Pubdate: Wed, 08 Nov 2006
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2006 The New York Times Company
Author: Elisabeth Rosenthal


NAPLES, Italy -- Marco L. has a memento of the late summer night when 
he and two friends were sprayed with gunfire by men on scooters, as 
the friends chatted near the Gate of San Gennaro in the heart of 
Naples: a bullet is still lodged near his hip.

The ochre walls of the piazza are also scarred, with pockmarks from 
bullets gone astray. The security grate on the toy store has 80 
bullet holes, the owner estimates.

"They must have mistaken us for someone else," said Marco, a 
baby-faced 22-year-old in a red sweatshirt and jeans, who spent 15 
days in the hospital. "They fired 12 or 13 shots, and all three of us 
were hit." He refused to give his full name for fear of retribution.

A wave of mob shootings and stabbings is terrorizing Naples, with 
nearly a killing a day in the past two weeks. The violence, amplified 
by an amnesty that freed 2,700 minor criminals from local prisons, is 
so rampant that Prime Minister Romano Prodi visited Naples to discuss 
sending in the army.

Living in a city that has long been synonymous with organized crime, 
Neapolitans are inured to a measure of violence. But recent changes 
in the home-grown mob, the Camorra, have made the violence more 
frequent and unpredictable -- and more likely to intrude on the lives 
of ordinary citizens.

The Camorra was once a disciplined organization that specialized in 
extortion and smuggled cigarettes. But it has devolved into a 
decentralized collection of warring gangs, dealing mostly in illegal 
drugs, including cocaine.

Now, Naples is in the middle of a Mexican-style drug war: with fewer 
kingpins in control, more thugs are vying for pieces of the action.

"The killings we are witnessing in our piazzas are about different 
Camorristas trying to maintain control" of street distribution of 
drugs, said Franco Roberti, coordinating prosecutor for anti-Camorra 
activity in Naples. The victims are younger, the killing more haphazard.

Indeed, the area where Marco L. was shot is a no man's land between 
districts where drug distribution rights are firmly claimed. People 
who live in this hardscrabble neighborhood of winding streets say 
they live in terror. And even if they see crimes being committed, 
they are too scared to name names.

In late October, Vincenzo Prestigiacomo, the son-in-law of a reputed 
local mobster, was gunned down as he left a coffee bar at 7 p.m., 
when all the surrounding stores were open.

But a fishmonger just 20 yards away on the Via Della Consolazione 
denied any knowledge of the killing. The owner of the coffee bar 
refused to give his name as he stood at the cash register, insisting 
that the killing took place "far from here, a kilometer away."

Mr. Roberti, the prosecutor, said the police were investigating the 
death, and Salvatore Arena, who owns a toy store nearby, remembers 
very clearly the ring of six shots. "Of course I heard it -- that 
noise is normal here now at night," Mr. Arena said, surrounded by 
plush stuffed animals that are going unsold.

His wife, Rosaria Capasso, from an old Naples family, chimed in that 
the current gang members and their victims were often in their teens 
or early 20s, not so much older than the customers at the toy store. 
They are unemployed and looking for money to buy expensive watches 
and designer jeans, she said.

"They steal for money," she said. "They shoot like it's a videogame."

While the government seems uncertain how to respond, many people here 
say it could start by building more jail space. Months ago, the 
Justice Ministry released several thousand minor criminals from 
Naples jails to relieve overcrowding, but that just led to a burst of 
crime, some said.

"It was a nice present from the justice minister," said Armando 
Petrucci, who owns a popular clothing store on Via Umberto where the 
bulletproof glass is cracked from past violence.

Others say the success of the police in arresting mobsters has 
created a vacuum that is being filled by lesser criminals. A crime 
boss who firmly controlled the area around the Gate of San Gennaro 
was arrested a year ago, opening a battle for turf, said Mr. Arena, 
the toy store owner.

Mr. Roberti acknowledges the dilemma: "When the state intervenes and 
captures a capo, it immediately creates space for a new Camorrista." 
The gangs that step in are always "allying or fighting."

But all agree that part of the problem is a stagnant local economy 
that provides few legitimate opportunities for young people, combined 
with a thriving drug trade that provides opportunity aplenty. 
Lookouts for the drug dealers -- a kind of an internship -- are paid 
1,500 euros a month, Mr. Roberti said, about $1,900, which is more 
than his police officers earn.

Prime Minister Prodi said he would not send troops to Naples but 
would send thousands of extra police officers and put them on 
scooters so they could keep up with the new Camorra. Mr. Roberti's 
office has only 18 cars, most of them old and prone to frequent 
breakdowns, he said.

Mr. Roberti said that an infusion of resources would help but that a 
true solution also required social reform. "You need to find a way to 
offer young people legal jobs," he said. "They may be less 
profitable, but you have security, you don't have to worry about retribution."

Meanwhile, Marco L. is a fugitive in his own neighborhood. "I've 
learned you can't hang out in one fixed place," he said, "and I don't 
sit out here at night anymore."
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MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman