Murals in Naples, a battlefield for justice on both sides


The walls of the streets of Naples have been canvases for the Neapolitans for thousands of years. They are covered in love letters, cartoons, and political statements.

But, in recent months, they have become a battleground for parents mourning the death of their children, allegedly killed by the police or the local mob.

The families of the youths killed by the Camorra say that making murals of children, allegedly killed by the police, is not a good idea. They argue that it glorifies children who are part of the same mob problem that supposedly killed their children.

The beginning of the controversy

The controversy broke out last March with the death of Ugo Russo. The 15-year-old threatened a policeman with a toy gun and tried to steal his watch. The agent is accused of killing Russo.

Months after Ugo’s death, his family painted a mural in the city’s Spanish working-class neighborhood to draw attention to the uncertainty surrounding his death.

“This mural is our cry for truth and justice,” said Vincenzo Russo, 38, Ugo’s father. “We want people to know that Ugo’s death could have been prevented,” explains Russo.

“He made a mistake, but he was not involved in any organized crime. 15 months have passed and we still have not received his autopsy report.”

In February, the municipal government ordered the removal of two murals, including that of Ugo. Ugo’s family appealed to the judge – noting that they had obtained the approval of the owner of the building – and managed to stop the process.

The family of another boy allegedly killed by the police, Luigi Caiafa, had not received such permission and his mural was removed. Although guerrilla street art is very common in Naples, the city has the authority to remove anything that does not have formal approval. But getting the green light can be a lengthy bureaucratic process. This is why some families choose to paint their murals without city approval to spread their message more quickly.

Assassinations of the Camorra

Between 1982 and 2015, only in Campania, 183 innocent people were killed by the Camorra, the Naples mafia. Nineteen of them were under 18 years of age. Gaetano de Pandi’s 11-year-old son died after being hit by a stray bullet in June 1991.

Still grieving for your loss, De Pandi wants her son painted on city walls to serve as a warning to other young people who may be tempted to participate in crime.

“It would be a testimony that would show that my son was an innocent victim of organized crime,” says De Pandi. “And maybe children could look at it and think twice to choose a path away from crime,” De Pandi explains.

Siani explains that the issue surrounding the murals is not that people think that Ugo’s family shouldn’t know what happened to their son.Instead, there are dozens of families who have been waiting for the same for decades and feel abandoned.

“What about the hundreds of families in Campania who have had innocent loved ones killed by the mafia? Many of them have also not had truth or justice and do not have their murals. According to some, if a mural of someone is to be made, it should be from the innocent victims“protests this victim of the Camorra.

The consensus of all parties is that something needs to be done to prevent children from getting involved in crime in the first place, but how the city can do it is a question that continues to hover over the Neapolitans.

Russo believes that the city can do something to prevent what happened to his son from happening again. But, he said, reacting after the death of a child is not enough.

“They can do something if they want to,” he said. “Not when these things happen, but before, because if they do later, it is too late.”

The problem of youth unemployment

Gianmario Siani, nephew of Giancarlo Siani, a journalist assassinated by the Camorra in 1985, affirms that over the years there has been a tendency to put people in jail instead of investing the money in preventing young children from the neighborhoods poor and working people become involved in crime.

“The fact that Ugo, a 15-year-old boy who tried to steal someone’s watch with a toy gun, is proof of this educational poverty,” says Siani. “Which is not poor Ugo’s fault because he was just a child. The fault is ours, all of us and the State. And Ugo is only one, there are many more like him.”

The southern Italian region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital, has one of the highest youth unemployment rates in Europe, at 47.9%.

This, coupled with the unequal distribution of federal funds in southern Italy and corruption at the local level, it makes children turn to organized crime and petty crime.

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