“I’ll rape you, whore!” This bloodcurdling scream came from the small group who has been trying to prevent a mother and her two children from entering the social housing that they have been assigned by the authorities. Once again, this is happening in Casal Bruciato, a neighborhood on the eastern outskirts of Rome. And once again, it’s all because of a small group of CasaPound militants who are inciting local residents to protest against the granting of a social residence to a Roma family, just like last month. This shameful assault on a mother, father and two sons has lasted for two days. The tension rose and rose, until the family was forced to return home protected by a cordon of police officers, and the firefighters have had to bring them food.
In a few hours, the anti-racists of the neighborhood mobilized as well. Some brought banners from the ASIA USB tenants’ union, which has strong historical roots in this area. They have a long history in the struggles for the right to housing, and these very buildings were the setting where they won important gains, including the right to not be discriminated against. They pointed to the blatant hypocrisy of CasaPound: “So you’re ‘defending Italians’?” shouted Mrs. Annamaria towards the group of neo-fascists. “Where were you when they threw me out of my house and four guys got arrested for defending me?”
Andrea, in his 40s, recalls the old prejudices that reigned in Rome in the ‘70s: “When we were little, we were told not to go near the kids of people from Calabria, who lived in the building that you see over there, right in front. They said they smelled and they were criminals. But we couldn’t care less. Today, those who are sowing hatred should be ashamed of themselves.”
A fight looks about to break out under the banner carried by the extreme right group. The tension among the militants is palpable, thinly disguised under forced smiles in front of the cameras. “I was here first!” we hear in a heated exchange between the local CasaPound gang leaders and the Brothers of Italy, who are accusing each other of electoral manipulation in view of the European elections.
Something very similar to what is going on in Casal Bruciato recently happened in Torre Nova, in another neighborhood of the Roman suburbs, not far by the University of Tor Vergata. It’s all taking place against the background of the failure of the “Roma plan” of the Raggi administration. The families who are becoming victims to small-scale xenophobic riots are all from the Barbuta Roma camp, at the southeast border between Rome and Ciampino. Like all the Roma camps in the capital, it was created by the emergency policies of the previous municipal governments, which in this case meant lining up dozens of shipping containers. Ex-mayor Walter Veltroni called these “villages of solidarity.” Then, Gianni Alemanno came to power and dubbed them “fully equipped villages.” Then came condemnations from Europe, which prohibits the establishment of segregated camps on ethnic grounds—but these fell on deaf ears.
In effect, only Roma live in the Barbuta camp, and the Raggi junta planned to have all of them re-housed by Dec. 31, 2020. But very few of the approximately 500 residents have been able to find alternative solutions. The father, mother and two children who managed to get social housing in Casal Bruciato, in Via Satta, are part of a tiny minority of just 14 people who got such accommodations, out of the many more who got on the waiting list for one.
As the parents told us, after the protests, “which scared our children,” the family went in for a meeting at the Palazzo Senatorio on Capitoline Hill, the seat of the Roman City Council, by the end of which they decided to stay in the house that had been assigned to them. “They told us that they would throw bombs and that they would beat us. My children have seen and heard it all. Now they are afraid. But we have a right to the house,” the father says. The previous Roma social tenants, who moved in a month ago, ended up choosing to go back to the camps. In the evening, Mayor Raggi made a statement saying that she was in contact with the police leadership and the prefect to maintain public order.
The anti-fascists and the Associazione 21 Luglio are accusing Raggi’s leadership: “The city administration has allowed the militants of the extreme right to organize rallies without authorization and to harass families receiving social housing with slogans and threats.” In truth, it is not at all clear why the small podium built by CasaPound opposite the entrance to the building can’t simply be removed. On Wednesday, there was both a march by the fascists and a countermarch by the social movements aiming to stop the hate campaign.
(Editor’s note: In the morning, Mayor Raggi herself went to the scene of the conflict, giving a statement in support of the right of the Roma family to their housing: “This family was legally assigned a place to live. They have a right to enter, and the law must be obeyed.” She was insulted and attacked by the far-right extremists, and needed the protection of the police at the scene to return to her car. However, according to ANSA news wire, citing anonymous sources within the M5S, Luigi di Maio was not happy that she went there at all: the M5S leader was reported to have said, in an echo of Salvini’s famous slogan, “first you help the Romans, the Italians, and then all the others.”)