A Coldly Calculated Police Operation in Genoa

Eyewitness Report by Genoa Social Forum Activist

by Stefano Agnoletto

The following report was posted on the Internet on July 23. Click here for the original text (in Italian).

This is a slightly edited version of a translation by Giorgio Torrieri, a member of Students Against Sweatshops at the University of Arizona and a native Italian who was in Genoa the first day of the demonstrations.

Torrieri writes: “This is my quick and dirty translation of an open letter type account of the Genoa demonstrations, written by the brother of the leader of the Genoa Social Forum (the coalition of peaceful protesters there).”

“I cannot vouch for everything written, but it fits very closely with my own impressions. (I was in Genoa for one day, and I can confirm at least the part about the police acting with random brutality but, remarkably, leaving alone the people doing the vandalizing.)”

Dear friends:

Now, I was in Genoa, I’ve seen it.

Don’t believe the news you’ve seen in the press and on TV.

It was something insane, a massacre.

It is still difficult to tell you what happened Friday and Saturday. To do so, I’ll relay what I’ve seen together with my dear friends who were present in Genoa with me.

I ask you to have the patience to read this message, it really is the chronicle of a nightmare which probably will not reach the mainstream media.

I arrived in Genoa on Thursday, after the immigrants’ rights demonstration of about 50,000 people.

There were “arrival camps,” many, thousands of peaceful people, a marvelous atmosphere (remember the boy scouts?), we discussed, sang, and just stayed together.

On Friday, clergy, activists, volunteers, and just ordinary people, we began the issue areas [demonstrations to focus on different issues in different areas?] in a blockaded city. The various groups participating were to converge on different points in the city to have a carnivalesque “siege” against the “red zone” [the closed-off part of Genoa, where the G-8 meeting was held and demonstrations were not permitted] with street theater, dancing, and slogans.

At this pont, from the beachfront members of the now infamous “Black Bloc” [supposedly extremist groups blamed for most of the destruction in the city] arrive. Some are seen chatting with police; others just come out of police crowds. Most of them speak German. They start to break everything.  Police and Carabinieri [the Italian military police] just stand there. The Black Bloc tries to join in with a group of COBAS workers [COBAS is the new Italian trade union unaffiliated with party politics]. They beat up one of the COBAS leaders, but the group manages to get away from them with some difficulty.

Then the Black Bloc heads for the first issue area, belonging to the Italian Social Centers (Centri Sociali, difficult to translate exactly; call them community organizations).  They arrive armed to the teeth. The police come after them, and demonstrators find themselves attacked first by the Black Bloc and then by the police, who start to charge violently against all demonstrators.

The Back Bloc leaves suddenly and appears on the square were the so-called Lilliput Network is based (fair trade, Catholic campaign groups, etc.). Its members try to peacefully make them leave. The police follow and charge against everyone on the square. Truncheons and tear gas are used indiscriminately. People raise their hands, shouting “Peace.”

The Black Bloc leaves the square and starts to vandalize the city systematically. There are 300-400 of the Black Bloc roaming Genoa, and whoever guides them seems
to know the city very well. Their path crosses every issue area, where the campaigns of our movement are located.

It’s incredible. They move with military discipline, infiltrate everywhere, some leaders shout orders which are promptly followed by the whole group. And, shortly afterwards, police and Carabinieri make their appearance.

Meanwhile, in the issue area where ARCI, ATTAC, etc. (“mainstream” organizations campaigning on Third World issues) are located everything is fine. During the early afternoon we decide to leave the boundary with the red zone where we were demonstrating. People start moving toward Dante Square.  Suddenly, the police
launch tear gas from behind our march, causing panic everywhere.

Hospitals fill with wounded demonstrators, but many do not go to the hospital, since the police seem to arrest everyone who turns up there.

It’s evening, people are downbeat, many are angry.

Suddenly, no trace of the Black Bloc.

At the old city, where the camp of the Genoa Social Forum is, there’s about 10,000 of us. The news of the demonstrator who was killed reaches us. We are scared; tales of extreme police brutality are told by many people. Young men, nuns start crying. Many people are hurt. One old man is crying with a bandage on his head. He is a retired metal worker.

There is Don Gallo, of the San Benedetto (Catholic) community group. There is the leader of the mothers of Plaza De Mayo, in Argentina, those women who for years have been looking for their disappeared children. She says she is shaken at what she has seen; it’s uncomfortably close to Argentina during the dictatorship. She did not think something similar would happen here.

