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Police, politics, and protests: Italy’s underworld 

Police, politics, and protests: Italy’s underworld 

CW: police violence (including vivid descriptions), prison neglect, mental health, self harm, sexual assault, murder.

Just another Friday afternoon in heaven when you wake up, and the first thing you do if you have a severe addiction to your smartphone and bad news like I do is to check for private messages and news. I notice in one of my family’s group chats it’s not the usual complaining row against Fiorentina Football Club’s board of directors or some memes. Instead, it’s a reel on some social media platform. The preview of the video already shows enough content to make my guts shrink, and a knot starts forming in my throat. I open up the link as I scornfully smile at Instagram’s sensitivity and politeness in shielding the bare content from me, the same platform that doesn’t blink an eye before shadow-banning or disabling the accounts of those who speak out against Zionism. The video is of a crowd of young folks on the frontlines of the latest pro-Palestine demo that very same morning in Pisa, Italy, getting chased, hit by batons and forced to fall back onto the rear lines of the march. A couple of students are also seen getting arrested, handcuffed with their hands behind their backs and pushed to the floor with their faces down, hitting the ground hard. 

I immediately go chasing around all sorts of media coverage I can find on the World Wide Web. The public outcry is polite but condemning from the institutions: from local high-school head teachers to the Università di Pisa administration, town majors, spokespersons and other public figures from the regional scene. Everyone else is outraged and loud, so much so that it probably even deterred our favourite fascistic haters on social media from throwing up their usual blob of excrement into the public domain. The central government people defend the actions of the police by saying the protesters shouted at them, “Son of a bitch”. 

Yesterday, I received the news directly from comrades in Italy that the same Palestine Solidarity demo, which took place in many cities and towns on Friday, saw sheer violence breaking out from the police towards peaceful protesters again. This time, in Florence, the casualty is a friend. There was lots of blood from the picture on the only online news outlet that decided to cover this specific instance: a broken nose, a deep wound to the eye (a couple of centimetres further down could have cost her whole eye) and recovery time estimated three weeks. She was about to head closer to the section of the march with building tensions, with her phone out, ready to document the events. When she turned, she was met with a baton in the face. I heard this morning she couldn’t see from the injured eye, and that caused panic, but she’s being looked after and supported by countless friends and comrades.

Hearing about the incident is causing a flashback to a never-forgotten memory of sometime in the late 2000s when the ‘usual suspects’ of students from local high-school collectives and networks (young people between 14 and 19 years old) were prevented from ending the march at a local high-school building with the sound of bloody batons. They were hoping to start the new wave of school occupations, which would ripen around October every year since its roaring revival in 2008 with the Onda (wave) movement protesting against cuts to public education all around the country, with many months of relentless mobilisation. Flashbacks rush to the front of my mind as I feel my hands tingling, and I start feeling the hair underneath my armpits getting gradually wetter and wetter. I watch again that grotesque past-memory-present-day-reality compilation mash-up in my head: there are bits of that Instagram reel of these little men in blue helmets pushing their riot shields and agitating their black batons against a bunch of young people, some of them even stopping with their hands up in the air or in front of their chests, unarmed, hoping to somehow deter the riot police from hitting them; my mate getting their face mangled by one of those, and that unknown comrade that 16 years ago shouted “Run, comrades, run” to me and my bestie at one of our first demos together at the age of 14 when chased down by riot cops. 

Italy (like I’m sure many other places too, but there’s always that rewarded pride in complaining about your motherland) is one of those places where people have to be constantly reminded about the basics: that police are violent, the police’s main objective is to enforce laws that are not made by or for the people and don’t have people’s safety or interests at heart, and that police are a constant violent threat to our communities, especially racialised and criminalised ones, including those who try to resist the many faces of oppression (state repression, gentrification, racism, poverty, precarious unsafe working conditions and housing, cost of living crisis, patriarchy, and many more). 

Another Pacchetto Sicurezza (literally security pack, some British equivalent of PSCS, Public Order and Criminal Justice Act all in one atrocious block) was insidiously snuck in, as it’s standard fashion, by the Meloni government only months ago in November 2023 at the same time when the world got hit about the terrible news on the escalation of the genocide on Palestinian people in the Gaza strip. For protesters, activists, imprisoned folks, football fans or anyone who finds themselves confronting state troopers ‘willingly’ or not, sentences have seen a considerable, disproportionate hike. It makes sense when Mussolini’s grandchildren currently rule the country. 

Since the new set of laws has passed, revolts inside prisons are punishable from 2 to 9 years for the organisers and 1 to 5 for those who participate, including revolts inside CPR (Centri di Permanenza per Rimpatri, prisons reserved for migrants who get through the country through illegal routes or have no documents and are awaiting to either get deported or have their asylum claim processed). 

Those who occupy buildings (of any kind) will be risking from 2 to 7 years imprisonment for either getting caught in the act or conspiracy, as well as speedy procedures being introduced to get rid of squatters. Obstruction of a highway will officially become a crime when deemed particularly offensive and alarming, both due to the presence of numerous people and the fact that it was promoted and organised in advance. 

More protection and security for police officers and emergency workers, the most striking feature being an automatically acquired private gun licence as an extra to the one held for service. 

