By Alessandra Goio
Genoa, Italy, July 2001. The 27th G8 summit was about to start. Yet, another event would overshadow one of the most important economic forums in the world and dominate the news in the forthcoming days. We are talking about a fact that is remembered as one of the most sad and shameful of Italian history. And as if this was not enough, Amnesty International called it the most serious suspension of democratic rights in a Western country since the Second World War. I am referring to what happened the night of the 21st of July at the Diaz school in Genoa.
That night, mobile divisions of the Italian State Police raided the school building that was temporarily occupied by Italian and foreign no-global activists and indiscriminately attacked them. During the raid many were injured and brought to the hospital (famous are the pictures of boys and girls leaving the school in stretchers, other pictures were taken of the interior showing blood stains scattered everywhere), whereas the others were arrested and taken to a detention facility in Bolzaneto, a district of Genoa. Here, the protesters were tortured and humiliated before being released.
Despite such a brutal act of violence, the Italian authorities have always tried to diminish the gravity of what happened by affirming that the agents just did their duty. Indeed, their task was to ensure that the G8 would unfold without any disturbances and if they resorted to violence, it was because the activists were disturbing the summit through their protests around the city. This was the crime for which the Diaz’s victims were considered guilty.
The questions arising from this episode are not merely, why the police used violence against the citizens, but more importantly, whether such a cruel treatment was necessary or not. To answer this question, it is important to point out what Max Weber expressed on the legitimate use of force.
According to the sociologist, the legitimate use of force is one of the main features of the modern state, which wouldn’t exist if it did not retain a monopoly on this power, which is essential to guarantee an adequate level of internal security and to avoid total chaos within a country. Despite its utility, there are situations in which this power becomes very dangerous and its use threatens, rather than protects, the security of the citizens. This happens when force goes beyond the accepted standards and becomes mere sadism.
This might happen when the police, namely the agency with which the authority to employ the legitimate use of force on behalf of the state is conferred, loses control of its members who forget about their original duty. Indeed, if they are not controlled, certain policemen might just follow their brutal instinct which leads them to satisfy the perversion of causing suffering to their victims. Diaz is the most prominent example, though not the only one, of this behaviour. It is also a wake-up call that tells us that something should be done to avoid an episode like this ever manifesting again. To ensure that this happens, it is crucial to have a law against the abuse of police power.
Despite the seriousness and urgency of this issue, Italy has not done enough yet to correct the mistakes made in Genoa in 2001. The policemen involved in the raid were temporarily suspended from their duties, transferred, or sent to prison for only few years. These penalties are nothing compared to the damages suffered by the victims.
However, the situation has started to change after the European Court of Human Rights condemned Italy on the 7th of April 2015, as it found the country responsible for the violence committed at the Diaz school. The court classified this violence as an act of torture, which according to the UN charter of human rights, refers to any act that deprives an individual of his or her freedom and that inflicts degrading maltreatment from which the victim has no possibility of defence. This act of violence is aimed not only at getting information, but also at satisfying mere sadism.
After this sentence, Italy has decided to act and the Parliament is currently discussing a bill that would finally introduce the crime of torture into the Italian penal code. Will this law demonstrate that Italy is able to take up its responsibility for the mistakes committed in the past? There are already many sceptical opinions of people that doubt the effectiveness of this law. However, nobody can predict the future and it is up to the Italian authorities and their behaviour to make this law credible.
Editor’s note: for the title, I took inspiration from title of the 2012 movie in which the attack and the subsequent torture at the Diaz school are recreated. I invite everybody to watch it.