An Italian author with links to the extreme right shot down two immigrants and seriously wounded three others in Florence on Tuesday before taking his own life. The shooter was named by police as Gianluca Casseri, the 50-year-old author of a number of fantasy novels, a resident of Tuscany, and member of an ultra-right anti-immigrant movement called Casa Pound.
Witnesses to the shooting say Casseri parked his car in a square north of the city centre and in broad daylight calmly walked up to a group of Senegalese street vendors selling trinkets. He opened fire on the group. Two of the vendors were killed on the spot, the third left seriously wounded. According to hospital reports, he is likely to remain paralysed for life.
Casseri then moved on to the city's central San Lorenzo market, where he shot and seriously wounded two more vendors. When police arrived at San Lorenzo they shot at Casseri's car but failed to wound him. According to police reports, one police officer then followed Casseri. As he approached, Casseri drew his pistol and shot himself in the throat.
The two vendors from Senegal gunned down at the San Lorenzo market were taken to hospital and remain in a serious condition.
A group of Senegalese workers immediately gathered in the centre of Florence to protest against the killings. One of them told the press: “Do not tell us that he was crazy, because if he was he would have killed both blacks and whites.”
Local and national politicians sought to play down the significance of the incident and cover up the role of the Italian political establishment in encouraging xenophobia and the growth of extreme right-wing and fascistic forces. The mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi, denounced the shootings and declared that they were “the actions of a lone killer.” The city administration asked shops in Florence to cease trading for ten minutes on Wednesday to “show their respect for the victims.”
The Italian president, a former leader of the Italian Communist Party, Giorgio Napolitano, went on record criticising the “barbarous killing of two foreign workers” and “this blind explosion of hatred.” The killings were also condemned by the former leader of Italy’s Democratic Party, Walter Veltroni, who denounced the attack as “pure barbarism” resulting from “the climate of intolerance towards foreigners which has been created in recent years.”
These statements are intended to deflect attention from the role in recent years of Napolitano and the Democratic Party in fomenting racism. The city of Florence, which first flourished in the heyday of the Italian Renaissance, is regarded as a bastion of parties and politicians of the official “left.” Apart from two brief periods, the city has been governed by mayors from the Communist Party, the Socialist Party or the Democratic Left since 1975.
The massacre of immigrant workers in Florence this week is only the latest in a series of racist atrocities committed against immigrants and their families in Italy.
Last Saturday night a mob descended on the homes of Roma living in the run-down suburb of La Vallette in Turin and burnt their ramshackle houses and caravans to the ground. The arson attack came after a 16-year-old Italian girl claimed she had been raped by two men from the Roma camp. She has since admitted that she made the story up.
In a report issued earlier this year, Human Rights Watch (HRW) documented hundreds of racist hate crimes committed in Italy in recent years involving arson or the gunning down or physical intimidation of foreign workers.
The report noted that individual attacks on immigrant workers included the murder of Abdoul Guiebre, an Italian of Burkina Faso origin bludgeoned to death on the streets of Milan (September 2008), the brutal beating of a Chinese man as he waited for a bus in Rome (October 2008), and an attack on an Indian man in a town outside Rome, in which the victim was beaten, doused with gasoline and set on fire (February 2009).
Repeated attacks have been carried out against Roma encampments, and African seasonal migrant workers have been beaten up and intimidated.
More recently (and not included in the HRW report), the Italian government has abandoned refugees from the Libyan war, many hundreds of whom have been allowed to drown in the Mediterranean Sea in their desperate bid to reach Italian soil.
The Human Rights Watch report noted that very few of those responsible have been arrested and held to account for their crimes. The report concluded that the responsibility for the huge escalation in the number of racist assaults in recent years lay with the Italian government.
According to one of the group’s senior researchers, Judith Sunderland: “The government spends far more energy blaming migrants and Roma for Italy’s problems than it does on efforts to stop violent attacks on them. The government’s alarmist talk of an invasion of ‘biblical proportions’ from North Africa is just the latest example of irresponsible rhetoric. Officials should be protecting migrants and Roma from attack.”
The HRW report directed its fire first and foremost against the former government led by Silvio Berlusconi, but the “climate of intolerance towards foreigners in recent years” referred to by the Democratic Party grandee, Walter Veltroni, has been deliberately fuelled by his own party.
It was Veltroni himself who, shortly after the founding of the Democratic Party in 2007, urged the government, then led by Romano Prodi, to pass a new order (decreto espulsion—deportation decree) permitting the authorities to deport European citizens who represent “a threat to public security.”
Veltroni used his post as mayor of Rome to promote a right-wing campaign for new deportation laws, claiming publicly that the Roma were guilty of 75 percent of the petty crimes committed in the Italian capital.
The deportation decree was signed into law in November 2007 by the Italian president. The decree was also supported in public by the minister for social solidarity, Paolo Ferrero, the sole member of the Communist Refoundation group in the Prodi cabinet.
To ensure support for the measure, Prodi made the vote on the deportation decree a vote of confidence in his government. At the end of November 2007, Communist Refoundation General Secretary Franco Giordano made an appeal for support for the decree, which was then passed by a vote of 160 to 158.
Following its takeover of government in 2008, the right-wing coalition headed by Berlusconi was able to build on the foundations established by it predecessor and pass additional “emergency” decrees against migrants and Roma, including legislation making undocumented residence in Italy a crime. In the meantime, Italy has passed some of the most repressive anti-immigration legislation to be found in any Western European country. All of this legislation, whether from the era of Prodi or Berlusconi, bears the signature of the Italian president, Giorgio Napolitano.