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In Florence, Where Counterfeit Gucci And Immigrant Dreams Meet Racist Violence

After two Senegalese men were slain in a central Florence market by a local man inspired by racist hatred, immigrants turned out in the Tuscan city to demand justice and insist that the murder was the fruit of years of official tolerance of xenophobic att

A street vendor in northern Italy (krossbow)
A street vendor in northern Italy (krossbow)
Guido Ruotolo

FLORENCE - "Who will tell our mother?" The brother of Modou Samba, a Senegalese vendor gunned down on Tuesday in Florence by an Italian far-right militant, speaks with a hoarse whisper of a voice. He refers to his brother by his nickname: "Samb had a wife and a child. He'd been living here for 11 years, without ever going back home." Yes, someone must tell their mother.

Samba and Diop Mor, another Senegalese immigrant selling merchandise in central Florence, were killed by Gianluca Casseri. The 50-year-old, who held extreme anti-immigrant views, also seriously wounded three other immigrants, before committing suicide.

Florence imam, Ezidim, called Samaba and Mor "martyrs' of racist-fueled violence. Following Tuesday's shooting, more than 300 Senegalese residents of Florence took part in angry demonstrations throughout the city's streets and piazzas. As they marched toward to the central government prefecture building, some protesters knocked over motorbikes, as well as cafe tables and chairs. Nervous shopkeepers locked up their stores and restaurants.

Many of these mostly young people have been living in Florence for 10 to 15 years. The city has become their home, but now they were feeling lost – and scared.

On Tuesday evening, in Florence's historic Duomo square, one of the world's most visited tourist destinations, an anxious crowd gathered. There were moments of anger, of sorrow and reflection. One of the young people spoke in careful but clear Italian. "No, don't call him the killer a lunatic. If he had been crazy he would have shot white and black alike. And yet, he didn't. He was a selective lunatic who hit only black."

Others shared their daily grievances. "I went to community support organization Caritas looking for a job," said one African immigrant, who did not want to give his name. "But they are afraid of my skin color." Another protester added: "I didn't know the victims, but I'm here because it is like I had been killed too."

As the crowd grew, two women, Farhia and Gani, spoke up. "I'll buy white paint, so they won't kill me," Farhia, a Somali woman, quipped. But turning more serious she added: "Culturally, we are all turning into barbarians. All this is terrible and inexplicable."

"Paying for years of racism..."

Alessandro Martini, director of the local branch of Caritas, said the shootings have shaken the city. "Florence is a very civilized city, where people work every day, and everyone tries to live with dignity," he said. "The city has been wounded. This is a deep wound."

And yet, was it really the unexplainable act of a lunatic? Many people on the square disagreed. "We are paying for 15 years of racism which has been legitimized at a governmental level," said Farhia.

In Florence there are some 7,000 Senegalese people, with another 13,000 in Pisa and Pontedera. Once, the stereotypical Senegalese immigrant was a street vendor. They were called – and often still are - "vu cumprà" which is a quite racist expression imitating the pronunciation of African Immigrants saying , "Vuoi comprare?" that is, "Do you want to buy?" Today, Senegalese people in Florence work more frequently in manufacturing, in import-export trade, and in door-to-door sales. Many of them work in local markets, as Modou Samaba and Diop Mor did.

Pape Diaw, a leader of Florence's Senegalese community, and a former city counselor, said that reading comments on Facebook in recent months had given him the feeling that something bad was going to happen. "I felt something in the air. If you ignore it, an open wound can fester," Diaw said. He blamed politics. "They have trivilized the phenomenon of racism and called hate crimes just childish actions. But politicians were absent, and did not create a culture of cohabitation and prevention. The problem of the immigration was raised only during the electoral campaigns, in order to obtain votes," Diaw said.

A sort of impromptu live conference began. Senator Mass Thiam, the representative of Senegalese people living abroad, talked into a microphone. "In Tuscany, Senegalese hawkers have been persecuted by police and by competitors. Ask yourself who provide our brothers with fake Gucci bags to sell on the streets? The Italians do it. But the police only go after us."

Read the original article in Italian

Photo - krossbow

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