"It is the fault of those like you if there is contagion!" Abuse in uniform and strategy of the scapegoat in the days of the coronavirus


by Pietro De Vivo *

(with a note by Luca Casarotti **)

Until Friday 20 March, before the announcement of the closure of all production activities, I continued to go to work, obviously respecting all precautions: I live on the same street as the office – a few street numbers away -, in the few meters that I do on foot I don’t meet anyone, and in those days there were only two of us and we kept at a distance. The others were already working remotely, only one of my partners came, who like me lives very close and saw practically no one else besides myself.

It was still allowed by the decrees (teleworking was only recommended, not mandatory), and in addition to having to use office machines and software, I found that going to the office was also a good practice: to separate the work time from that of the I don’t work, to get some air, to see some light, and to have a chat with my colleague. Living alone with my roommate, in a very small house even for two people, I risk going crazy.

But what is usually a huge fortune in Rome – living close to where you work – in quarantine times and with minimal walking opportunities had become a prison. I had then taken the habit, after taking off, to take a wide turn to go home. None of that, not even five hundred meters, practically the circumnavigation of the block.

For us in these days paradoxically the work is more than usual, because we are going out of our way to try in every way to avoid heavy economic damage to the publishing house due to the closure of the bookstores. So I often went off late, between 18 and 20. At that time there was hardly anyone on the street and it was very easy to respect the safety distances.

On Friday, I had left particularly late, after 8 pm, and had started my ride home. Halfway, less than two hundred meters from home, I was stopped by one of the soldiers who have been patrolling the district’s nightlife area for years. He asked me where I was going and obviously I replied that I was going home. A series of questions followed, including where I came from, what job I did, where I lived, if I had self-certification (which I did not have, knowing that the form can also be filled in while stopped), documents, etc.

When I told him where I lived he asked me why I was going in the opposite direction (I would have turned at the next intersection to go around the block and go back) and when I replied that I took the opportunity to take a walk while I was going home, he immediately said that walking is forbidden. Note: I replied that I was taking two steps to get home from work, instead he immediately pulled out the inauspicious word on which the worst criminalizations are encrusting : “walk”.

Obviously I have not been there, I told him that it is not forbidden to walk, but that in any case I was returning home, I was in the vicinity of my home, and therefore everything was allowed. He began to insist with unpleasant tones and to get angry, until the other five arrived who presided over the area with him. I found myself literally surrounded, among other things, in a crowd of people who did not respect the safety distance between me and them.

They first took turns insisting on the story of the absolute ban on leaving the house, then when I showed them the text of the decree of March 9 from their mobile phone, denying them, they changed their strategy, starting to make me moral and blame me by listing all the frames Toxic of these days: “If everyone took a walk the streets would be crowded”, “It is the fault of those like you if there is contagion and health is at the limit”, “You are an irresponsible”. Then to insult me: “We would like to stay at home and instead we have to stay behind morons like you who are not at home and spread the infection”, “We risk our lives for you assholes”, and more than I repeat.

Needless to explain to him that I, at home, was just going there, coming from work, and that I was near my home. They did not want to hear reasons, they did not let me go, also drawing out a bizarre theory that the measures mandatorily provide that in the event of a displacement, even if necessary, the shortest journey from point A to point B must be made and that also extend only fifty meters is prohibited.

But obviously the thing that bothered them the most, besides taking a walk, was the timetable. It was vain to explain to him that if I had disconnected after 20, and my legitimate ten minutes of oxygen I was taking them at that hour, I risked even less to infect someone because the road was deserted. They reasoned as if there was a curfew and I was breaking it.

Since I insisted that I was not doing anything wrong, they called the carabinieri to report me. I stress: they did not say that they would call the police to check and, if necessary, report; they explicitly said they would call them to report me. I don’t know why the carabinieri and not the police called, and obviously I don’t know what they said but I have little doubt that the version was biased to indispose them in advance.

