Is the epidemic motivating the unlikeliest of heroes? Or are there more sinister forces at play?In recent weeks, the Mafia has been distributing free food to poor families under lockdown who can’t afford any. Italy, being one of the worst-affected countries, has been under lockdown for over a month. Millions of people working in the unorganized sector have lost their paycheques and sources of income, with no idea when shops and offices will reopen. The Italian government has been trying to help their citizens, but are definitely overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the situation.
Where a gap has been formed between the government and the poor, the Mafia has stepped in. Footage of Mafia gangs delivering goods to citizens in the poorest Southern regions of Campania, Sicily, Puglia etc. have been going viral in the country.
But this story is not as heartwarming as it seems. Mafias are more than just criminal organisations, they seek to develop a sense of community, loyalty and dependence centred around them. Mafias exploit problematic situations to their advantage by depicting themselves as heroes to the masses, and then counting on their loyalty to vote for chosen candidates, shelter criminals, cover-up illicit activity etc.
Dozens of investigations in the south have led to the arrests of politicians who have aided and abetted the mafia, and who was elected with the support of local Mafia members who forced citizens to vote for them in exchange for services, such as a simple food parcel. Magistrates have also begun proceedings on their end against members of the Camorra gang (Neapolitan mafia) and their activities in Naples.
Federico Varese, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford, said, “The mafias might be able to benefit in other ways from the current lockdown and especially from the future, when Italians will all be able to return to work, spend more money, and get the economy on its feet again. But surely the story exemplified by the handouts of food parcels in Palermo and Naples shows their true nature, and it tells why they are so dangerous.”