Italian authorities fight to erase giant murals in Naples that pay tribute to teenage gangsters

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Nick Squires
·2 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
A mural in tribute to Ugo Russo, who was killed during a robbery in Naples, with the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice
A mural in tribute to Ugo Russo, who was killed during a robbery in Naples, with the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice

Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals.

Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city.

Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters.

Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings.

They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts.

A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice.

He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.

Naples is full of murals depicting its folk heroes, including this one of the footballer Diego Maradona - Marco Cantile/AP
Naples is full of murals depicting its folk heroes, including this one of the footballer Diego Maradona - Marco Cantile/AP

In the wake of his death, shots were fired at a police station in the city and the accident and emergency section of a hospital was smashed up by enraged relatives.

Beneath a mural dedicated to Caiafa, a makeshift altar made from pieces of marble has appeared.

The head of police in Naples, Marco Valentini, has called for the murals to be erased, saying they celebrate criminality and glamourise violence.

He was backed up by Luciana Lamorgese, the interior minister. “I fully support the prefect of police. These murals must be removed,” she said.

The city council also wants to erase the artworks but has run into bureaucratic difficulties.

The murals are painted on privately-owned buildings and so council authorities have to ask permission from the owners to scrub them off, said Carmine Piscopo, the deputy mayor of Naples.

It is not just teenage hoodlums who are honoured with murals in Naples – there are also giant artworks dedicated to the actress Sophia Loren, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and the footballer Diego Maradona, whose recent death prompted an outpouring of grief in the city for which he once played.

Crime in Naples and the surrounding region of Campania is dominated by the notorious Camorra mafia.

A broken education system and a lack of jobs provides fertile ground for the Camorra to recruit young men who have few other prospects.

It is one of the country’s three biggest criminal networks, along with the ‘Ndrangheta of Calabria and Cosa Nostra in Sicily.