Racism’s role contested as marches held for Nigerian beaten to death

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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 in the street, in an attack that attracted global headlines.

Organizers of one of the marches in Civitanova Marche, by Nigerians living in Macerata province, said they did not want the search for justice to be clouded by accusations of racism that they feel cannot be proven.

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

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

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

The 32-year-old is said to have attacked Alika Ogorchukwu following an altercation. According to police, Ferlazzo first struck the street vendor after pursuing the Nigerian 200 metres down a shopping street lined with high-end boutiques.

The attacker strangled the victim in full view of several people who filmed the event. Ferlazzo remains in prison because he is considered to be dangerous.

Civitanova Marche’s inhabitants have largely accepted the official version of events, attributing the Nigerian man’s death to an insistent street-seller unfortunately clashing with a man who has a court-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 accusation, saying she had never experienced racism before the tragic attack.

Charity Oriakhi told AP that she and her husband had always felt welcome in Italy and that he never recounted 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 pair met in Tuscany about a decade ago, shortly after Ogorchukwu’s arrival in Italy, and later resettled in the Marche region.

There are fears that the case will loom large in the approaching election campaign in Italy and could further poison it. City officials have expressed concerns that the killing was being politicised ahead of the early vote to choose 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 centre stage.

It also brings into focus the very different positions between the centre-right and centre-left camps on the issue of immigration.

“The word racism cannot be minimised because it exists,”’ said Daniel Amanze, who arrived in 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 “for their poor administration”.

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

In 2018 a shooting spree by a far-right political activist targeting Africans in Macerata wounded six people.

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

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