One of Athens’ inherent problems resurfaced last week, when a 11-year-old boy was killed by a stray bullet in a schoolyard in the suburb of Acharnai (Menidi), in the north-west of Athens. The incident took place late in the afternoon during the school graduation ceremony. The boy fell on the ground and it was first assumed that he had passed out, the blood on his head being a result of the fall.
He was immediately transferred to the ‘Agia Sophia’ Children Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The autopsy showed a bullet in the base of his skull as the cause of death.
Authorities believe that it had come from a gun fired in the neighbourhood and have since begun a thorough investigation to discover the perpetrator, raiding more than 30 houses and confiscating guns and ammunition. The police arrested a 23-year-old man, who admitted to firing a gun on the night in question, but denied that it was a 9mm pistol of the kind believed to have shot the fatal bullet. He was sentenced to 40 months in jail (with a three-year suspension) for manslaughter, by a misdemeanors court.
However, since the tragic event, the area has been in turmoil, with citizens protesting against the Roma population who inhabit the neighbourhood, accusing them of unlawful behaviour, gun possession, and crime.
Perched on the south of Mount Parnitha, Acharnai is the fourth-largest municipality of Athens, and one of the most disadvantaged. Plagued by poverty and high rates of crime, the area has been the epicentre of upheaval since the boy’s death.
Last Friday two houses near the school were firebombed by unknown perpetrators, presumably under the assumption that the gun owner was staying in one of them.
Following that, dozens of protesters gathered at the local suburban railway station, shouting insults and throwing stones and firebombs towards the Roma encampment on the other side of the tracks. Their protest was met with shots in the air, leading to police intervention.
On Tuesday, after a three day upheaval, Acharnai residents rallied in front of the Ministry of Citizens’ Protection, demanding the implementation of security and policing measures that have been promised to them since 2015, specifically for a new police station near the school where the tragedy took place, and which was vandalised and looted in the past.
From their part, the leaders of the Greek Roma community issued a statement expressing their grief for the tragic death of the boy “who could have been the child of anyone on Earth”, and calling for the authorities to shed light to the incident, and for the Greek government to finally stop the policies that prevent Roma integration and force them to live in ghettos.