In my previous blog posts I have argued that hate speech in the media and politics is both unfair and exposes the weakness of many democracies. It should also be seen however as an alarm bell; a spark that can trigger a dangerous cycle of violence. Even so, I was shocked to learn that, following a 16 year old girl’s declaration that she was raped by two Roma men(an accusation which subsequently turned out to be false) a group of hooded men set fire to a Traveller camp near Turin.
According to reports, after the girl’s claim hundreds of residents of the suburb near Turin where she lives took to the streets to take part in an “anti-Roma demonstration”. A group of the demonstrators later split from the main protest and marched towards a nearby Traveller camp. After driving away the only resident who was in the camp at the time, they destroyed houses, cars, and caravans. Only when the girl admitted she had in fact not been raped but had had sexual relations with a friend and wished to hide it from her family, were the police and her brother able to stop the violence.
This tragic story not only illustrates the dangers of stereotyping certain members of society, but also exposes the harsh conditions faced by Roma communities in Italy and highlights the fact that policy for the integration of minorities has not been effective in the country.
Furthermore, it shows how biased rhetoric about Roma has a deep effect on the public perception of this maligned community. This unacceptable event is the result of discriminatory policies, expressed earlier this year by a series of evictions, and a widespread anti-Roma discourse in Italy, often multiplied in its effect by the media.
Even if just a small group of people are responsible for this attack, it clearly confirms that the Roma minority is seen as a danger by a certain part of the population.
Maybe if both government and local authorities made more responsible and effective decisions rather than just evicting Roma from their camps, people would be less worried about so-called outsiders. And perhaps if the media stopped blaming minorities for the economic crisis and for the lack of security there would also be fewer incidents. What is sure is that racism should never be allowed to raise its head in such an ugly way.