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Europe

Italian Youth Tackle Naples Mafia

The Camorra mafia group in Naples is into getting rich quick without doing a lot of work. Attracted to the perks, a lot of young people are joining the ranks of mafia killers -- but other youths are trying to stop them.

A broken windshield with blood on it

Committing murder is the ticket to joining the Camorra

Ten plastic chairs are set up in front of an old television at the youth center in San Giovanni al Teduccio. It's movie night, and the film on the program is about Raffaele Cutolo, the most powerful Camorra mafia boss Naples has ever known.

The young people aren't there for just another action movie -- they want to study the Camorra in order to work against it. Backed by a common motivation, they've turned an abandoned garage into a youth center and named it after their role model Peppino Impastato.

"He was a young man with a vision," said 17-year-old Stefano, "a young Sicilian, the son of a Mafioso, who broke with his family and decided to fight against the mafia."

Stefano wants to follow in Impastato's footsteps. He designs fliers denouncing the negative things that are going on in his neighborhood -- and there are quite a lot, said Maria and Valentina, who helped found the youth center. They live alongside the Camorristi.

Play mirrors reality

"The dirty deals happen at night," said Maria, "break-ins, drug deals, and then there are always accidents or shoot-outs -- and all that practically happens outside my window."

Police arrest a Camorra mafia boss identified as Vincenzo Licciardi

The youth want to help take back their city

Valentina said she lives in a part of Naples that "has been forgotten by the state and is dominated by crime." For her, it's important to get involved at a social level and help sensitize other young people to the problems that Camorra creates.

With the support of Father Don Tonino Palmese and a teacher, the students at the youth center have written a play about a young thief who is shot to death in a robbery.

While none of the heroes in the play have completely clean hands, the Camorra members are portrayed with positive human characteristics. That's not necessarily politically correct, but it's realistic, said Father Palmese.

"The Camorristi in the play are poor devils," he said, "people who make their money dealing drugs in the winter and spring and then, after they've spent it all on a renovated kitchen or a motorcycle, they're left with nothing to eat."

Fresh faces on both sides

To be able to afford expensive status symbols, even teenagers will join the Camorra. They steal on command, commit arson, and do all the dirty work necessary to start a criminal career in Naples.

However, murder is still the ticket into the Camorra. And as the killers get younger and younger, fear grows in the community.

Marco, at 12 the youngest member of the youth center, said, "We have to overcome this fear. Otherwise we won't have a life anymore."

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