Social unrest rising as Italy’s lockdown enters 4th week

People wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing — to prevent the spread of the virus — queue up outside a post office in Catania, Italy. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 April 2020

Social unrest rising as Italy’s lockdown enters 4th week

  • Country’s poorest southern regions hardest hit as people run out of food and money

ROME: As Italy enters its fourth week under lockdown, tensions are building across the poorest southern regions of Campania, Calabria, Sicily and Puglia as people run out of food and money.

The number of checkpoints has increased nationwide to discourage people from going out. But instead of staying home as required by the government, there have been reports of shop owners being pressured to give food for free, and police are patrolling supermarkets in some areas to stop thefts. 

Small but vocal crowds of unemployed have gathered in front of city halls in the south, calling for financial help to buy food.

“Give us something, it’s tough,” read a sign protesters held up in the city of Messina. Police dispersed the crowd and identified some of the demonstrators.

“They haven’t been working for weeks as everything has stopped because of coronavirus. Now they have no money left to buy food, and they don’t qualify for state aid,” said a policeman, adding that some of his colleagues gave demonstrators sandwiches and cigarettes to calm them down.

Similar scenes were witnessed in the Naples and Bari hinterland. Investigators are concerned that this could be a visible sign that the situation is heating up, and are afraid that the mafia might take advantage.

The self-employed, and those working on contracts that do not guarantee social benefits provided by the government to help face the crisis, have lost their salaries. Many small businesses may never reopen.

The ramifications of the lockdown, which has been extended until after Easter, are also hitting badly the estimated 3.3 million people in Italy who were working off the books, of whom more than 1 million live in Campania, Sicily, Puglia and Calabria, according to the most recent figures from CGIA Mestre, a Venice-based small business association.

“A significant number of people live day to day, doing occasional jobs,” Emanuele Fiano, chief whip of the Democratic Party in the Italian Parliament, told Arab News. “There are also many shopkeepers, or professionals working for themselves, who may have moderate reserves that will run out the longer they’re in lockdown.”

Caritas, a Roman Catholic charity operating nationwide, said requests for food at its soup kitchens have increased by 50 percent since the lockdown was enforced.

Amid the brewing social unrest, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said €4.3 billion ($4.7 billion) from a solidarity fund would immediately be advanced to all municipalities, and an additional €400 million would go to mayors for conversion into food stamps. Private donations to charities have also increased in recent days.

But mayors have said the funds provided by the government so far, especially the €400 million for food vouchers, are insufficient.

“It isn’t enough. We were expecting more, and I hope the government will find a way. The situation is extremely delicate as a significant part of the population in cities like mine have zero income,” said Messina Mayor Cateno de Luca.

“Those who previously managed in some way to live with dignity now find themselves in real difficulty. Those people need to eat even if they don’t do a job by the book.”

After weeks with nearly zero petty crime reported due to the lockdown, now local media have started to report an increase in robberies.

Two elderly people were robbed of their shopping by young people on scooters in separate incidents when they left a supermarket.

Police are trying to increase surveillance on supermarkets so that the elderly do not get targeted, but the situation does not seem to be improving.

“Today two guys came to me as I left the supermarket. They didn’t beg for money, but they asked me to hand them the two shopping bags I was carrying,” Lina di Marco, 60, a housewife from the city of Palermo, told Arab News.

“I saw their faces and didn’t dare say no. They looked desperate and quite ready to get my bags anyway,” she said. “What could I do? I just went back inside and bought something else for me.”

Giuseppe Provenzano, Italy’s minister for the southern regions, expressed concern about potential social tensions and civil unrest in poorer areas of the country if coronavirus spreads further in the south.

“I am afraid that the worries that are affecting large sections of the population over health, income and the future, with the continuation of the crisis, will turn into anger and hatred,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

There are also clear signs that criminal organizations are exploiting the situation. Sicilian prosecutors are investigating the activities of a Facebook group called “National Revolution,” which has been inciting people to loot supermarkets.

Police are convinced that the people behind this group are those who, before the lockdown, made a living from house robberies and shop thefts.

With some of these criminal activities on standby due to the lockdown, the only shops open to rob are supermarkets and chemists.

Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando has asked the government to establish a “survival income” for the poorest citizens, due to fears that “criminal groups could promote violent acts.”


Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

Updated 27 min 44 sec ago

Biden selects California Sen. Kamala Harris as running mate

  • Joe Biden: I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate
  • Trump’s uneven handling of crises has given Biden an opening, and he enters the fall campaign in strong position against the president

