The first time Emanuele Sibillo was arrested he was 15: The police raided his house in Naples’ Forcella neighborhood while he was trying to get rid of two guns.
Sibillo was in and out of prison over the following few years. Among the young inmates, he stood out for his ability to command respect, and for reading books and newspapers.
When he turned 18 in 2013, he prepared for the next big step: rebelling against the old Camorra clans of the Neapolitan mafia to take over the whole city.
Since the early 2000s, Italian authorities have arrested hundreds of Camorra bosses and, with the old mobsters either murdered or behind bars, children and young adults like Sibillo have begun taking their place.
The phenomenon was the subject of La Paranza Dei Bambini, a 2016 novel by Italian author Roberto Saviano, whose bestselling non-fiction work Gomorrah, published a decade earlier, shone a light on the Camorra and resulted in him getting permanent police protection.
Paranza translates as a small fishing boat but, in Camorra lingo, it refers to a criminal group led by youngsters or small fish. Saviano refers to such children — many of whom carry 9mm revolvers by the age of 15 or 16 — as piranhas.
“Crime [in neighborhoods such as Rione Sanita] becomes the only way to make it, the only way to get money, power, respect,” Saviano said. “It’s not about being unable to wait for your moment. These guys know their moment will never come [otherwise].”
In Naples, the trend is all the more alarming because the Camorra’s structure is horizontal, not hierarchical like Italy’s other main mafia outfits, the Cosa Nostra and ’Ndrangheta. The result is a never-ending state of war among Camorra clans for territorial control, a war now taken over by the paranze.
With generational change has come a change in style. Whereas the older mafia bosses often operated out of the limelight, observing omerta — the code of silence — today’s criminals broadcast their exploits on social media, where they pose in designer clothes, clutching 200 euro bottles of champagne.
They wear hipster-style beards and race through the alleyways of Naples on scooters like packs of wild dogs. And they shoot.
One man was shot in 2014 simply because he asked for a cigarette. An Indian man took a bullet in the chest in 2013 when two boys were “testing their gun.” One young mafia member placed under surveillance was overheard on a wiretap screaming with joy about a new gun.
“I have a chrome 357 Magnum with a rubber grip, just like Al Capone’s,” he said.
Last summer, the Naples Court of Appeals sentenced 42 members of two paranze from the Forcella and Decumani neighborhoods to a combined 500 years in prison
“Let’s not forget, these are just teenagers,” Giovannesi said.
Naples Chief Prosecutor Giovanni Melillo said that gangs are widespread in the city, where young people are recruited based on their ability for violence.
“The clans delegate to them the business of drug dealing and racketeering — a worrying phenomenon, but marginal compared to the [traditional] clan operations of infiltrating public administrations and financial markets,” Melillo said. “But when the paranze go overboard with raids, the [remaining] older bosses intervene in order to keep the peace.”
In 2014, Sibillo was 18 and considered the baby godfather of the Forcella neighborhood. A year later, he was dead, the victim of an attack by members of a rival clan.
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