On July 29, Alika Ogorchukwu—a 39-year-old Nigerian street vendor from Civitanova Marche, in northeastern Italy—was killed in broad daylight. A quiet person known to many, Ogorchukwu was allegedly beaten to death in the early afternoon on the central street of Civitanova by 32-year-old Filippo Ferlazzo, who is understood to suffer from a psychological disorder. The assailant reportedly used Ogorchukwu’s own crutch to strike him first, then crushed him with his bare hands until Ogorchukwu suffocated. The attack, which was captured in cellphone footage, lasted around four minutes. According to reports, it was triggered by Ogorchukwu’s “insistent” attempts to sell paper handkerchiefs.
The author of this response, commissioned by Vogue Italia, is Paolo Maurizio Talanti, an Afro-Latin Umbrian and the creative director of FestivalDiverCity, a platform that fights discrimination and spotlights creators of African descent.
It usually happens that the reasons that “make a death happen” are one of the criteria by which we judge the world around us and through which we question the validity of the morality of the societies in which we live or which we observe. From the Eurocentric perspective, we tell ourselves that it is unjust to die from hunger, that it is unjust to die from lack of care, and that it is unjust and unacceptable to die from war: the worst of human instruments of violence.
The reasons deaths occur are one of the criteria by which we judge the world around us, and through which we question the validity of the morality of the societies in which we live, or which we observe. From our Eurocentric perspective, we tell ourselves that it is unjust to die from hunger, that it is unjust to die from lack of care, and that it is unjust and unacceptable to die from war—the worst of human instruments of violence. It also happens, all too often now, that the reasons some deaths—those of people of color—occur, are not so easy to recognize. To do so means looking into the face of the monster that lives in our homes, in our community. It is a monster that fears its own reflection, that is afraid to call itself by name and hides in the chaos of journalistic narratives in which the victim is dehumanized and the perpetrator is marginalized, as if to say that this brutality is only be a single case, not an example of an evil circulating in the bowels of Western history.
It makes one pause to reflect that not even two years ago, Italy woke up from the privileged sleep of those who have never known racism because an African-American man was deprived of his breath—whereas in this case, a Black man was killed by a different manifestation of systemic racism, in an Italian square. The country is struggling to come to terms with what has happened but risks falling back into a racist slumber where passers-by remain helpless and political leaders and opinion-makers, even progressive ones, ignore the second pandemic, the racist one, which they are afraid to talk about.
The death of Alika Ogurchukwu is yet another case of brutality perpetuated against people of color in Italy. Alika Ogorchukwu is our George Floyd because this death also highlights the form in which racism systematically presents itself in our societies, and illustrates the painful truth that his name is the umpteenth in a long list that today needs to be said out loud and made public and visible.
As in the counterpart campaign we’ve seen in the US, public figures including the geopolitical editor Leila Belhadj Mohamed are emphasizing the need to “say their names.” We need to shout out those existences to the world because the priority today is to call into question any sense of “normality,” the general feeling of drowsiness that is the second violent fact of this affair, in order to reveal the cruelties of a colonialist cultural heritage according to which the bodies of Black people, the poor, laborers, and the disabled are expendable, because in a certain sense they are not “valid.”
The BIPOC communities of Italy need something, a sign to overcome the fear that grabs us first thing in the morning. It is with trembling hands and a lump in my throat that I write these words; and my hands are trembling and my throat is dry because, in this context, we and our loved ones risk being the next name on that list. Souls stolen from this world because they happen to be in a country without feelings, without a sense of justice and that has made the cowardly resumption of slow and inhuman suffocation preferable to courage and solidarity.
Systemic and institutionalized racism, even in Italy, will one day force us to have to give a talk to our children before they leave home; it will oblige and already obliges us today to look into the eyes of the people we love with the hope that it will not be for the last time and with the hope that the temple of their bodies will not encounter the violence that has unjustly persecuted us for generations.
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Today, more than ever, we need access to platforms, institutions, and spaces that allow us to proudly claim our dignity, to corroborate the idea that our body is as valuable as everyone else’s, that we cannot pay the price for an “original sin“ that is our beauty, our light, and our ancestral line. Today, as also proposed by Andi Nganso during the last edition of Festival DiverCity, we need a perimeter of healing and care where we can give a sense of peace to traumatized communities in need of repair and love.
We need to build community spaces where we can find strength, but also be fragile, be afraid and at the same time feel safer by honoring those who have fought before us—answering the prayer of the ancestors, embodying the hope of those who have been separated from their loved ones and this world, that they will not be forgotten.
May you and the others rest in peace:
Rome, May 21, 1979: Ahmed Ali Giama
Udine, July, 10 1985: Giacomo Valent
Castel Volturno, 1986: Thomas Quaye and George Anang
Provincia di Caserta, 1987: Fouad Khaimarouni
Mondragone, September, 30 1988: Juma Iddi Bayar
Casal di Principe, April 6, 1989: Ben Alì Hassen
Casapesenna, June 3, 1989: Abderrhmann Meftah and Baid Bouchaid
Caserta, August 25, 1989: Jerry Essan Masslo
Novara, May 16, 2001: Mohamed Sow
Roma, April 8, 2007: Abdul Manan
Province of Varese, June 17, 2008: Said Abdel Halim
Massacre of Castel Volturno, September 18, 2008: Kwame Antwi Julius Francis, Affun Yeboa Eric, Christopher Adams, El Hadji Ababa e Samuel Kwako, Jeemes Alex, Kwado Owuso Wiafe, and Karim Yabuku
Milan, September 14, 2008: Abdul William Guibre
Civitavecchia, January 21, 2009: Cheik Diouf
Florence, December 11, 2011: Samb Modou and Diop Mor
Marches, July 7, 2016: Emmanuel Chidi Namdi
Venice, January 22, 2017: Pateh Sabally
Reggio Calabria, January 27, 2018: Becky Moses
Florence, March 5, 2018: Idy Diene
Catanzaro, June 2, 2018: Soumaila Sacko,
Foggia, 28 March 2019, African migrant killed (without ID)
Colleferro, September 6, 2020: Willy Monteiro Duarte
Voghera, July 23, 2021: Youns El Boussettaoui
Turin, December 20, 2021: Souleymane Adama Coundoul
Civitanova Marche, July 29, 2022: Alika Ogorchukwu