Young blood. Naples' baby gangs.

The Camorra turns to teenage enforcers to maintain its rule.
Article for The Economist

 

 

LESS than a hundred yards away, Via San Biagio dei Librai in the centre of Naples bustles with activity.
Tourists buy souvenirs and munch pizza, oblivious to the meaning of the coded graffiti on the street’s peeling walls. But in a side alley, all is solemn hush. Beyond a door, in a courtyard, stands a tall metal cabinet displaying a ceramic bust of a young man, surrounded by fresh white roses. If not for his hipster beard and haircut, it could be the shrine of a long-dead saint. The building that surrounds the courtyard is the redoubt of one of the many warring clans of Italy’s oldest yet least-cohesive mafia, the Camorra. The young man to whom the shrine is dedicated is Emanuele Sibillo, the archetype of a new breed of Neapolitan gangster. He was murdered in 2015 at the age of 19 in a nearby street that forms part of the territory of a rival crew. Naples has seldom been free of turf wars. But recent months have seen a surge in violence. In 11 days, between May 25th and June 4th, eight people were shot dead in the city and its surrounding province. The police sent reinforcements to the area, even though the army had already been deployed. Much of the recent violence is the work of clans like the one led by Emanuele Sibillo and his brother. Some of these so-called “baby gangs” have members as young as 12. On May 24th the Carabinieri, Italy’s semi-militarised police, arrested an alleged “baby boss” who is only 16. The son of a jailed Camorra chief, the boy is accused of killing two of his subordinates last year. They had reportedly demanded a bigger share of the proceeds from drug-trafficking, which is the Camorra’s lifeblood. As the head of the Italian state police, Franco Gabrielli, acknowledged, the baby gangs are a perverse result of successful policing. The courts have locked up so many veteran clan bosses in recent years that the task of holding Naples in thrall to the Camorra has fallen to ever-younger, more reckless affiliates. (If they are under 14, they cannot be held criminally liable for their misdeeds.) Their favourite technique for asserting dominance is the stesa, a term that comes from stendere (“to stretch out”): the baby gang erupts into a crowded square, riding mopeds and firing at random, usually in the air. People dive for cover or prostrate themselves in fear of their lives. In a piazza in the Sanità area, a monument has been erected to another young Neapolitan. Genny Cesarano, aged 17, was fatally shot during a stesa in the piazza in 2015. After a recent spate of such shooting parties, the police blanketed the district with patrols and roadblocks. But there have been three more since. Carmela Manco, a volunteer social worker since the 1980s, recalls with a wistful smile the days when the Camorra would alert her in time to get children off the streets: “They rang us. A voice would say, ‘Attenzione, che piove’ [‘Watch out. It’s going to rain’].” Ms Manco runs L’Oasi, a sports and cultural centre in the San Giovanni a Teduccio district intended for children of camorristi and others close to the underworld. “We have kids here who can’t read or write, but sing Stravinsky,” she says. The aim is to keep the children off the streets so they do not drift into theft, drug-peddling or other routes to jail or an early death. The families are not always helpful. At one point the father of one of her charges murdered the father of another. San Giovanni a Teduccio has so far been free of baby gangs. But Father Gaetano Romano, the parish priest, wonders for how long. The dominant local clan has lately clashed with the Sibillo crew and its allies. “My fear is that there will be repercussions here,” he says. Underpinning the Camorra’s grip on the young is its ability to offer extremely lucrative work in a region where the employment rate among 15- to 24-year-olds is under 12%. A frequent complaint is that the Camorra provides the jobs that the state fails to. But, argues Francesco Grillo, a Neapolitan economist, Italian governments have invested heavily in Naples over the years. The only effect has been to sustain a ruling class all too often complicit with the Camorra.

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