Following the killing of a Nigerian immigrant in Italy, anti-racism activists are demanding legal and immigration reforms to address the country's anti-black discrimination.
Warning: This article contains graphic accounts of racist violence and slurs that some readers may find disturbing.
On July 29, a white Italian man allegedly beat to death Alika Ogochukwu, a Nigerian street vendor in Italy's Civitanova Marche city, Italy.
"I just want justice. That is what I want. He has to pay for his crime," Charity Oriakhi, his wife, told DW. Oriakhi believes her husband's killing was racially motivated.
"If he did not strangle him, my husband would have taken the bus and come home. He would have been at home and still be alive today," she said.
Left alone to raise two children by herself, the family's future is one of uncertainty.
"I am okay a little bit but I am just losing strength," she told DW. "All the children are just tired because they have not seen him and they are just imagining things."
Calling for justice
Ogochukwu's killing has highlighted the racism that many Africans experience in Italy. Following the incident, several protests throughout the country have called for justice for Ogochukwu. His killing is not an exceptional incident, but takes places in a society where anti-black racism is pervasive.
All 21 Black African parents residing in northern Italy who were interviewed for this story said their children are called inhuman names, compared to monkeys and despised by their white Italian classmates at school. Many said that racism is always present when living in Italy.
"You can watch what happened to [Mario] Balotelli on the football pitch, as big as he is, so what do you think of a poor child, or a child from a poor home like ours?" one parent asked. Balotelli, who was born in Palermo to Ghanaian parents, and who currenlty plays for Swiss club F.C. Sion, was regularly booed and had bananas thrown at him while playing in Italy.
The African community have little faith in the Italian police, who are investigating Ogochukwu's killing and ruled out racist motivations even before the investigation began.
Justin, a Nigerian living in Italy, who works as a car mechanic, said he has no idea where and how to formally report acts of racism in the country, or whether it is possible.
"You cannot handle it because you don't know the right place to go, you don't know the office, you don't know the right people," he told DW.
"I'll prefer to be oriented when we come to Europe, from someone who's been here and been through all this and will be able to guide us and teach us on how to escape some of these things."
"It [racism] is really weighing some of us down. We don't have equal rights here," he added.
Justin stressed that Africans are educated, loving, and caring people. "We just want to be accepted and be treated equally just like any other person," he said.
Establishing the motive
Ojeaku Nwabuzo, a senior research officer at the European Network Against Racism, said she was startled by the Italian police's behaviour. "They are not ... fulfilling their obligations of investigating the race-motivation of the crime," Nwabuzo told DW.
"The police have relied on the perpetrator's words for what happened, whether he felt it was racially motivated or not. And this goes against everything that we understand about investigating crimes," she told DW.
"The penalty for any aggression will be increased if there is a racial element or racial bias involved. So, it's in his best interest to say it's not racially motivated," Nwabuzo added.
Nwabuzo said she believes Italy can end structural and systemic forms of racism, but addressing them requires an entirely different way of organizing and thinking about society.
"It's not that racism and discrimination is inherent in our society. We created it and we can dismantle it," she explained.
"If we look specifically at Italy, the migration and citizenship laws, they should be addressed, they should be changed," Nwabuzo stressed.
"So that they don't create a kind of two-tier system, for white Italians and migrants who might be first, second or third generations, in Italy."
She also called for a national action plan against racism, but emphasized that visible changes might not happen instantly, nor within five or ten years.
Seizing the opportunity
"We can make changes, and I think this is an opportunity for the policymakers, the institutions, to sit down with the anti-racist law organizations, civil societies, the victims, and talk about what needs to change to prevent this from happening again," she said.
Kudus Adebayo, a fellow at the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, concurs with Nwabuzo.
"There has to be institutional commitment to ensure that this kind of job and the way to actually prosecute it is properly laid out," the migration expert told DW.
"There has to be education at the level of everyday people to be able to address this issue," he added.
Author: Tobore Ovuorie / Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu
First published: September 1, 2022
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