Saturday, May 21, 2016

Silence of the Racist Lambs

This week I met with the good folks at ARCI Pistoia to show them my letter about how African refugees who arrived between 2011 and 2014 have been systematically excluded from integrating and deprived of any kind of aid, including health care. They are on board and want to help. They suggested opening a sportello with aid for this group.

 They cautioned me not to meet with the Commissioner of the Vigili Urbani, but since he called me personally to move up the time of our appointment and F thought it best to try to smooth things over, I went. I wanted to let him know that I am not a threat to him for my family's safety in Lucca and also to let him know that I understand the pressure on local police to put a bandaid on much more complicated and thorny issues of street begging even though the ordinance they are enforcing is inhumane.

 I am not exaggerating when I say that after I said my piece and he said his, I was shaking like a leaf. It wasn't so much what he said, but his gaze which made Sir Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs look friendly and warm in comparison. I later googled him and found out that he is suspected of illegal activity himself. Imagine my surprise.

Today I had a wonderful phone call with one of the guys from our group. He was so happy because we found him a real job and he even has a real apartment and he can begin to have a life as a fully integrated immigrant. He had an hour to kill before his long day at the restaurant begins so he sat down in the piazza under my house to make a phone call. The police, including the youngest and strongest looking officer assigned to the nucleo operativo antidegrado, demanded to see his documents. I was in pajamas. F ran downstairs. They said it was just a regular check. Moments before, according to our friend, they had taken the wallet off another African man who they suspected of street begging, and removed its contents. I grabbed the first dress I could find to cover myself quickly and it happened to be a Pretty Woman looking affair so I grabbed some heels too because sometimes the visual helps and I ran down the stairs. They had let him go. This time. You can imagine how our friend felt after having been without aid for four years, and having finally found a job and an apartment, only to be singled out by the police for being black.

I made attempts to meet with the head of the Prefect in Lucca this week, but I was told that the Prefect will not take responsibilty for the welfare of any refugees who arrived before 2014. Shame on them. I wrote to the UNHCR and now I am going to write about this in Italian and try to get it published in the local newspaper Il Tirreno. If they try to Amanda Knox this situation on me, I have you all as witnesses. 

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