A Nigerian Street Vendor Is Beaten to Death in Italy as Witnesses Stand By
ROME — In May 2021 Alika Ogorchukwu, a 39-year-old Nigerian living in Italy, was hit by a car while he was riding his bicycle, an accident that forced him to use a crutch to move around.
On Friday, an Italian man used the crutch to knock Mr. Ogorchukwu to the ground on a major shopping street in Civitanova Marche, a seaside town on the Adriatic Coast, before beating him to death, as a video of the assault shows and police officials confirmed. Moments earlier, Mr. Ogorchukwu, a street vendor, had unsuccessfully pitched his wares to the assailant and his girlfriend.
The brutal, senseless murder — which was videotaped by witnesses and shared thousands of times on social media — has shocked Italians, stirred political bickering ahead of national elections in September and spawned fresh debate over racism in Italy, even though, for now, investigators do not believe that the crime was racially motivated.
“Let’s condemn the fact itself and the behavior of people who stood by and watched a disabled person get killed with a crutch and filmed it,” instead of intervening, “it is shameful,” said Patrick Guobadia, the vice secretary of an association representing Nigerians in Italy.
“This indifference is frightening,” he said.
Editorials in major Italian newspapers wrote of the “dusk of civilization.” Politicians across the political spectrum denounced the crime, though concerns emerged that the murder could be used as a political sparring point in the upcoming election in which the right-wing coalition has already singled out immigration as an issue.
Rocco Pennacchio, the archbishop of nearby Fermo, said in an interview Sunday in the Catholic newspaper l’Avvenire that he hoped that all the political parties would refrain from stirring such tensions for “a handful of votes.”
Mr. Ogorchukwu was killed around 2 p.m. on Friday, shortly after he had approached the suspect, Filippo Ferlazzo, whose identity was confirmed by his lawyer, and his girlfriend to sell trinkets and beg for some change. After being rebuffed, Mr. Ogorchukwu walked away, followed almost immediately by the suspect, who assaulted him. Onlookers filmed the aggression, which lasted less than four minutes, but no one intervened.
Charity Oriachi, the wife of Mr. Ogorchukwu, at his memorial on Saturday.
Charity Oriachi, the wife of Mr. Ogorchukwu, at his memorial on Saturday.Credit...Chiara Gabrielli/Associated Press
Mr. Ogorchukwu had moved to Italy about a decade ago, to join his wife, Charity Oriachi. They lived in the inland town of San Severino Marche, about an hour’s drive from the coast. Eight years ago, their son was born, said Francesco Mantella, a lawyer who has helped the family and is representing Ms. Oriachi. “Now that she’s alone, with a son, you can imagine how hard it will be,” he added.
Mr. Ferlazzo, a 32-year-old factory worker, is being held on charges of homicide and robbery because he took Mr. Ogorchukwu’s cellphone after the episode. Matteo Luconi, the chief police investigator in Macerata overseeing the case, said in a telephone interview that an autopsy later this week would establish the cause of death. Nothing has emerged from investigations to suggest “elements of racial hatred,” he added. A statement issued by the police said the “motive for the murder” appeared to be traceable to “petty reasons.”
In addition to its violence and the bystanders, the killing touched a nerve because the Marches region, where Civitanova is, has been the scene of heinous crimes against migrants. In February 2018, an Italian right-wing sympathizer shot and wounded six African immigrants in Macerata, some 19 miles inland from Civitanova Marche, marking the city as a bastion of intolerance. Two years earlier, a Nigerian man was killed in the city of Fermo, just south of Civitanova, after he tried to defend his wife from racist slurs.
Italians have been leaving bouquets of flowers, potted plants and scribbled notes at the scene of the deadly beating. “Stop racism,” read one note.
In an email, Mr. Ferlazzo’s lawyer, Roberta Bizzarri, said her client, his girlfriend and his mother all “felt pain” because of what had transpired, adding that Mr. Ferlazzo had “overt psychiatric disorders, a recognized borderline diagnosis.” She also said that “this very sad story” was “not a case of racism.”
Fabrizio Ciarapica, the mayor of Civitanova Marche, met with Mr. Ogorchukwu’s widow on Saturday, and on Sunday, the municipal administration approved a motion to assist the family. Funds have been set aside to help pay for the funeral, and a bank account was opened for donations. “The community is always ready to extend a hand to those in need,” Mr. Ciarapica said in a statement sent on Sunday.
The mayor also pledged to “protect the image and values of Civitanova, which has always been a civilized, welcoming, generous, peaceful and supportive city and which is dismayed and grieved by an affair foreign to its character and soul.”
Mr. Guobadia, of the Nigerian association, said that an impromptu protest had been held Saturday by Nigerians living in the area but that a bigger demonstration was in the works for next weekend. “What happened could be called an act of underlying racism, or indifference, I can’t say,” he said. “But in any case, it is shameful.”
Speaking to the Italian Sky News channel, Ms. Oriachi was distraught. “The pain is too much for me, I need justice,” she said. “I need justice.”