It should have helped restore peace to the city, but instead unleashed mayhem. On Jan. 21, police in the drug-infested Secondigliano neighborhood on the outskirts of Naples arrested Cosimo Di Lauro, a ponytailed 31-year-old suspected of being the new kingpin of a faction of the Camorra, the notorious Naples Mob. Di Lauro was wanted on suspicion of drug trafficking and ordering multiple homicides, including the Jan. 15 broad-daylight slaying of the 47-year-old mother of a member of a rival group. But as news of the bust spread, a crowd of about 400, mostly women, poured onto the street to hurl insults and crockery at the authorities who nabbed him. The episode shows just how far law and order have broken down in Naples.
This part of town, along with the adjoining Scampia neighborhood, has become the center of the regional drug trade, supplying much of the Campania region and other parts of southern Italy with cocaine, heroin and other narcotics. Over the past two months, Scampia and Secondigliano have erupted into a combat zone as rivals within the Camorra battle for control. Di Lauro associates are believed responsible for the drive-by shooting late Saturday that killed a 21-year-old rival and wounded his 13-year-old nephew, bringing the total murders in the last three months to 47, including 14 in January alone. The faida, or blood feud, began when a Mob splinter group rebelled against alleged demands from Di Lauro for a bigger cut of the profit. The women who accosted police on Jan. 21 were likely among those who live off the money from drug trafficking, which is worth up to €500,000 a day.
Vittorio Pisani, head of the city's police investigative unit, says the vast majority of Neapolitans would love to see the Camorra destroyed. Indeed, on Saturday street protesters in Naples held a candlelight vigil, and in December other protesters sprawled out under mock bloody sheets to denounce the killings. Still, Pisani says, "Most people are simply too scared to speak up."
It wasn't always like this. In the 1990s, Naples experienced a momentary renaissance as tourism boomed and civic pride swelled in the wake of the 1994 G-7 summit held in the city. But an unemployment rate of close to 20%, youth joblessness over 60% and the ubiquity of the Camorra stand in the way of a permanent comeback. "Naples gets remembered and forgotten as people see fit," Pisani says. "This Mob war is now endemic to Naples."
The evidence is everywhere. On a recent police patrol, Naples commander Stefano Valletta pointed out scenes of violence: a double homicide in the parking lot of a local housing project, the slaying of a street thug outside a low-rise apartment complex, and just down the road, three corpses wrapped in cellophane inside a car "left there like presents," says Valletta. When a Camorra war is on, the factions "start counting the dead, and looking for anyone to kill from the other side brothers, cousins, girlfriends. It's an escalation that's hard to stop." Father Stefano Salviuci of the rectory of Santa Maria della Speranza in Scampia says authorities can't blame people for being scared. "No one is called to be a hero," he says. "The residents here don't feel protected."
One man who's tried to fight back is Antonio Bassolino, Governor of the Campania region. When he was mayor of Naples in the 1990s, Bassolino led a campaign cracking down on small-time contraband cigarette vendors. Recalling a similar outbreak of bloodshed over contraband traffic in 1997, he says, "We broke a taboo back then by insisting that the guy selling cigarettes on the street corner wasn't some poor soul, but a sentry for the Camorra." The current violence, he thinks, is a call to strengthen Italy's justice system. Drug dealers "should know they risk serving real time," he says. But Pisani worries that not even prison can stop the killing. "These people don't forget their dead," he says. "A war like this only ends when one side is completely annihilated."