This past weekend, two Roma girls drowned on an Italian beach. As the Independent reports:
It was the sort of tragedy that could happen on any beach. But what happened next has stunned Italy. The bodies of the two girls were laid on the sand; their sister and cousin were taken away by the police to identify and contact the parents. Some pious soul donated a couple of towels to preserve the most basic decencies. Then beach life resumed.
The indifference was taken as shocking proof that many Italians no longer have human feelings for the Roma, even though the communities have lived side by side for generations.
“This was the other terrible thing,” says Mr Esposito, “besides the fact of the girls drowning: the normality. The way people continued to sunbathe, for three hours, just metres away from the bodies. They could have gone to a different beach. It’s not possible that you can watch two young people die then carry on as if nothing happened. It showed a terrible lack of sensitivity and respect.”
The attitudes of ordinary Italians towards the Roma, never warm, have been chilling for years, aggravated by sensational news coverage of crimes allegedly committed by Gypsies, and a widespread confusion of Roma with ordinary, non-Roma Romanians, who continue to arrive. The Berlusconi government has launched a high-profile campaign against the community, spearheaded by the programme announced by the Interior Minister, Roberto Marroni, to fingerprint the entire Roma population.
What struck me about this story, other than the shockingly callous response of the beach-goers, was that it sounds all too familiar. In our own country, we stand by as an entire population of migrants is de-humanized and criminalized. On the US-Mexican border, there have been 117 deaths so far this year. The bodies pile up, while Americans turn a blind eye.
The word “illegal” has become not an adjective for a beaureaucratic process of gaining status, but rather an entire race of people who have been deemed less than worthy of humanity, kindness and compassion.
People die and we continue to sunbathe.