The killing of a Nigerian man in broad daylight in Italy raises hard questions about racial and socio-economic inequality.
The brutal killing of a Nigerian man in the city of Civitanova Marche in Italy a few weeks ago is yet another episode that sheds more light on the issue of racism and socio-economic inequality within Italy and globally. Alika Ogorchukwu, 39, had reportedly attempted to sell a pack of tissue papers to the attacker and his girlfriend before requesting some change. A fight broke out between them, and Ogorchukwu was killed a few minutes later after being beaten with the crutch he used to walk. The most horrifying part of this story is that passers-by failed to intervene, not even the person videotaping the entire incident. The police have taken up the case and, while investigations are still in the initial stages, they have already ruled out any “racist motivation” in the killing. Only the murderer knows his true intentions, but what this tragic act of violence glaringly highlights is the problem of racial inequality, socio-economic inequality, and inhumane treatment of physically challenged individuals.
As someone who currently studies in Italy and who has been to a number of Italian cities, I have seen people (especially black people) around the city center selling petty things. In my observation, bangles are the most common product being sold, and sometimes they are very resilient in trying to convince you to buy them. I should not be saying this, but I think it is common knowledge that a simple shaking of the head sends a message to a street vendor that you are not interested in what they are trying to sell to you. And this is what most people do, or you just say “no”. They might try to persist, but if you keep walking and do not look back, they switch their target customer from you to someone else. These are people just trying to make a living through their petty trades. How difficult can it be for someone not interested in a product to communicate that they are not interested in the said product? Even in cases where someone is persistent, it does not deserve the irreversible punishment of death.
Ogorchukwu was physically challenged but he was not limited by that; he was a strong man with the industrious, resilient mindset of a typical Nigerian who would go to any length to make a living for himself and his family, notwithstanding his physical disability.
It is a well-known fact that it can be difficult to try to make ends meet with a disability, which is why some people end up begging for alms by the roadside. A lot of us treat these people with extreme disdain simply because they are trying to survive in the best way they know how to. Ogorchukwu was physically challenged, but he was not limited by that; he was a strong man with the industrious, resilient mindset of a typical Nigerian who would go to any length to make a living for himself and his family, notwithstanding his physical disability. This was someone who tried to not become a burden to the government and was independent and resourceful by selling petty goods. He only tried to make a living, and life was snuffed out of him, and yet we have not seen the global outcry.
Two years ago, we saw how the world stood in “solidarity” behind George Floyd, his family, and the entire black community globally. The situation sparked outrage across the world (and rightfully so) because: who kills another man for a petty theft if it were not for “racist motivation”? I am forced to make a few assumptions about why Ogorchukwu’s case has not garnered even a tiny bit of global outrage: Perhaps because the perpetrator was not the American police, who have been infamous in recent years for how they treat black people unjustly and with brute force? Or just because no one gives two cents about Africans? (He is black but not “American black”). Or maybe because Italians “do not see color or class?” It is a ridiculously problematic take, but I leave that to you to decide.
The most terrifying part of the situation is that passersby were very content with the beatings being meted on Ogorchukwu by his killer just before he died. Not one single person stopped the attacker. After all, it is another good-for-nothing, dirty, poor black man staining our most historic, culturally magnificent city with his petty little trade. I dare say that this mindset exists in many western spaces, especially against black people who are of lower-class families, and nothing much is being done to change this narrative.
“I take extra care in observing rules of countries in the west not because I want to earn their citizenship rights but because I do not want to be the target of racial stereotypes.”
Personally, as an African studying in Italy, I do tell my friends how I always try to be careful to obey rules and regulations in a foreign, white country. Of course, obeying government rules should be a norm everywhere, but the extra care I take in observing the rules of a country and following them religiously is not because I just want to be a good ambassador of my country or make them give me their citizenship. Instead, it is because I do not want to be the target of racial stereotypes; the kind of false perception that many people have adopted, which is to regard black people as being impoverished, unclean, gangsters, and troublemakers wherever they are.
The issue of class also adds another layer to this conversation. I am grateful for the comprehensive and generous funding that I have from my school (funded by the European Commission) to study in Italy and it has allowed me to have everything I need while I am in school. If it is not obvious, I am extremely grateful for this. Not having enough funds to complete my education in a foreign, white country would have been highly uncomfortable for me. Not that it is unusual to struggle financially but I would rather struggle financially in Nigeria than in a foreign, western country like Italy. Looking at Ogorchukwu’s horrific video that led to his death, I sometimes ask myself if I were in his condition, would I have been subjected to the same treatment? You know the answer. I am highlighting the above because people have conclusions about other people due to their differences either in terms of race, socio-economic inequality, nationality, disability, religion, etc., and most times, these assumptions or conclusions are negative and could be harmful.
I strongly hope that justice prevails in this case, even though I doubt it will. This is because the lawyer for the suspect has said that the suspect is suffering from a mental health condition. This is a popular line that is very much prevalent in the United States: a white person commits a heinous crime, and they are labeled a “lone wolf” suffering from mental health issues, thus downplaying the severity of the crime committed. This same “privilege” is not accorded to people of color. I am not inferring that the alleged mental health situation is true or not, I am just highlighting the fact that this is a common argument in cases where a white person has committed a capital crime.
The school system, in my opinion, has a major role to play in reorienting people toward racial issues and cultural diversity. Italy and many other countries where racial inequities and other forms of inequalities are pervasive, still need to make significant improvements to their educational systems. Curricula must be rethought to provide students with the abilities they need to succeed in environments that are socially and culturally diverse. People need to be sensitized about racial diversity, how to interact with people from other cultural origins and other social class backgrounds, and how to live in inclusive communities. Unfortunately, despite the pervasiveness of globalization in today’s society, a lot of people still live their lives as though they were inside of a box, entirely unaware of the variety of differences that exist elsewhere. This is why sometimes there is friction or misunderstanding when they come across people of other races, cultural or socio-economical backgrounds, and as globalization persists, this is not how to live in a “multicultural,” “multilateral”, and “universal” world. We can do better.