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.

Member comments

  1. Anyone who has experienced this type of aggressive and relentless begging can understand why the police would conclude that the suspect’s reaction was due to “a particularly insistent request for a handout.” A polite “no” and even a forceful “go away” has no effect. Their entire aim is to annoy and provoke people into giving them money. And they often target women who they view as more easily intimidated.

    West Africa has a tradition of begging which stems from Islamic culture and giving alms to the poor. Yet, even in Africa aggressive begging is seen as a national plague. Their parliaments and newspapers routinely debate how best to resolve the problem. So it’s not very surprising, or racist, that these aggressive beggars would elicit the same response in Europe as in Africa.

    Obviously beating a man to death is a crime, but not necessarily one driven by racism.

    West African nations, which include Nigeria,
    Street beggars like Mr. Ogorchukwu are hated in West Africa
    He also said the suspect’s reaction was due to “a particularly insistent request for a handout.”

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 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

Italian police on Saturday arrested a mafia member suspected of killing two alleged Chinese prostitutes and a Colombian sex worker in Rome, local media reported.

 Italian police arrest mafia member after three women killed in Rome

The bodies of the two Chinese women were discovered in a residential building in the upmarket Prati district on Thursday morning, while the body of the South American was found in an apartment in the same neighbourhood an hour later.

All three victims were stabbed, according to Italian media reports.

According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, footage from surveillance cameras allowed police to identify 51-year-old Giandavide De Pau, who had been prosecuted in the past for drug trafficking and sexual assault.

The suspect is reportedly a member of a mafia clan headed by Michele Senese, who is currently serving a life sentence. De Pau is believed to have been one of Senese’s closest collaborators, acting as his personal driver and handyman.

In 2008 and 2011, the suspect had also spent time in a psychiatric hospital.

It is unknown whether the suspected killer was carrying out a mafia hit or acting alone, possibly under the influence of drugs, which were found at the home of some family members where he is believed to have sought refuge after the police manhunt got underway, Corriere della Sera reported.

Several newspapers had warned of a possible “serial killer” in the Italian capital.

The body of one of the Chinese victims was spotted by a neighbour where it lay, naked on a landing. The woman, believed to be in her 40s, had suffered head and stomach injuries, the newspaper said.

When police entered her apartment, they found the body of the second Chinese woman.

Nobody in the building appeared to have heard the murders take place, according to residents.

“Everybody knew there was a house of ill repute here, I’d see people arriving at 2:00 am, 3:00 am,” a woman who lived in the building told reporters.

The body of the Colombian, who was 65, was found by a friend, Corriere della Sera said.