More than three quarters of an hour passed between the discussion with them and the waiting of the carabinieri. In the meantime, the military have, in order:
■ stopped a homeless man who was staggering;
■ stopped a type of color taking it for granted that he passed off, and then said to me: “See, if you leave the house it’s dangerous, you can find him”, and when I replied: “What’s that got to do with it?” they said to me: “It is not racism, it is that you can get infected” with an excusatio non petita, accusatio manifest which reveals a very long straw tail;
■ looked at all those who passed with the dog: “These dogs have become very thin by going out so often”;
■ obliged one of two South American ladies who had gone out with the dog to go home because they can only be taken for a walk alone, even if the ladies lived clearly together, having left the same door, therefore still in contact all day;
■ finally, badly spoken of those who go for a run: «All athletes now!».

These last things confirm that for them it was not a question of respecting or not the measures, what is allowed and what is not, but of obliging people to stay barricaded in the house in defiance of all rights.

Then came the wheel with the two carabinieri who got out, immediately turning to the military, ignoring my words, to turn to me only afterwards, and immediately with threatening tones, insulting and screaming. The discussion with them was of the same tenor as that already had with the military, only that they were even more threatening, shouting, and placing themselves at an even closer distance, the attitude of those who literally yell at you, and thank goodness that contagion must be avoided. In addition to blaming me for the deaths of these days, they concluded by shouting: «You don’t have to go out and that’s all. You must stay in the house forty days! ». And they started filing the complaint.

While the carabinieri were writing one of the soldiers said to me: “Did you see? If you were silent and apologized, everything was fine, did you want to answer and make stories? So you learn ». Confessing that I called the carabinieri to report me not because I was breaking something, but because I dared to fight back. I replied that therefore I was not in the wrong, they did not report me for an offense, they were simply making fun of me. He obviously reacted badly.

Meanwhile, the carabinieri had finished filling in the report, and also a self-certification in which it is written that at 20:15 I left work in via xxx to go to my home in via yyy and that I was walking to go home. By the way, they prevented me from filling it out on my own, they did it and forced me to sign it. At the time and place of the check it says “21:15”, which is actually the time when they finished drafting the report, while the military had stopped me at least an hour before. So written on purpose that way to make it look like I’ve been walking for an hour. They also obviously specified the address where I was stopped, which should prove that I was going too long to go home. After making me sign the complaint,

I am not worried about the complaint, I am quite convinced that it will be archived. And in any case, there are all the details to contest it, since I was returning home (which is allowed) after being at work (which is still permitted at the time) and I found myself near my home.

I am not worried, but I am angry, nervous and distressed. It is not the first time that I happen to argue with the police, but being surrounded by six soldiers with machine guns, and then receiving screams in the face from two carabinieri, was a bad scene. I have never feared for my physical safety, but I am seriously afraid for the safety of my freedom. It seemed to me a scene from a military dictatorship or from a fascist regime, it was not pleasant at all and I don’t hide it.

Not to mention the total uselessness of all this for the prevention of infection. Still until that day – Friday 20 March – if I had been one of the workers forced to work in the factory I would have had to cross half the city to go home, at any time of the day, in time slots where I would have probably met many more people, after to have been in contact with dozens or hundreds of people at work, but that would have been fine.

This episode – in addition to enclosing incredibly in one fell swoop all the absurdities of these weeks – has some Kafkaesque: from how I was stopped to how the story unfolded, from the fallacious motivations given by the military to ignoring what I said decree in hand , from the toxic frames with which they threw insults at me on their violence – fortunately for now only – verbal. Until, above all, the absurdity of being reported because I was taking a walk around the block to go home from work – but in reality, as they declared themselves, because I hadn’t been able to bear in silence that they arbitrarily abused their power.

Pietro De Vivo is editor of fiction and non-fiction for the Alegre editions , based in Rome, and deputy director of the Quinto Tipo series directed by Wu Ming 1. When he finds the time he writes books on Il lavoro Culturale .


by Luca Casarotti

As far as I have read and listed so far, there is no jurist who does not criticize the emergency decree of the last month . Strong doubts have been raised about its constitutionality; which means, in our euphemistic and brachylogic language: the recent decrees of the presidency of the council of ministers (dpcm) are unconstitutional, and only political opportunity can save them from being declared such. As is the unanimous opinion that an extremely fragile sanctioning system has been built, which will crumble after the emergency is over. Complaints will be filed in bulk. Perhaps some symbolic condemnation will arrive, so that the whole operation has not been resolved into nothing.

