Alika Ogorchukwu, a Nigerian ambulant salesman was killed on the streets of Italy on Friday by an Italian man. Since then thousands have expressed their shock and grief, but the death is proving politically polarizing. Meanwhile, his widow is calling for "justice."
The death of 39-year-old Alika Ogorchukwu was filmed by several passers by, but reportedly no one intervened to prevent it.
According to numerous media reports across Europe, Ogorchukwu was a Nigerian migrant and well-known ambulant salesman in the Italian town of Civitanova Marche. According to several Italian newspapers, he was married with two children aged eight and ten.
Ogorchukwu had previously worked as a laborer in Italy, but after an accident, some say he was hit by a car, he had trouble walking, and needed a crutch. He had turned to selling packs of tissues and and cigarette lighters on the streets of Civitanova Marche.
Video footage helps prosecutors
Video footage from both CCTV cameras in the busy shopping street where the incident happened, as well as phone cameras from passers-by, appears to show a white Italian man in a baseball cap astride Ogorchukwu who is on the floor. In some of the stills from the video, published on the right-wing British tabloid Mail Online, the Nigerian man is face down on the ground.
Italian media report that the assailant, who has since been arrested by police on suspicion of murder and theft -- after he allegedly also stole the victim's mobile phone; hit Ogorchukwu several times, both with his fists and with the crutch Ogorchukwu used to walk. The results of an autopsy have not yet been released. However, the left-leaning La Repubblica newspaper said the Italian attacker displayed "ferocious aggression" and "squashed" or "stamped" his Nigerian victim’s "head on the ground."
Like the other newspapers, La Repubblica also noted that the passers-by filming or witnessing the attack did nothing to physically intervene, although they admit that on some of the videos, people can be heard shouting to the attacker "you will kill him if you carry on like this," and calling on him to "stop."
Local mayor condemns the attack
The town, on the shores of the Adriatic in east-central Italy, is run by a right-wing alliance, including counsellors from the Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia) party, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Salvini’s right-wing League (Lega Nord) party.
The town’s mayor, Fabrizio Ciarapica, like many other politicians of all stripes, has condemned the attack and expressed his sympathy and condolences for the victim and his family, as well as the Nigerian community at large.
Writing on a local platform Viverecivitanova (Live Civitanova), Ciarapica said that the "fatal aggression had shocked and saddened everyone." He continued: "In the name of the city and everyone here, I want to express my firm condemnation towards actions of this nature, and towards violence in every form, which has no justification and should not be taking place."
Cirapica called the events "unacceptable" and said that it should "invite everyone to not look away in the face of this kind of violence." The mayor said he stood by the family of the victim and would do "everything in our power to combat violence and to encourage peaceful coexistence and tolerance."
A 'peaceful and welcoming' town
The mayor said that he was in constant touch with the police and the investigating magistrates and praised the video surveillance in the town which had been "fundamental" in helping them apprehend the man who is alleged to have carried out the attack.
Cirapica said although this was a very serious incident, he did not want it to come to define their town. He said that Civitanova was a "peaceful city and a welcoming place." He finished by offering his prayers to the victim.
"All I want is justice," says Alika Ogorchukwu’s wife Charity Oriachi through her tears, while speaking to the Italian press over the weekend. She and other members of the Nigerian and sub-Saharan African community in the town held a protest in front of the town hall, where they called for justice.
Some white Italians could also be seen alongside them in photos, as well as locals who came to lay flowers for the victim on the pavement near where he died. However, some, including Barbara Scaramucci, a former editor in chief of Italy’s national broadcaster Rai, and now an honorary president at Articolo 21 -- a forum supporting free speech in Italy, comprising journalists, economists and legal experts, condemned the apparent silence of many Italian locals.
Could death have been prevented?
Scaramucci, who writes she has family ties in the Marche region, says that the day after the attack was almost even worse than the attack itself. This because, Scaramucci writes, "I can’t find adjectives to describe how Alika was killed for no reason.... [But what is worse in her opinion] is that among the Nigerians [who demonstrated the day after] there are no Italians, and not many local inhabitants, there are no local or national politicians, the Nigerians are there alone."
Scaramucci says that she found these images "absolutely incredible." Of course, she acknowledges that everyone is busy condemning the attack itself, but actual concrete actions are not yet there she feels. Scaramucci then writes about another, partially similar incident, in which a local barman did intervene and the person being attacked, who also had a "different skin color from us," finished up in hospital instead of in the mortuary. It seems, although she doesn't write this in so many words, that she believes had someone intervened earlier, Ogorchukwu might still be alive too.
