Even by the mafia’s brutal standards, the killing of a man smoking a cigarette outside a central Naples bar in broad daylight was shocking in its ruthlessness.
But perhaps more disturbing is the reaction of witnesses, who can be seen in a video that has been released by Naples prosecutors in an unprecedented step to try and to find the killer. As the Camorra hitman dispatches his victim with clinical efficiency, a bystander casually checks her lottery scratch card and walks away. Others peer at the body and continue about their business as if the shooting was a normal part of daily life.
The CCTV footage – and the aftermath of the crime – give a troubling insight into the extent of the Naples mafia’s control of their territory. Although the hit took place on 11 May this year, and the face of the killer is clearly visible on the recording, with witnesses present, investigators have so far met with silence.
Journalist Roberto Saviano, who has a permanent armed escort since exposing the activities of the Naples mafia in his best selling book Gomorrah, called the killing a “classic Camorra hit, very well planned and executed without fanfare”. He added that the video “shows what little value these people have for human life,” in a recorded commentary posted on la Repubblica’s website. “The thing that strikes you,” he said, “is the absolute serenity of the killer.”
The issue in the United States of how bystanders react — or do not react — to a crime that has unfolded before them has now emerged in Italy, on a somewhat smaller scale in an incident that seems right out of The Godfather, The Sopranos or GoodFellas.
Italian police have released this video of an authentic mafia hit. And it’s double deja vu: its a scene seemingly copied from Hollywood (when it’s the opposite) — and the issue of bystanders’ behavior.
The issue of what bystanders do if they see a crime unfolding or after a crime has emerged bigtime in the Richmond High School rape case, where some 20 teenagers stood by and watched for more than 2 hours as a teenage girl was gang raped — a case that also entailed several other issues including media reaction.
In the case of the mafia hit, it’ll be argued that the bystanders didn’t react due to the shock of the event, fear of the mafia and fear of becoming involved and themselves being targets.
But in the case of the Richmond High rape other factors — which will be analyzed by experts and pundits for some time to come — were also at work.
Indeed: in the case of the Richmond High School event, it could be argued that if Hollywood had put a scene like that in a movie, indicating a rape had gone on for more than 2 hours while more than 20 teens stood by and watched and even took picture and filmed it, critics would pan the movie for putting a scene in there that was both gratuitous and totally unbelievable. Once again the bar on even reprehensible behavior — bystanders or witnesses doing nothing — has been lowered.
Joe compares this to the case of 20 teenagers standing by while a girl got gang-raped in Richmond, which is actually a lot more analogous to the Genovese case than this one, as there are different dynamics at play in the Italian case. The key difference is that the victim of this hit was no innocent bystander, but a “little boss” in the local crime syndicate. Just as in American communities with heavy organized-crime infiltration, the locals know who’s connected and who isn’t. Violence within the syndicate will naturally be seen as the price people pay for belonging in the first place, and the collective victims of the syndicate are not about to risk their lives to save the crooks, or to apprehend the button man once he finishes his work. That may not be a particularly courageous impulse, but it’s certainly understandable.
However, the video of the hit may help to inspire more activism from the victims in order to isolate and destroy the crime syndicates that produces so much violence and misery. There is nothing romantic about the Mafia or its close cousins, here in the US, in Italy, or anywhere else. They’re nothing more than thieves’ guilds, existing for the protection of robbery and corruption. If this can produce the necessary outrage to dismantle one or more of them, then I wish the Italian prosecutors all the best in forcing their citizens to confront it.