Goat heads skewered on fence posts, armed men with face masks who knock on the door with the butt of machine guns (at dinner time, the family at table). Fires, channels built to cause floods. Death threats: letters, cell phone messages, Facebook posts. Children followed to soccer games. Gas cylinders left at night on door mats.
For six years, from 2011 to last January, the ‘ndrangheta meddled in the affairs of a small house that is part residence and part music school for children. And the two who lived there turned the criminal organization away. With courage. A rare courage. And with official charges, in a city that reports nothing. Martino and Serenella Parisi, 55 and 50 years young, fought back and won. And now the city can attach a name and a face to this. Without fear. With pride.
The Carabinieri of the provincial command of Reggio Calabria have arrested the first of the criminals that tried to hold prisoner the couple and their 5 children, all boys. Other arrests will probably follow. The investigators are not stopping.
The neighborhood, the domain of the ‘ndrangheta, did not want that music school. These initiatives draw the spotlight, inspire energy, give answers, offer alternatives. Therefore, to the criminals, they are dangerous. The ‘ndrangheta wants nothing in Reggio Calabria: no tourists, no competition to their commercial enterprises, no free speech. “But something is changing. The people are beginning to rebel. “We are only at the beginning, it’s true. But, believe us, it is already a lot.”
Money and Retaliation
Gallina is a suburban area of Reggio Calabria. Here Martino and Serenella—he a music teacher and formerly president of the Academy of Fine Arts, she a head teacher—had found a piece of land on which to build the music school. The work was begun and almost finished when a demand arrived: to complete the construction site they must pay an additional 230,000 euro. A bribe. They had already poured 443,000 euro into the construction company, and that was enough, as it was the sum agreed to under the estimate. There were no unforeseen structural problems that would warrant additional repairs or modifications.
And yet the couple said no. One time, a second time, a third time. Then the warnings started. Initially veiled. Then brazen. Still a refusal, clear cut: We will not bow down, go away. And the reprisals began, while around the neighborhood, people saw but kept quiet, perhaps unhappy but not intervening. Land of hostages, Reggio Calabria. Land of poisons and plots, of smear campaigns, mud-slinging, persecutions, and bloody power games, the work of the ‘ndrangheta. But also the land of revolt.
Martino and Serenella found extraordinary help—a friend, a supporter, a refuge—in Claudio La Camera. A man that is so many things wrapped up in one. Founder of the Museum of the ‘ndrangheta in Reggio Calabria. Inventor of anti-mafia initiatives. Creator of free radio, where the young start off in journalism and become tenacious citizen reporters. A landmark for those who, in the city and the region, do not want to listen to the orders of criminal organizations and the weavers of dark plots. La Camera gave strength to the couple and convinced them not to surrender. There were dramatic, distressing, and terrifying moments. The children were followed to their workouts and to their soccer games. When there were birthdays, the parents received anonymous telephone calls “of good wishes.” If the children rode around on a scooter, other telephone calls advised the parents to tell the boys to be careful when turning a corner, because with a scooter, “one can fall.”
“We are not heroes”
Local newspapers, spoon fed by the criminals, wrote atrocities against the Parisis, revealing non-existent secrets in their private life and ghostly mafia-like stories in their professional lives. It was a campaign of hate and destruction. The first person arrested is Emanuele Quattrone, who is 47 years and has a criminal record. He is known in the area, as he always wanted to lay down the law.
If one has not lived in Reggio Calabria, it takes time and effort to understand daily life there. There are neighborhoods where dirty water flows, where to wash yourself is impossible, to drink the water is very dangerous. There are supermarkets that clients won’t go into because the ‘ndrangheta has its own supermarkets that must be frequented.
But the Parisis stand up for the city: “Many people go away to live elsewhere because they are sick of the idea of raising their children in a place so tormented. Everyone has his or her reasons. But we wonder—why give into violence? Reggio Calabria is ours. It is the brutes, if anything, who must change. How did we do this? We watched our children. And we watch the babies, often of poor families, who come to the music school. There are only 25 students at this time and we keep them close. In the beginning, some courses saw the number of those attending decrease day by day. But that has stopped. We have the potential for a thousand students. If it wasn’t our initiative, there would be another. We are not heroes. We are parents.”