Sources

The Grotesquely False Myth That The Mafia Doesn't Kill Children

The funeral in Naples for 14-year-old Annalisa Durante
The funeral in Naples for 14-year-old Annalisa Durante
Francesco La Licata

PALERMO — Italy was in shock again this week after a 2-year-old boy was killed in a revenge hit by the Sacra Corona Unita (SCU) organized crime syndicate on a Puglia motorway Monday night.

The little boy, Domenico Petruzzelli, was one of three people, along with his mother and her partner — a convicted murderer — shot to death by killers in a passing car in what police believe was part of a mob vendetta.

Indignation, which will quickly fade, has now begun for the latest tragically young victim of Italian mafia violence. We’ve seen it in interviews before, where the residents of the towns obediently whisper, “It’s never happened before.”

That’s not even a little bit true. Children have always been among the innocent victims of the mob, of criminals, of the family feuds that refuse to end. It’s happened so many times, all over the southern section of Italy’s boot, even though the mafia myth says that women and children won’t ever be harmed.

The collective Italian memory is very short and always feigns shock when a child such as Domenico, murdered in cold blood at age 2, is killed. But then the bad memories fade, forgotten because we can’t stand the enormous weight they place on our own consciences.

Who remembers Annalisa Durante? She was a teenager from a town outside Naples, gunned down 10 years ago just because she was in the same room where a war was raging among factions of the region’s Camorra mob organization. She had written in her diary: “I want to escape to Naples. I’m scared.”

Then there was Nuncio Pancali, a two-year-old from the Rione Sanità neighborhood in Naples who was in his mobster father’s arms when he was shot in another Camorra feud.

Even as recently as January, the charred remains of 3-year-old Nicola “Coco” Campolongo, were discovered alongside his slain grandfather in a car in the region of Calabria. As payback for an outstanding drug debt, hitmen from the ’Ndrangheta mob shot the toddler in the head and burned the bodies.

And these days, few people remember the name of Domenico Gabriele, who was shot down as he ran onto a soccer field, unaware that his father was the target of his murderers.

Dissolved, disappeared

One of the most notorious cases was the 1996 slaying of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 11-year-old son of a Sicilian Mafia boss. The nation was stunned when it emerged that, after more than two desperate years in the hands of his kidnappers, he was strangled and his body dissolved in a vat of acid.

This list goes on and on. Even Sicilians have their own mafiosi fables that people are protected by their age. “Do not touch women or children,” reads the phony unwritten law of the Cosa Nostra.

The origin of the myth is that once upon a time more attention was paid to the safety of women and children. Only if it was “absolutely necessary” was a youngster targeted. Older generations remember when it was “recommended” that killers shoot their victims away from the eyes of family members. But if the intended victims insisted on going around with their children clinging to their necks, as human shields, then they decided to waste little time on niceties.

A particularly ferocious incident was when Claudio Domino, 11, was shot in the forehead because he was “guilty of seeing something he shouldn’t have.” The mafia, worried about the loss of local support, publicly distanced itself from this case and even had a member read a statement in court during the infamous Maxi trial in the late 1980s.

It would be absolutely impossible to recount all the terrible stories that have taken place on the island of Sicily. One thing seems pretty conclusive, though: Scrolling through the list of victims, it’s quite apparent that ours is an island for neither women nor children.

On Saturday, in the city of Latina, on the “Day of Memory and Commitment,” the names of the mob’s 900-plus innocent victims will be read aloud. On Friday, family members of those fallen will meet Pope Francis.

The latest news should give pause to the hardworking businesspeople of Palermo who, just a few days ago, lowered their shutters for the funeral of Giuseppe Di Giacomo, a godfather of Cosa Nostra, as a sign of respect. He was shot in his car with his 9-year-old grandson in the passenger seat, who barely managed to escape harm.

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Green

Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.


"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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