La Repubblica – Turin, 22 March 2020. “Sheriff” citizens titillated by the authorities, “but from the periphery the first signs of impatience”. In fact, there is a dizzying increase in TSOs .

Given this unanimous criticism, the consequences that are drawn are not unanimous, especially with respect to the role assigned in the emergency to criminal law. There are those who believe that the prohibitions introduced by the dpcm should be transferred to a law or an act with the force of the law – legislative decree or law decree – and then by law to penalize penalties. This would at least respect the principle of legality, that according to which no one can be punished except by virtue of a law which entered into force before the act committed (art.25, paragraph II, of the constitution).

Be careful, though. Even if there is the political will to do it, to solve the problem it would not be enough to take the bans as they are now and copy them as they are in a law or equivalent act. In addition to that of legality , there are other constitutional principles that an incriminating rule must respect. I am thinking above all of the principle of offensiveness , according to which a crime can punish only behaviors that offend a juridical good (i.e. an aspect of material life that the law considers worthy of being protected), and that of subsidiarity, for which criminal law must intervene only in cases where no other form of sanction for illegal behavior is possible. Principles that the prohibitions established in the ministerial ordinances and in the dpcm issued since 23 February last would not respect even if they were provided for by law.

In short, to be at least compliant with the constitution, those prohibitions should be deeply rethought. What the government, at this point, cannot afford to do: it cannot afford to rethink anything, but it cannot even afford to transfer the existing into a law. It would be like admitting that it was completely wrong to manage the epidemic, more than a month after it began. It would be like saying that you have chosen unsuitable instruments.

Then there is another position, which I would call “utilitarian” or “lesser evil”. That of those who believe that in the end it is preferable to tolerate these badly formulated prohibitions, instead of running the risk of finding oneself with incriminating rules written with all the trappings. It is known that these bans will not really lead to large-scale convictions. Better then unfounded complaints today, than convictions founded tomorrow. In the meantime, however, it is necessary to represent the threat of a penal sanction, which is the most effective way to obtain obedience to prohibitions.

But to be consistent, those who support this position must also be available to affirm that what Peter has told is nothing outrageous. And that would bear similar treatment even in the first person, not only when it is up to others: it is a perspective that should be terrifying.

The threat of a penal sanction, however symbolic it may be, implies as a necessary and very concrete outcome the mobilization of the repressive apparatus of the state , which that threat has the task of translating into practice.
The wider the spectrum of behaviors threatened with sanctions, the wider the intervention space of the repressive apparatus.
And the wider the intervention space of the repressive apparatus, the more those who belong to it feel invested with authority and freedom of action.
The longer the time during which this occurs, the more this intervention is normalized.
And the more this intervention is normalized, the more the borders of the emergency expand until they cannot distinguish themselves from what the emergency is not.

If all these logical implications of the starting premise are accepted, the “utilitarian” or “lesser evil” argument becomes “the inclined plane’s argument”: inclined towards what, Peter says at the end of his testimony.

If the logical implications are not accepted, then the premise should also be rejected for consistency.

** Luca Casarotti is a jurist. He is part of the Nicoletta Bourbaki working group and provides legal advice to the Wu Ming Foundation. He writes about political use of criminal law and anti-fascism, mainly on Giap and Jacobin Italia . He has a second identity as a pianist and music critic.

Finally, a video: the last of the “Mesmer Pills” of Mariano Tomatis , “wonder injector”, magician and illusionist historical, as well as a member of Mountaineering Molotov. This is called “Postcards from the columns of Hercules” and tells of the restrictions of these days, of the new borders within our cities. Mariano also gives some reading and sharing advice and urges: “This is not the time to collapse now.”