While the fabled city of Florence in Italy mourns the deaths of two Senegalese street vendors who were murdered by a man affiliated with an extreme-right wing group, African immigrants in the region are enveloped by fear.
Gianluca Casseri, a 50-year old Italian man, went on a rampage on Tuesday in two piazzas in Florence where African traders sell their wares --- he murdered two and wounded at least three others. Casseri later killed himself in an underground parking lot as police closed in on him.
According to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, the two murder victims were identified as Samb Modou, 40, and Diop Mor, 54. Modou was reportedly an illegal immigrant while More had a valid residence permit.
In the wake of the tragedy, flags are flying at half-staff and many shops are displaying anti-racism banners and slogans.
The lower house of Italy’s parliament observed a minute’s silence to bereave for the dead.
Giorgio Napolitano, the president of Italy, expressed his revulsion towards this this blind explosion of hatred and asked Italians to nip in the bud every form of intolerance and reaffirm the tradition of openness and solidarity in our country.
Matteo Renzi, the youthful mayor of Florence, asserted the killings were the work of one isolated man, not part of a conspiracy.
These are the actions of a lone killer - a lucid, mad and racist killer, he told reporters.
Florence was a particularly shocking locale for such a mass murder, given its popularity as a tourist destination and apparent relative lack of right-wing activity.
After the massacres, hundreds of African traders staged a demonstration to protest the killings as well as the abuse and mistreatment they suffer at the hands of ordinary Italians.
Pape Diaw, a spokesman for the Senegalese community in Florence, told local media: “We want the truth. Why was such a dangerous individual [Casseri] present on the sites, walking the streets? We Senegalese are very gentle people but when it comes to demonstrations, we take things seriously.”
One Senegalese vendor named Omar Ndiaye told BBC: “[We] are often the victims of racial abuse. On the streets people will call them names, accuse them of 'stealing' the jobs of Italians and will tell them to go home.
He added: The shooting…. has come as a shock to all of us and we are all very scared. My own impression is that the abuse has increased in recent years because of the economic crisis in Italy. People are more worried about jobs and are taking out their anger on Africans. I don't remember such a gun attack on Africans in the 10 years that I have been here -- and it does make us all feel alienated and threatened. We are a fairly large community of Senegalese and Africans here.”
However, Ndiaye also added: “Fortunately, most Italians have condemned the shooting and there is a national outpouring of grief. Here in Florence, people have come up to us on the streets to sympathize and to show solidarity.”
Meanwhile, the right-wing group that Casseri has been linked with, Casa Pound, confirmed his sympathies with the organization, but disavowed his heinous acts of violence.