The journalist then adds that just four years ago in a nearby town, the capital of the Marche province -- Macerata, an Italian man Luca Traini, reportedly an activist in the League party, was found guilty of shooting to kill "people of color." Traini was sent to prison in 2019 for injuring six people and for the murder of an Italian female student.
Changes in the Marche region
According to Scaramucci, the region Le Marche is a region of "hard working, fun-loving workers, who stick together, are great farmers and could teach the rest of the world a lot about the skills they have, such as leather work, making shoes, electrical products and furs." The people there are thought of as "good sorts," says Scaramucci.
But in the last few decades, the region which used to be oriented politically central to left-wing, which didn’t deviate too much to the extremes, and stood for "democracy and tolerance," has "changed progressively and slowly, day after day, election after election."
According to Scaramucci, the economic crisis has taken its toll in the region, with lots of shops and businesses closing, and more and more immigrants arriving. Mostly this wasn’t a problem, thinks Scaramucci, but in recent years, the journalist feels more and more young people are starting to adhere to the mantra that these migrant arrivals "are taking our money and stealing our work."
Scaramucci accuses political parties like the League of instrumentalizing these feelings to make political gains. It is an accusation that Alberto Losacco, regional Commissioner for Le Marche and a member of the center-left Democratic Party (PD) appears to agree with. Quoted in the online news portal Ancona Today, Losacco reportedly said that the League trying to use Ogorchukwu's death as a platform to call for more security, was an insult to his death. Adding that this was a reminder that the party had repeatedly "looted" these kinds of incidents for political gain and that they should "stop feeding the rising climate of intolerance that was increasingly being felt across the country."
The League responded by claiming that the left should stop wasting its time looking for fascists, and said what was needed was a higher police presence and more adherence to the rules in order to make everyone safer.
Today, says Scaramucci who used to direct Rai's third channel commonly associated with sympathizing with the left of politics, Le Marche has become "changed, hardened, angry, altered from a place which was based on solidarity, to a jungle of human relationships based on conflict, on jealousy and on discrimination."
A racist attack?
The journalist believes that these kinds of attitudes could have somehow provided the spark in the attacker’s mind to feel justified in hitting Ogorchukwu. In fact, the attacker has not yet spoken and no one knows exactly what happened between the two men.
La Repubblica reports that the attacker shouted "you piece of s**t" at the victim as he was hitting him. The German newspaper Frankfurter Rundschau, quoting Italian television, reports that one passer-by said that Ogorchukwu had been attacked for his "skin color," a motive denied by the police, who said they have "no indications" that this could have been a racist attack.
Instead, explained investigators in a press conference reported by the news agency Associated Press (AP), the attacker could have been annoyed at the "insistence" with which the victim tried to sell his wares and ask for small change.
A second theory has been put forward by the lawyer representing the victim and his wife, reports AP. In this theory, the victim allegedly told the attacker his girlfriend was beautiful, and this was enough to drive the attacker to distraction.
Elections in September
Whatever the truth of what happened is, Italian politicians are all busy on the campaign trail ahead of the upcoming elections on September 25. Migration is one of the hot topics in this election, as it has been in the last few too. In among their condemnations of Ogorchukwu's death are tweets from the towns they are visiting on the campaign trail.
Some analysts and the latest polls tip Giorgia Meloni, the leader of right-wing Brothers of Italy party, which was born several incarnations later out of the former Italian Fascist party, for the top job. The German newspaper, Die Zeit, recently predicted she could win as much as 22% of the vote, the most of any single party.
Like her fellow politicians, Meloni condemned the attack and sent her condolences to the victim. Salvini too sent his sympathy to Ogorchukwu’s family and said that safety and security should be a top priority for everyone in Italy.
In a tweet on July 31, the leader of the League party, tweeted a picture from right-wing newspaper Libero’s front page, in which he accused the left of being "desperate and using the death of a poor guy, killed by a criminal to accuse me, the League and millions of Italians of racism." Salvini said these kinds of accusations were "squalid." In the Libero introduction, they said that racism was nothing to do with the case and denied that parties like Fratelli d’Italia and the League were fomenting racism anyway.
The day before, Salvini said that the attacker should be handed down a long sentence and that safety and security should not depend on the color of your skin, "security should be a right," Salvini concluded.