded hatred’ during a protest in February 2018 after a racially motivated shooting in the central Italian town of Macerata, Marche. Photo by TIZIANA FABI / AFP

On Friday in the small town of Civitanova Marche on Italy’s Adriatic coast, an Italian man beat and strangled a Nigerian street vendor in broad daylight.

Alika Ogorchukwu, 39, had apparently tried to sell the alleged assailant and his girlfriend a packet of tissues and then asked for some change.

Public debate is focused on gruesome details of the crime: Ogorchukwu was beaten with the crutch he used to walk and bystanders failed to intervene for the four minutes it took to kill him. Attention has also focused on the fact that the suspect’s lawyer says the suspect has a mental health condition.

Yet there’s another troubling aspect to this story: The police have excluded any possible racist motivation behind the violence.

Said Deputy Police Commissioner Matteo Luconi, “There is certainly no racial element.” He also said the suspect’s reaction was due to “a particularly insistent request for a handout.”

READ ALSO: More than half of Italians think racist attacks ‘can be justified’, poll finds

Italy has historically failed to respond adequately to hate crimes. It has a law providing for longer prison sentences for racially aggravated crimes. But law enforcement, prosecutors, and courts tend to pursue this only if racism is identified as the sole motive.

That’s why in 2009 a court didn’t recognize any racist motivation when it convicted two men of murdering 19-year-old Italian Abdoul Guiebre after he stole a packet of cookies from their coffee shop, even though the killers shouted racist slurs and, “Thieves, go back to your own country.” 

The judge ruled that the perpetrators had, “a conservative vision of one’s cultural and territorial integrity, more than in a discriminatory theory of racial superiority.”

But as Guiebre’s grieving father told me, “If my son had had a different color of skin, the [perpetrators] wouldn’t have acted like that.”

The failure to identify hate crimes reflects a failure to acknowledge that racialized thinking influences behavior.

It also means official statistics for hate crimes are low, giving Italian authorities and society a pretext to claim racially aggravated violence is rare and adopt the platitude that “Italy is not a racist country.”

READ ALSO: As racist attacks increase, is there a ‘climate of hatred’ in Italy?

Alika Ogorchukwu’s death is now an issue in the lead-up to Italy’s snap elections in September.

It is insufficient that political party leaders across the political spectrum have condemned the killing. Italy needs to reckon with the institutional racism in its laws and policies. A call by all parties for a serious investigation of the role race played in the killing would be a start.

Judith Sunderland, Associate Director, Europe and Central Asia Division, Human Rights Watch.
This article is republished from Human Rights Watch.

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Italy’s president calls for ‘full truth’ on anniversary of Bologna bombing

President Sergio Mattarella said on Tuesday it was the state's duty to shed more light on the 1980 bombing of Bologna's train station, on the 42nd anniversary of the attack that killed 85 people and injured 200.

Italy's president calls for 'full truth' on anniversary of Bologna bombing

On August 2nd 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, causing devastation on an unprecedented scale.

Five members of terrorist groups were later convicted in relation to the bombing, the worst episode in Italy’s ‘Years of Lead’ period of political violence in the 1970s and 80s.

Most recently, in 2020, a former member of the far-right Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR) was sentenced to life imprisonment for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack.

But suspicions remain of cover-ups and the involvement of “deviant elements” within the nation’s security services, reported Italian news agency Ansa.

READ ALSO: Bologna massacre: 40 years on, questions remain over Italy’s deadliest postwar terror attack

“The bomb that killed people who happened to be at the station on that morning 42 years ago still reverberates with violence in the depths of the country’s conscience,” Mattarella said in a speech marking the anniversary on Tuesday.

“It was the act of cowardly men of unequalled inhumanity, one of the most terrible of the history of the Italian Republic.

A train compartment at Bologna station pictured following the 1980 bombing attributed to the neo-fascist terrorist organization Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari.

“It was a terrorist attack that sought to destabilise democratic institutions and sow fear, hitting ordinary citizens going about their everyday tasks.

“On the day of the anniversary our thoughts go, above all, to the relatives forced to suffer the greatest pain.

“The neo-fascist nature of the massacre has been established in court and further steps have been made to unveil the cover-ups and those who ordered the attack in order to comply with the Republic’s duty to seek the full truth”.

The bombing remains Western Europe’s fourth deadliest postwar terror attack, and one of the most devastating in Italy’s history.