Commentary. Meloni reiterated her solidarity with law enforcement officers, who, she says, are victims ‘of an unfair and systematic campaign of denigration.’

Don’t expect any accountability after police violence against protesters in Italy

There’s no chance we’re going to hear any self-criticism regarding what happened two weeks ago in Pisa, with the violent police charge against middle school students. “The judiciary will ascertain any errors and abuses,” Giorgia Meloni said on Thursday at the start of a meeting with the police unions at the Palazzo Chigi. Nor, for that matter, was there any discussion of the possibility of having identification codes on police uniforms that would make it easier to assign responsibility for wrongful actions, a possibility that was immediately discarded without being considered at all.

Instead, the police unions voiced their call for tougher measures which, if passed, would risk seriously endangering the right to demonstrate, such as the institution of a DASPO [individual ban on attending public gatherings, at first reserved for violent sports fans but expanded to an increasing variety of crimes] for “violent” demonstrators. They also spoke with the prime minister about the possibility of deferred arrests and of installing body cams on the uniforms of all police officers, not just some of them – a measure that is viewed as a guarantee for law enforcement personnel, along with the use of drones that would follow and film everything that happens during marches from above.

Those were the demands that the police unions, almost all of them cozy with the government majority, presented to Giorgia Meloni on Thursday, who received them at Palazzo Chigi together with Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, Economy Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti and Undersecretary to the Prime Minister Alfredo Mantovano.

The meeting was organized in the wake of the controversy that followed the events in the Tuscan city, and one cannot exclude that it might result in new measures to be added to one of the three security bills that have been on Parliament’s agenda since November. Harsher penalties for violence and resistance to the forces of law and order are already planned. “I have taken note of your requests, which the government will now evaluate,” said the premier in a non-committal manner, avoiding making any promises for the time being while reiterating her solidarity with law enforcement officers, who, she says, are victims “of an unfair and systematic campaign of denigration.”

For now, caution has prevailed. Abruzzo will go to the polls on Sunday, and at Palazzo Chigi they’d rather avoid any announcements of new crackdowns on protesters, fearing an effect similar to the one that the charges against the students in Pisa had on the Sardinian elections. But it’s only a matter of time, also in view of the G7 summit to be held in Puglia in June. “There’s a climate that I don’t like, and it worries me, in the year of the G7: I’m seeing aspects that remind me of very difficult years for our nation,” the premier explained. All options are being examined by technocrats who will have to evaluate what measures could be included, perhaps with an amendment, in one of the security decrees being examined by the Chamber and Senate.

If it clears the bar of constitutionality, the measure destined to cause the most discussion is the DASPO for protesters that were already detained once by police during a march. This measure is similar to the one initially applied to violent sports fans in stadiums but extended more and more over time, until in 2017 it became an “Urban DASPO” intended to punish illicit behavior carried out inside stations, ports, airports, but also schools, universities, museums or archaeological sites, and later expanded in 2020 with the first security decree to include people convicted of selling or transferring drugs, even with a non-definitive sentence, who are prohibited from parking in the vicinity of schools, universities or public venues.

In contrast to other restrictive measures, such as, for example, the ban on residence in a certain area, the proposed new DASPO will not be decided by a judge, but by the local police chief. “This is dangerous ground,” commented Filippo Zaratti, the Green and Left Alliance group leader in the House Constitutional Affairs Committee, on Thursday. “You cannot revoke constitutional rights protecting the freedom to express one’s thoughts through an administrative act such as the DASPO.”

The meeting at the Palazzo Chigi was also supposed to discuss the renewal of the contract for law enforcement officers, which has now expired for 800 days, overtime that has not been paid for 20 months, and the lack of new hires, which, along with retirements, lies at the root of the shortage of personnel. The lack of progress on these topics drew criticism from SILP-CGIL: “The prime minister made it clear to us that she doesn’t have a magic wand, and after today’s meeting we haven’t heard anything substantially new, especially on the subject of the contract, hiring and overtime,” commented secretary Pietro Colapietro.

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