Black Italians marched through an affluent Adriatic beach town on Saturday to demand authorities back down and recognize the role of race in the brutal broad daylight killing of a Nigerian immigrant.
Several witnesses filmed the attack on July 29 but did not physically intervene. Widely circulated video showed a man wrestling to the ground and strangling street vendor Alika Ogorchukwu, 39. Onlookers yelled at the assailant to stop but did not come to Ogorchukwu’s aid as he struggled to free himself, a fact which added to public outrage over the killing.
Police arrested a suspect, Filippo Ferlazzo, 32, but immediately ruled out a racial motivation for the attack in the Italian town of Civitanova Marche. Ferlazzo’s attorney, Roberta Bizzarri, said prosecutors confirmed that decision in her client’s charging document.
Police said Ferlazzo first hit Ogorchukwu with a crutch used by the vendor, after chasing him for about 200 meters down a commercial street lined with high-end shops. Some accounts stated that Ogorchukwu complimented Ferlazzo’s companion when trying to make a sale or ask for change, others that he touched or stroked the companion’s arm.
Townspeople, taking the lead in law enforcement officials, have blamed the Nigerian man’s death on a pushy street vendor who unfortunately ran into a man with a criminal record of mental illness.
“It’s not a racist city,” said newsstand owner Domenico Giordano. “It’s an open city. If you behave well, you are welcomed and even helped.”
People left flowers and words of condolence on the sidewalk where Ogorchukwu died, outside a beachwear shop that was closed for lunch at the time.
Store owner Laura Latino said she received negative reviews from as far away as Houston accusing her of just standing there and doing nothing when she wasn’t there.
“Be careful when judging a city of 45,000 people,” Latino said, adding that she believes the propaganda surrounding the death is “ruining the reputation of the city.”
City officials have expressed concern that the killing will become politicized as Italy prepares for legislative elections next month.
The role of race in the case is so charged that a local newspaper, Il Resto del Carlino, ran a headline promising that “the word racism” would not be used during Saturday’s march.
But a manifesto for the event, billed as the first in the country to be organized by black Italians, lists recognition of the role of race in what happened to Ogorchukwu as the first of 11 demands. About 30 organizations have said they will seek to join the prosecution as a civil plaintiff on behalf of “racialized people”.
Ogorchukwu’s widow, Charity Oriakhi, is reluctant to say the murder was racially motivated.
“He’s just someone being mean,” Oriakhi told The Associated Press. “He wants to kill someone, that’s how I feel.”
She said she and her husband had always felt welcome in Italy and he never said he had any negative interactions when he was selling. In fact, she said, he often came home with gifts from Italians for the couple’s 8-year-old son.
The couple hail from different parts of Nigeria and met in the Tuscan town of Prato a decade ago, shortly after Ogorchukwu arrived in Italy, and later moved back to the area from Le Marche in an apartment above a marble workshop in the small hillside town of San Severino. .
The Nigerian government has condemned Ogorchukwu’s death and the West African nation’s foreign ministry has urged the Italian authorities to “rescue the perpetrator of the heinous act without delay”.
Nigerians who have lived in Italy for decades and organizers of Saturday’s march say race cannot be ruled out as a motive.
“The word racism cannot be minimized because it exists,” said Daniel Amanze, a Macerata-based activist who arrived in Italy from Nigeria as a student 40 years ago. He said he perceived racism becoming more “obvious” in recent years as some politicians scapegoated immigrants as a cover “for their bad administration and the malaise you see every day”.
Amanze said Ogorchukwu’s killing had reignited a sense of fear among Africans living in the Marche region, which had begun to dissipate following two other racially motivated attacks: a shooting in 2018 by a former militant far-right politics targeting Africans in Macerata which injured six, and the death of a Nigerian man who was assaulted after defending his wife from racial abuse in the town of Fermo in 2016.
Ogorchukwu used a crutch because a car hit him while he was riding a bicycle a year ago, leaving him limping, according to people who knew him. Family lawyer Franceso Mantella said the street vendor continued to sell goods, from tissues to straw hats, even after an insurance settlement provided a bit more financial security with Oriakhi’s job of cleaning up a train station.
The widow said she last saw her husband when he gave her a sandwich at the station before leaving for Civitanova on the Friday he died. She is haunted by the images in the video and turns off the television at home so her son doesn’t see them.
“I saw the video, just as the boy was choking hard, very, very hard, and my husband was thrashing like that,” she said, mimicking the choke. “What hurts me the most is that there are people surrounded. They are making a video. No one to help. I wish someone would save him. Maybe he wouldn’t be dead .”
Chinedu Asadu in Lagos, Nigeria and Gianfranco Stara in Civitanova Marche contributed.
The Independent Gt