My brother Vittorio (spokesperson for the Genoa Social Forum), Luca Cesarini (leader of the Social Centers), and Bertinotti, the only politician with the courage to come here (the leader of the Italian Party of Communist Refoundation — or Rifondazione; sort of a socialist equivalent of Nader in Italian politics) try to calm everyone:  They tell us not to come out in small groups, not to accept violent provocations. We decide our answer will be an enormous demonstration the next day; there’ll be many of us, peacefully responding to any provocation, whether from the Black Bloc or the police.

Senator Malabarba tells us he was at the police station. He saw strange people who dressed like the demonstrators; they spoke German and other foreign languages. Most of them come out of the station after exchanging a few words with the police.

Suddenly, there is a fire at a bank close to the old city. For 40 minutes, helicopters circle us, but no firefighters or police arrive.

At night, one of the camps where we are sleeping, the Carlini, is surrounded by police: They go in and search, doing whatever they want. People cry. They ask that brutality stop. The police came in, but did not find anything in the camp.

Saturday, the demonstration starts, a thousand colors. People from all over the world, farmers, NGOs, workers, people from Kurdistan... all singing, dancing, waving all sorts of flags.

On Kennedy Square there is no violence; in fact there is no one there. Suddenly the Black Bloc appears. The police, with no warning or reason given, divide the demonstration into two parts. A real battle begins. Charges everywhere, people being beaten with truncheons. It seems the cops have gone crazy. Metal workers, the youth wing of Rifondazione (the Italian left wing party) are charged. Groups of demonstrators flee and are followed by police. Whoever is isolated is pursued and beaten. Many people are telling of being beaten only for being recognized as demonstrators.  Even the Italian correspondent of the [London?] Sunday Times is beaten (in today’s issue of the paper he tells of his adventure).

In a part of the march which so far was quiet, by the sea, suddenly tear gas is fired from the roofs. Panic ensues as people cannot breathe.

The Black Bloc? They appear and disappear; no one stops them. They attack a youth from Rifondazione, wreck his flag, beat him. They throw stones at the spokesman of the Genoa Social Forum. They wreck stores, set fire to buildings. Many are armed to the teeth. How on earth did they manage to come to Genoa when soldiers were checking every car [at the border]?

At the head of the march, things are still quiet. The Genoa Social Forum invites everyone to leave calmly, and stay together. We are being led to Marassi, where there are buses with everyone who arrived this morning. We stopped there, and could not go further: because on Kennedy Square, there was a war. There were many of us just sitting there. Suddenly, tear gas was used, causing panic everywhere. We try to get back to the camp of the Genoa Social Forum. Police trucks pass us by, and policemen in them shout: “We’ll kill you all.”

The second part of the demonstration never reached the square. They were charged by police. Many fled to the small streets, toward the hills, where a real man-hunt starts.

Saturday night, the demonstration has ended hours ago. Suddenly the police enter the press center of the Genoa Social Forum. They beat up everyone they encounter, with shocking brutality. All they seem to be after are documents (paper, video, pictures, etc.), which tell of what happened on the previous two days. Many of these documents, computers, disks are simply destroyed.

The lawyer who coordinates the forum’s legal team is arrested. Among the destroyed material, there are the documents this legal team put together as part of the defense of those arrested. Now, even the motives for their arrest are not known. During this “search,” with no legal mandate, members of parliament, journalists, lawyers, and even doctors are not let in the building.

None of us have ever seen the famous weapons shown at the press conference yesterday.  The police departed, leaving us with only those wounded and arrested.

No one knows what happened to the Black Bloc.

To sum it up, two nightmare days.

Both the Black Bloc and the police knew what they were doing when they committed this violence. All along, from Friday on, they insulted and verbally abused us as they did what they did; someone seems to have indoctrinated them.

And today, we look at the TV and read the papers. My god, it seems like a dictatorship.   Did everyone miss what we all saw? When I think that many will read this and say, “You violent protesters just talk bullshit,” I go mad.

Please, don’t let anyone fool you. Find the courage to question your faith in our wonderful police and democratically accountable institutions. What happened in Genoa beggars belief. Some inauguration for the new government.

Just to give you a flavor of the spin control effort, do you know what the first version was, of the official investigation into the death [of Carlo Giuliani], before the videos appeared?   Killed by a stone thrown by demonstrators.

When you think about the fact that many of the documents put together by witnesses have been destroyed — during the “search” — you realize that the only version left for the public is that “incontestable” one, the police version.

Please, forward, print, talk about this document. To everyone, friends, relatives, colleagues. The truth has to come out. I beg you, don’t look the other way.

Thank you,

Stefano Agnoletto

P.S.:  My brother Vittorio (the spokesperson of the Genoa Social Forum) is destroyed.  He told me: “It’s crazy; it seems we are in Latin America during the ’70s.” Maybe even he didn’t fully realize with whom are we dealing here.

The truth has to come out.