Information has started circulating about Luigi Prieti, the man who opened fire early today against a group of carabinieri guarding Palazzo Chigi, the Palace of the Italian Government, injuring two police officers, Francesco Negri and Giuseppe Giangrande (who is in a critical condition and may be permanently paralysed). The shooting took place just as the new members of the cabinet were taking their oath. After two months of political stalemate, the cabinet, brought together through dubious deals (“inciucio”) by politicians and experts from both sides of the political spectrum, was beginning its mandate; meanwhile, a few meters away, gunshots were being fired.
Who was this man? Why did he open fire? As Luigi Preiti, himself also injured, was being arrested, the television channels and the main newspapers were already throwing around the words “lone gunman”, “mentally unstable” and “madman”. The idea of a mentally ill gunman was immediately echoed by the first politicians who commented on the event. Rome’s Mayor Gianni Alemanno, a far-right winger and PDL member, declared that this episode should come as little or no surprise. It is normal that “madmen” commit such acts when the overall political climate is imbued with hatred against the political class, was Alemanno’s opinion. The responsibility should therefore lie at the door of those who fuel this hatred, he implied.
The first information about the gunman came from his brother. Luigi Preiti is a 49-year-old bricklayer, who had moved from Calabria, his region of birth, to Northern Italy. He had recently lost his job. After divorcing his wife, he had moved back in with his parents in Southern Italy. No previous mental health problems were known. In the past, over 10 years ago, he had faced a minor criminal charge. He is an impoverished, desperate, unemployed man, as are millions in Italy.
According to the National Bureau of Statistics (ISTAT), 6.4 million people are not in formal employment in Italy. This figure includes officially unemployed people, discouraged workers (people who have given up looking for work – as there is none – but who wish to work), and underemployed workers. The unemployment rate has doubled over the past five years. All this, in a country whose financial support for unemployed people is largely inadequate and which does not even cover the wide range of cases and situations – for instance, job loss for casual workers. Migration from Italy keeps increasing: in 2012, for the first time in years, the number of Italians working abroad has overtaken the number of immigrants to the country. The weaknesses in the Italian economic system (which were there long before the 2007 economic crisis) have become worse and worse, opening major wounds in society.
Stopped by carabinieri immediately after the shooting, and injured himself, Luigi Preiti reportedly asked to be killed since he had run out of ammunition. The number of suicides among those facing economic hardship has increased by 40% over the past year – roughly, one person kills himself or herself every two days. Gianni Alemanno is not wrong when he says we should not be surprised by this shooting. However, he lacks the necessary honesty to admit that the main responsibility lies among those who pushed millions into poverty.
People of no scruples, like Alemanno, will use this episode to promote, once again, the buzzwords of “unity” and “responsibility”, reminding everyone of the necessity of keeping social order so that no more “madmen” start shooting. Between the immobility of the major unions and the failure of the Italian left, the moderate left is completely acquiescent to the policies of austerity, fully guaranteed and supported by the new cabinet. Meanwhile, rage is mounting, together with poverty and the loss of basic rights and protection. A rage that keeps growing, even though all political forces try to keep their distance from it.
While in other countries such as Spain the palaces of power are besieged by millions of marching people, in Italy it is desperate individuals who take action, in desperate gestures of rebellion. Today, Rome is a panicking, wounded city, with police forces deployed to guard any sensitive target. It is not a collective force they protect us from, but the desperation of loners.