A year ago today Lassan Cisse was killed in a drive by shooting on his way back home inside the Ħal Far Tent Village. His case still awaits justice. The below article was first published by The Sunday Times on 14 April 2019.
You know your town has become violent when a drive-by shooting barely makes the news. It is facile to say that if Lassine Souleymane had been a dog found shot on the side of the Triq tal-Ġebel in Birżebbuġa there would have been more uproar. Such an argument suggests that uproar over the cold-blooded murder of a dog would be an exaggeration, some product of the misguided ennui of our time.
But it is correct to say, I would argue, that the reaction to Mr Souleymane’s death has been inappropriately timid.
As always here, when conscience pricks, we blame the victim. Consider the remarks by Senglea local council candidate Malcolm Gatt of the PN. He had no doubt the killing was racially motivated. But the fault lay with Lassine Souleymane. He should not have been there along with all the “Filippino, Nepalese, Columbians, Brazilians, Pakistanis, Libyans, Syrians and Bangladeshis” brought in, according to Gatt, by the government’s policy of opening doors to migrants.
When challenged for his scattergun apportionment of responsibility, Mr Gatt told his critic he should wait until his daughter was kidnapped before speaking.
Why? Has Mr Gatt’s daughter been kidnapped? Was that by Mr Souleymane?
Here is Mr Souleymane, his body barely cold, being blamed for a kidnap that has not occurred.
He was charged with collective responsibility for many other crimes.
Consider remarks by the self-described ‘patriot’ Romina Farrugia Randon. She was criticising anyone who dared raise the possibility that someone shot Mr Souleymane out of racial hatred. She reminded everyone that an Indian man had that week been charged with raping a colleague in a hospital.
Is Mr Souleymane Indian? Is he believed to have raped someone? Is he responsible for the actions of someone he is entirely unconnected with, has never known and has never behaved like?
This is also a classic case of confusing the notion of a racially motivated crime with a crime involving personalities of different races. Do we think an Indian man raped a woman because he hates white people? (Was she white?) And do we think someone shoots out of a car at any random black man walking by because they hate black people?
These are rhetorical questions but that does not mean they have no answers.
What racists have managed to do is push out of the mainstream logic, science, compassion and naked common sense and replace it with the racialist mumbo jumbo of Norman Lowell.
This week he was on TV professing selective infanticide, the admirable historical example of Adolf Hitler’s policies and racialist breeding. This is no less mad and evil now than when Lowell said it 20 years ago to everyone’s laughter and amusement. Except now this murderous philosophy is only a less polished and more eccentric version of the views expressed daily by mainstream parties.
Consider the term attributed to anyone asking for the condemnation of a violent killing by right-wing hate-mongers on social media this week: “traitors”. It’s become an adjective that rolls easily off the tongue. Even to think that a black man should not be killed in the street for no reason other than him being there betrays the interests of the native community apparently.
Incidentally why are there good reasons to think this is a racially motivated hate crime? They bear restating in the off-chance they penetrate the self-induced collective amnesia that besets this nation in these situations.
Triq tal-Ġebel, Birżebbuġa is the shortest way between the camp in Ħal Far and the shops in Birżebbuġa. It’s a poorly lit, winding country road that on foot takes around 30 or 40 minutes to climb or descend.
It represents our racial hierarchy in a stark way. White people drive up and down the road. Black people walk. But some white people cannot bear the sight of black people and roll down their windows to insult them or throw rubbish at them from within the cars. In some cases white people swerve their cars to hit black pedestrians. Intentionally. In some cases they hurt them.
Again, you will almost automatically think of the unhelpful comparison with what you think if you saw someone attempt to hurt a dog by driving over it.
For years those of us who have been concerned at this behaviour commented that it would be a matter of time before black people would be so dehumanised and demonised in the eyes of racists that someone was going to be seriously hurt or killed. Racial hatred is always there. But what you also need in order for this sort of violence to occur is the racist’s confidence that no one would stop them, that they could practice their sport with impunity and without consequence.
We have reached that point.
We are being cautioned by the authorities not to assume this is racially motivated. We are asked to wait for the police investigations to get somewhere before we reach our conclusions. We have heard all that before, have we not?
This is analogous to the killing of Daphne Caruana Galizia. Let us not have an inquiry into State responsibility before a criminal investigation is completed. After all it has not been proven her killing is politically motivated. For as long as that doubt is uncleared, the authorities are absolved. In the meantime no one looks into what needs to be done to avoid a repetition.
Mr Souleymane has been killed in the street. We are supposed to reserve judgement on the motivation of the killing until the police determine who did it and why. Of course we know the police are almost certainly not doing any such thing. Whether because they do not know how or because they could not be arsed, this will be one more crime we never get to the bottom of.
That way we can also continue to think we are not capable of racial crime. Of course that also means that all those pedestrians on Triq tal-Ġebel will continue to live in fear that they are next. They are black and they are vulnerable. But nobody cares.
There is this mistaken logic that ‘integration’ means that somehow immigrants mimic our language, accent, gestures and lifestyles. That is not integration. It is assimilation. If we had an integration policy, our police would be recruiting immigrants, getting training in their languages and cultures, understanding their needs and protecting their safety.
The old saying is the police will not get out of bed if there is no blood on the floor. Scratch that. Make it a white man’s blood on the floor.
Instead they lock up in an adults prison three frightened teenagers accused of overwhelming the captain and crew of a ship armed but with polite conversation, charging them with crimes that could put them away for longer than they dared hope to live.
When Joseph Muscat leads from the front outdoing Matteo Salvini’s racialist fascism and Adrian Delia sprinkles xenophobia as if his political life depended on it, those lads in Ħal Far who ran out of bread and milk and need to trail down to Birżebbuġa know it is another day in this jungle and they are fair game for the white men with guns.