CIVITANOVA MARCHE, ITALY (AP) — Black Italians marched through an affluent Adriatic seaside town Saturday demanding that authorities change their minds and acknowledge the role of race in the brutal daylight murder of a Nigerian migrant.
A witness filmed the July 29 assault that preceded the death of Alika Ogorchukwu, a 39-year-old street vendor. A widely circulated video showed a man throwing Ogorchukwu to the ground and strangling him. Bystanders yelled at the assailant to stop, but did not come to Ogorchukwu’s aid as he struggled to free himself, adding to public outrage over the murder.
Police arrested an Italian suspect, 32-year-old Filippo Ferlazzo, but immediately ruled out a racial motivation for the attack in the city of Civitanova Marche. Ferlazzo’s attorney, Roberta Bizzarri, said prosecutors confirmed that determination in her client’s charging document.
According to police, Ferlazzo first hit Ogorchukwu with a crutch used by the vendor, after chasing him about 200 meters down a shopping street lined with luxury boutiques. Some accounts said that Ogorchukwu had congratulated Ferlazzo’s partner while he was trying to make a sale or ask for change, others that he had touched or stroked the partner’s arm.
Townspeople, following the lead of law enforcement officials, have attributed the Nigerian man’s death to a pushy street vendor who unfortunately clashed with a man with a court-documented history of mental illness.
“This is not a racist city,” said Domenico Giordano, a newsstand owner. “This is an open city. If you behave yourself, you are welcomed and even helped.”
People have left flowers and condolence notes on the sidewalk where Ogorchukwu died, in front of a beachwear boutique that was closed for lunch at the time.
The store’s owner, Laura Latino, said she has received negative reviews from as far away as Houston, accusing her of sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing when she wasn’t there.
“Be careful judging a city of 45,000 people,” Latina said, adding that she believes the propaganda about the death was ”ruining the city’s reputation.”
City officials have expressed concern that the killing could become politicized as Italy prepares for parliamentary elections next month.
The role of race in the case is so charged that a local newspaper, il Resto del Carlino, published a story about the plans for Saturday’s march with a headline that “the word racism” would not be used during the demonstration.
But a manifesto for the event, billed as the country’s first organized by black Italians, lists recognition of the role of race in what happened to Ogorchukwu as the first of 11 demands. Some 30 organizations said they would seek to join the prosecution as a civil whistleblower on behalf of “people of color.”
Ogorchukwu’s widow, Charity Oriakhi, is reluctant to say the murder was racially motivated.
“He’s just someone evil,” Oriakhi told The Associated Press. “He wants to kill someone, that’s what I feel.”
She said that both she and her husband had always felt welcome in Italy and that he never recounted any negative interactions when he was selling. In fact, she said, she often came home with gifts from Italians for the couple’s 8-year-old son.
The couple hailed from different parts of Nigeria and met in the Tuscan city of Prato about a decade ago, shortly after Ogorchukwu’s arrival in Italy, and later resettled in the Marche region in an apartment above a marble workshop in the small town of San Severino, situated on a hillside. .
The Nigerian government condemned Ogorchukwu’s death, with the West African nation’s Foreign Ministry urging Italian authorities to “bring the perpetrator of the heinous act to the book without delay.”
Nigerians who have lived in Italy for decades and organizers of Saturday’s march say race cannot be ruled out as a reason.
“The word racism cannot be minimized because it exists,” said Daniel Amanze, a Macerata-based activist who came to Italy from Nigeria as a student 40 years ago. He said he perceives racism to become more “obvious” in recent years, as some politicians scapegoat immigrants as a cover “for their mismanagement and the unrest you see every day.”
Amanze said Ogorchukwu’s killing renewed a sense of fear among Africans living in the Marche region that had begun to dissipate after two other racially motivated attacks: a 2018 shooting spree by a former political activist from extreme right against Africans in Macerata that injured six, and the death of a Nigerian man who was attacked after defending his wife from racial abuse in the city of Fermo in 2016.
Ogorchukwu used a crutch because a car hit him while he was cycling a year ago, leaving him with a limp, according to people who knew him. The family’s attorney, Franceso Mantella, said the street vendor continued to sell products, from scarves to straw hats, even after an insurance settlement provided him with a little more financial security along with Oriakhi’s job cleaning a train station.
The widow said she last saw her husband when he gave her a sandwich at the station before leaving for Civitanova on the Friday he died. She is haunted by the images in the video and keeps the television at home turned off so that her son does not see them.
“I saw the video, just as the kid was strangling himself hard, really, really hard, and my husband was struggling like this,” she said, mimicking the chokehold. “What hurts me the most is that there are people surrounded. They make a video. No one to help. I wish someone would rescue him. Maybe he wouldn’t be dead.”
Chinedu Asadu in Lagos, Nigeria and Gianfranco Stara in Civitanova Marche contributed.