Do Black lives matter in Italy? By Chrispin Mwakideu

A man attends a rally against racism

Warning: This article contains graphic accounts of racist violence and slurs that some readers may find disturbing.

The murder of Nigerian migrant Alika Ogochukwu has highlighted the racism that people with African heritage routinely face in Italy. Those who shared their experiences with DW said little is done to punish culprits.

Four weeks have passed since Charity Oriakhi suddenly became a widow. Yet, she still goes mute whenever her children — a son and daughter ⁠— ask where their dad is.

“My son asks me: ‘Where is daddy?’ thinking his daddy is in the hospital,” the Nigerian woman, who lives in Italy, told DW.

The kids often gaze at the door expecting their father, Alika Ogochukwu, to return home. 

“On his way back, he buys them many things. This time is summer; he buys them ice cream, a lot of things,” Oriakhi explained.

Since July 29, the two kids have wondered why there’s been no ice cream and other goodies.

Charity Oriakhi, widow of a street vendor Alika Ogochukwu, shows a picture of her wedding with Alika

Charity Oriakhi, Alika Ogochukwu, says her late husband was a loving and caring father

Murdered in broad daylight

According to sources who spoke to DW, Ogochukwu, a steet vendor, was finished work that fateful Friday and waiting for his bus at a bus stop in Civitanova Marche, central Italy.

Then, a young Italian woman accompanied by a white man passed by, and Ogochukwu greeted her, saying: “Ciao bella,” an informal Italian expression meaning ‘hi or goodbye beautiful.’

Oriakhi also confirmed this. “People that were there said my husband said ciao — he greeted the boy’s girlfriend: Ciao bella — just like that. Finish.”

In a fit of rage, the 32-year-old Italian man assaulted Ogochukwu, although he was clearly using a crutch — a sign of a disability caused by a car crash.

Ogochukwu tried to run, but the Italian man overpowered him, snatched his crutch, and used it to beat him. 

He shoved the visibly shaken Nigerian to the ground, unleashing torrents of blows before strangling him with his bare hands.

The attacker then used his knee to crush Ogochukwu’s head to the ground before fleeing the scene after stealing his phone.

All these happened in broad daylight, while passersby used their phones to record what happened. 

A simple, quiet man

People who knew Ogochukwu described him as a simple, quiet, happy, and easy-going man who believed all humans are one. 

He loved and respected everyone he met, so he greeted and complimented people effortlessly.

“He was not even telling the Italian woman to buy anything. Instead, he greeted,” Oriakhi stressed.

“This is, unfortunately, a familiar story,” said Ojeaku Nwabuzo, Director of Policy, Advocacy, and Network Development at the European Network Against Racism. 

“It is due to a long history of racist violence in Italy,” the anti-racism activist told DW. She said she does not understand why the onlookers could not help.

Nwabuzo said Italy has a notoriety for racism across the board, noting that political and law enforcement institutions are not comprehensively addressing the issue.

 Flowers are left where the street vendor Alika Ogochukwu was killed, in Civitanova Marche, Italy,

Sympathizers have been leaving behind flowers and condolences at the place where Ogochukwu was killed

Do Black lives matter in Italy?

At the center of Ogochukwu’s murder is a disregard for the lives of Africans, said Kudus Adebayo, a fellow at the African Center for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

“Africans have been framed over the years as a burden to the European bliss,” Adebayo told DW. 

“Not just by the media but also by politicians who ride on the back of populist ideologies to seek votes and in the bid to do this, frame certain bodies as disposable.”

He said that explains the blatant disregard for Black lives and the killing in the public glare of a vulnerable individual. 

“Not just someone that’s having issues with disability, but also a Black man who is on the street trying to make ends meet.”

Protesters gather during a demonstration to demand justice for Nigerian street vendor Alika Ogochukwu in Civitanova Marche, Italy

The Nigerian community in Italy has been holding regular protests demanding justice for Ogochukwu

African migrants used as scapegoats

Those interviewed for this article said many Italians believe African immigrants are a burden to the country, bring disease, and are responsible for increasing crimes. 

Right-wing supporters have taken up this narrative and turned it into an immigration issue.

Africans in central and southern Italy, who spoke with DW on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals, said the country’s problem of racist crimes has never been acknowledged. 

They said political rhetoric at the highest level fuels the violence, leading to attacks such as in Civitanova and other parts of the country. 

A number of Africans told DW that racism in Italy has been institutionalized.

“This problem holds a very notorious and uncomfortable position in that particular country,” Adebayo said.

He went on to say that it is easy for people with a racist mindest to go out feeling that they have the backing of the state, ‘to mete punishment’ against people they think shouldn’t be in their country. 

“This is the pattern in Italy and it doesn’t seem there is a very proactive approach to dealing with this issue in a very decisive manner.”

A woman takes part in a demonstration against racism and in support of movement Black Lives Matter

Blacks in Italy say they are made to feel unwanted and unwelcome

Racist slurs and mimics

Justin, a 45-year-old Nigerian automobile expert in Civitanova, said racist slurs are sometimes hurled directly in the faces of black Africans. At other times, the discrimination is unspoken.

“Racism deprives us from competing equally, from learning the language, from being who we are,” he told DW. 

“We are being suppressed in different ways, we cannot even go to school, we are just mistreated,” he added.

“They [Italian racists] give you this feeling everywhere that you are nothing. So, you have lots of fights and we are psychologically damaged and suppressed.”

“We don’t have equal rights here,” Justin said,” recalling his personal experiences. “Somebody once told me: ‘You are an ancient ape, get out of here; you’re too dark’.”

An anti-racism campaign artwork by Italian artist Simone Fugazzotto featuring three side-by-side paintings of apes

One of the most used racist slur in Italy is the comparison to apes

He didn’t end there. “They call you monkey, they call you names and, they ask what are you doing here; we don’t need you here, you cannot do anything [about the racist attacks].”

He ignored the taunts because he wanted to acquire his car mechanic certificate. “I want to be successful, so I concentrated on myself.”

Justin said he understands the motivation behind the racist attacks: “They want to pull me down with all these words and some of these people sometimes come apologizing because they see I’m really strong, even stronger than them.”

Plastic smiles, hearts filled with venom

Kennedy, 47, who works as a delivery man and has been living in Parma — a city in northern Italy — for the past 20 years, describes some Italians as having plastic smiles on their faces but hearts full of venom.

“I have experienced a situation where I delivered electronics to a customer and she even offered me coffee, I accepted. When I left, she called the office that next time, they should not send a black man to her house again.”

This was not his only experience. “When I brought in something to deliver to the house, she [another white Italian client] refused to open the door. She called the office that she was not expecting a black man to bring her stuff.” The company told her that if she does not want to receive the package from a Black man she as the right to reject the item, which she then did.

Black children not spared  

Omonigho, another Nigerian in Italy, told DW she had experienced racist actions for most of her young life.

At two months old, her father, an engineer, and mother, an African food store owner, took her to a daycare center in Cremona,  in northern Italy. 

When the father would sometimes pass by to check on his baby, “they would take care of other children, maybe hold them. My daughter would be on the bed all alone in a hall,” the father told DW. “Which is not supposed to be, but we don’t have an alternative,” he added. “Nobody wants to carry a Black child.”

Omonigho has always felt unwelcomed and unaccepted, athough she was born in Cremona.

While non-African kids who soiled themselves in kindergarten were taken to the school’s cleaners to be cleaned and taught how to use the toilet, Omonigho was always told to go alone while the cleaners would refuse to wash or teach her how to use a potty.

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