WILMINGTON, Delaware: Joe Biden named California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate on Tuesday, making history by selecting the first Black woman to compete on a major party’s presidential ticket and acknowledging the vital role Black voters will play in his bid to defeat President Donald Trump.
“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” Biden tweeted. In a text message to supporters, Biden said, “Together, with you, we’re going to beat Trump”
In choosing Harris, Biden is embracing a former rival from the Democratic primary who is familiar with the unique rigor of a national campaign. Harris, a 55-year-old first-term senator, is also one of the party’s most prominent figures and quickly became a top contender for the No. 2 spot after her own White House campaign ended.
Harris joins Biden in the 2020 race at a moment of unprecedented national crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 150,000 people in the US, far more than the toll experienced in other countries. Business closures and disruptions resulting from the pandemic have caused an economic collapse. Unrest, meanwhile, has emerged across the country as Americans protest racism and police brutality.
Trump’s uneven handling of the crises has given Biden an opening, and he enters the fall campaign in strong position against the president. In adding Harris to the ticket, he can point to her relatively centrist record on issues such as health care and her background in law enforcement in the nation’s largest state.
Harris’ record as California attorney general and district attorney in San Francisco was heavily scrutinized during the Democratic primary and turned off some liberals and younger Black voters who saw her as out of step on issues of systemic racism in the legal system and police brutality. She tried to strike a balance on these issues, declaring herself a “progressive prosecutor” who backs law enforcement reforms.
Biden, who spent eight years as President Barack Obama’s vice president, has spent months weighing who would fill that same role in his White House. He pledged in March to select a woman as his vice president, easing frustration among Democrats that the presidential race would center on two white men in their 70s.
Biden’s search was expansive, including Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a leading progressive, Florida Rep. Val Demings, whose impeachment prosecution of Trump won plaudits, California Rep. Karen Bass, who leads the Congressional Black Caucus, former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose passionate response to unrest in her city garnered national attention.
A woman has never served as president or vice president in the United States. Two women have been nominated as running mates on major party tickets: Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. Their party lost in the general election.
The vice presidential pick carries increased significance this year. If elected, Biden would be 78 when he’s inaugurated in January, the oldest man to ever assume the presidency. He’s spoken of himself as a transitional figure and hasn’t fully committed to seeking a second term in 2024. If he declines to do so, his running mate would likely become a front-runner for the nomination that year.
Born in Oakland to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Harris won her first election in 2003 when she became San Francisco’s district attorney. In the role, she created a reentry program for low-level drug offenders and cracked down on student truancy.
She was elected California’s attorney general in 2010, the first woman and Black person to hold the job, and focused on issues including the foreclosure crisis. She declined to defend the state’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage and was later overturned by the US Supreme Court.
As her national profile grew, Harris built a reputation around her work as a prosecutor. After being elected to the Senate in 2016, she quickly gained attention for her assertive questioning of Trump administration officials during congressional hearings. In one memorable moment last year, Harris tripped up Attorney General William Barr when she repeatedly pressed him on whether Trump or other White House officials pressured him to investigate certain people.
Harris launched her presidential campaign in early 2019 with the slogan “Kamala Harris For the People,” a reference to her courtroom work. She was one of the highest-profile contenders in a crowded Democratic primary and attracted 20,000 people to her first campaign rally in Oakland.
But the early promise of her campaign eventually faded. Her law enforcement background prompted skepticism from some progressives, and she struggled to land on a consistent message that resonated with voters. Facing fundraising problems, Harris abruptly withdrew from the race in December 2019, two months before the first votes of the primary were cast.
One of Harris’ standout moments of her presidential campaign came at the expense of Biden. During a debate, Harris said Biden made “very hurtful” comments about his past work with segregationist senators and slammed his opposition to busing as schools began to integrate in the 1970s.
“There was a little girl in California who was a part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day,” she said. “And that little girl was me.”
Shaken by the attack, Biden called her comments “a mischaracterization of my position.”
The exchange resurfaced recently one of Biden’s closest friends and a co-chair of his vice presidential vetting committee, former Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd, still harbors concerns about the debate and that Harris hadn’t expressed regret. The comments attributed to Dodd and first reported by Politico drew condemnation, especially from influential Democratic women who said Harris was being held to a standard that wouldn’t apply to a man running for president.
Some Biden confidants said Harris’ campaign attack did irritate the former vice president, who had a friendly relationship with her. Harris was also close with Biden’s late son, Beau, who served as Delaware attorney general while she held the same post in California.
But Biden and Harris have since returned to a warm relationship.
“Joe has empathy, he has a proven track record of leadership and more than ever before we need a president of the United States who understands who the people are, sees them where they are, and has a genuine desire to help and knows how to fight to get us where we need to be,” Harris said at an event for Biden earlier this summer.
At the same event, she bluntly attacked Trump, labeling him a “drug pusher” for his promotion of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for the coronavirus, which has not been proved to be an effective treatment and may even be more harmful. After Trump tweeted “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” in response to protests about the death of George Floyd, a Black man, in police custody, Harris said his remarks “yet again show what racism looks like.”
Harris has taken a tougher stand on policing since Floyd’s killing. She co-sponsored legislation in June that would ban police from using chokeholds and no-knock warrants, set a national use-of-force standard and create a national police misconduct registry, among other things. It would also reform the qualified immunity system that shields officers from liability.
The list included practices Harris did not vocally fight to reform while leading California’s Department of Justice. Although she required DOJ officers to wear body cameras, she did not support legislation mandating it statewide. And while she now wants independent investigations of police shootings, she didn’t support a 2015 California bill that would have required her office to take on such cases.
“We made progress, but clearly we are not at the place yet as a country where we need to be and California is no exception,” she told The Associated Press recently. But the national focus on racial injustice now shows “there’s no reason that we have to continue to wait.”