Aggravated sentences for criminal damage (higher for repeat offenders) on institutional buildings if the act is committed with the aim of damaging the “honour, prestige or decorum” of the institution to which the property belongs. 

The crime of the “possession of material for the purpose of terrorism” is introduced, which punishes, with imprisonment from 2 to 6 years, anyone who procures or holds material aimed at preparing acts of terrorism and provides for imprisonment from 6 months to 4 years for anyone who distributes, disseminates or advertises material containing instructions for the preparation and use of explosive materials, in order to attack public safety. 

The possibility of having the so-called “urban DASPO” (forbidding someone to access a sporting event) is extended to also prohibit access to public transport infrastructure and related areas to persons reported or convicted of crimes against persons or property.

What the state calls ‘security’ is a bad taste joke. 

For the Italian State and, in particular, for our most hated watchdogs and puppets in the so-called Metropolitan City of Florence, security is:

* Violently repressing a (peaceful) march organised by students and trade unionists to call for a ceasefire on the genocide in Palestine, as happened in Pisa, Florence and Catania last Friday. From October to February, 100,000 Palestinians have been killed, wounded, or are missing in Gaza.

* Evicting historical squatted social centres from otherwise disused and derelict buildings that create places of aggregation, housing, information and skill-sharing for and by the local community providing an alternative to the social desert the city’s administration is striving to create in the race to sell the city to the wealthiest buyers and consumers: a social centre with a decade-long of legacy and another longstanding student accommodation got evicted in the town in one summer last year, as well another historical occupation being threatened.

* Adding up years of imprisonment to those who are already behind bars fighting against appalling conditions, the local prison of Sollicciano is being described to be near torture for inmates: from total absence of communal area to crumbling and decrepit facilities and unhygienic environments with insect infestations, the prisoners and their networks of support are choked (quite literally) by bureaucracy and long lead times for implementing improvements, which nearly every time end up in dead ends. The prisoners reported having to resort to threats and acts of self-harm, as well as hunger strikes, to have a chance of their request even being considered (or out of desperation, nevertheless).

* Jailing protesters who bring attention to the climate and ecological emergency and ask for steps to be implemented to mitigate the damage of the environmental crisis amid the silence from local and higher governments.

* Further criminalise vulnerable and already highly stigmatised communities such as migrants and people on the move, who are already held captive in prison-like facilities such as CPRs and which also report horrendous conditions of neglect, both physical and mental, with frequent news of suicide making it through the mainstream media coverage (and who knows how many more hidden away), trapped in the vicious cycle of Italian racist bureaucracy.

* Spreading the definition of “terrorism” wider and thinner in the hope that repression will deter any practice of resistance, as well as redefining what terrorism is thanks to the constant work of state propaganda behind the scenes: creating counter-culture information platforms has started regarded as an act of terrorism as we can see in our most recent histories. For example, Operation Adream, carried out in 2020 in the so-called UK and Netherlands against the 325.nostate anarchist website, with comrade Toby Shone still serving his sentence inside after being recalled due to the failure of his probation period.

For us, security is

* A roof over our heads, for our families and us: in the middle of a housing crisis exacerbated by ever-accelerating processes of gentrification and touristification, housing has been fully turned into a consumer’s good, a volatile commodity up for the taking by the highest bidder, leaving many homeless and others struggling to meet ends and often having to cut on other primarily needed goods. Autonomous practices which fight poverty and houselessness would be welcomed and shared in our communities rather than sending people behind bars. In Florence, the average single room costs between €400 (in the luckiest case) to €600 plus bills, and the average salary is between €1600 and €1700, stats that consider only fully legalised and contracted positions. Cash-in-hand jobs are usually paid peanuts.

* Free food and community kitchens to provide everyone with healthy communal meals instead of people having to resort to shoplifting from supermarkets that, despite reporting increasing profits year after year, won’t hesitate to start legal proceedings against you if you get caught stealing houmous and bread. The average household in Italy reported over €2600 expenditure on food each month in 2022.

* Going to work and our families knowing we will make it back at the end of our shift and that we won’t be crunched up alive in a piece of machinery 3 times our size. Or without a whole floor of a building in a construction site of some millionaire supermarket chain collapsing on workers, killing them on the spot, as it happened in Florence on Friday, 16th of February 2024. A chilling stat: 1 person is killed in the workplace every 8 hours in Italy, with the year 2023 seeing 1041 people killed due to unsafe conditions within the working environment, and who knows how many more have been hidden away, especially in the context of migrant work.

* Being able to walk home late at night without the threat of some off or on-duty cops kidnapping us, raping us, choking us and killing us – rest in power Sarah Everard and Chris Kaba from London, Riccardo Magherini from Florence, George Floyd from Minneapolis, Nahel Merzouk from Paris to name a few in only recent years, and all those countless people with and without faces and names who have been killed by the police worldwide. May their faces never be forgotten in our collective memory, and may that memory be the spark that revives a fire that, no matter how low it goes, should never stop burning.

Now go on and enjoy the sweet, wise melodies of Mischief Brew with ‘Thanks, bastards’. 

~ Gin

p.s. If they think they scared us, they should think again.

Image: Guy Smallman

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