The role of racism is contested as marches held in Italy for Nigerians beaten to death

Two demonstrations were held in a town on Italy’s Adriatic coast on Saturday to demand justice for the death of a Nigerian street vendor killed by another man on the street, in an attack that made global headlines.

The organizers of one of the marches in Civitanova Marche, by Nigerians living in Macerata province, said they do not want the search for justice to be overshadowed by accusations of racism which they feel cannot be proven.

That demonstration was led by victim Alika Ogorchukwu’s widow, Charity Oriakhi, and two of his brothers.

The second march, along the same route an hour later, was led by black Italians from across Italy demanding that authorities do a U-turn and acknowledge the role they believe race played in the July 29 killing.

The alleged assailant, Filippo Ferlazzo, is known to have psychiatric problems, and investigators appear to have ruled out a racially motivated killing.

The 32-year-old allegedly attacked Alika Ogorchukwu after an argument. According to the police, Ferlazzo first attacked the street vendor after chasing the Nigerian 200 meters down a shopping street with exclusive shops.

The attacker choked the victim to see several people filming the incident. Ferlazzo remains in prison because he is considered dangerous.

Civitanova Marche residents have largely accepted the official version of events, attributing the Nigerian man’s death to an insistent street vendor who unfortunately collided with a man who has a documented history of mental illness.

Some campaign groups are seeking to register a civil claim in the case because they believe the attack was racially motivated. But the victim’s widow has not backed this allegation, saying she had never experienced racism before the tragic attack.

Charity Oriakhi told the AP that she and her husband had always felt welcome in Italy and that he never reported any negative interactions when he was out selling. In fact, she said, he often came home with gifts from Italians for the couple’s eight-year-old son.

The couple met in Tuscany about a decade ago, shortly after Ogorchukwu’s arrival in Italy, and later settled in the Marche region.

There are fears that the case will loom large in the upcoming election campaign in Italy and could poison it further. City officials have expressed concern that the killing was being politicized ahead of a vote to elect a new parliament on September 25.

The marches were relatively small, but the international impact of the killing has brought the issue of racism back to center stage.

It also focuses on the very different positions between the centre-right and centre-left camps on the question of immigration.

“The word racism cannot be minimized because it exists,” said Daniel Amanze, who came to Italy from Nigeria as a student 40 years ago. He said he saw racism becoming more “obvious” in recent years as some politicians scapegoat immigrants to cover up “for their bad administration”.

Amanze said Ogorchukwu’s killing renewed a sense of fear among Africans living in the Marche region that had begun to dissipate after two racially motivated attacks in recent years.

In 2018, six people were injured in a shooting by a right-wing political activist targeting Africans in Macerata.

Two years earlier, a Nigerian man, Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi, died when he was attacked after defending his wife against racial abuse in the town of Fermo.

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