Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi, a Nigerian immigrant in Italy, died on Wednesday from injuries he sustained when a local Italian native attacked him in Fermo, a town in central Italy. The Guardian reports that Nnamdi and his wife, Chinyere were believed to have sought asylum in Italy in 2015 after fleeing the killings and terror of the Islamist group Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria.
Nnamdi, aged 36, was struck with an uprooted traffic pole and kicked violently by an extremist football supporter or “Ultra” as they are known in Italy. Nnamdi’s attacker, whose name is given as Amedeo Mancini, 35, is said to be well-known among the locals.
Eyewitness accounts say a fight broke out after Mancini hurled a stream of racial slurs at Chinyere and attempted to grab her forcefully. Her husband Nnamdi got involved, and he was soon engaged in fisticuffs with Mancini. Nnamdi would later go into a coma after Mancini attacked him with the traffic pole.
Nnamdi was rushed to a hospital, but he did not survive. On Thursday, the Italian police charged Mancini with racially aggravated manslaughter. But his lawyer argues that “Mancini did not mean to kill,” maintaining that he had only struck Nnamdi in self-defence.
Emmanuel Nnamdi’s death has brought to the fore once again, Italy’s very dismal record of race relations. After fleeing violence and deprivation in their home countries, African and Middle Eastern immigrants in Italy have been targeted constantly by racist right-wing groups like the “Ultras.” The Ultras are extremist-right, violent, Italian soccer hooligans who are renowned for their racist behaviour. They regularly chant anti-Jewish songs, repeatedly boo black players, and even throw bananas at them.
Italian authorities have typically responded to reports of racial intolerance with little more than a slap on the wrist to offenders. This has all but permitted the blatant, overt display of racial intolerance by many towards immigrants. In 2008, Silvio Berlusconi, the then-Italian Prime Minister, created something of a media furor when he described US President Barack Obama as “young, handsome, and sun-tanned.”
Despite the international media backlash that followed his remarks, Berlusconi refused to withdraw his words and brushed off the criticism with a “joke” about Obama and his wife Michelle, saying: “You wouldn’t believe it but they go to the beach together to sunbathe because even his wife is suntanned.” Berlusconi suffered no immediate personal or political consequences in Italy for his loose comments.
The killing of Emmanuel Nnamdi has shocked many Italians, however, and the hashtag #Emmanuel has been trending across major social media platforms. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi wrote on Twitter: “The government today is in Fermo with Don Vinicio and the local institutions in memory of Emmanuel. Against hate, racism, and violence.”
The speaker of Italy’s lower house of lawmakers Laura Boldrini was more forthcoming when she wrote concerning the xenophobic attacks that “the hate that poisons our society will be acknowledged and not underestimated … Those who have political and institutional responsibility must distance themselves from messages of hate and not stoke them.”
As part of measures for redress, Italy’s Interior Minister Angelino Alfano announced that Emmanuel Nnamdi’s widow Chinyere has been granted immediate refugee status. It is hoped that the Italian authorities would ride the wave of the public outcry against Nnamdi’s murder to further the conversation about the need to foster healthier race relations in Italy.