This paper looks at police brutalities in Italy. In particular, the discussion focusses on the case of the death of Riccardo Magherini, who was stopped by the Corpo dei Carabinieri (CC), a branch of the Italian Army operating as a police force, on the 3rd of March 2014. The paper focusses on the way the police agents involved in the Magherini trial, both witnesses and defendants, made sense of the case. Their answers to the questions put to them by case lawyers or judges during the first trial in February 2016 will be closely examined.
Discussion of the case will rely on material drawn from court files. The Carabinieris internal reports on the incident and the court transcription of the agents questioning will form the basis for an ethnographic analysis of the case. The author will then use the case analysis as the starting point for a broader discussion on police culture. While ethnography generally consists of direct on-the-ground participant observation Geertz 1992, the author’s methodology of using legal transcripts and reports can nevertheless be considered ethnographical.
Discussion will consider the importance of an ethical element to the internal culture of the Italian police forces which influences their street practice. Italian police have an ethical approach in that they believe their role is to be able separate good from bad and protect society from the bad. Moreover they have operated within a context of impunity which has produced over time a critical threshold according to which specific individuals and groups deemed as dangerous classes are considered outside the realm of normal civilised society and as such can be treated differently in contemporary Italy.
The originality of this paper relates to two distinct elements. The first one concerns the context analysed, as the peculiarities of the Italian police are hardly known to the larger international public. The second aspect relates to the specificity of a case. Magherini was not a marginal person, he was an Italian citizen, but he suffered from a brutality that caused his death. The dynamics of this outcome will be closely analysed.