NAPLES — Several hundred extra police were assigned to central Naples this week to protect tourists after two violent attacks on American vacationers and other attacks on European visitors threatened to scare off tourists, the lifeblood of the local economy.
The muggings brought a torrent of criticism to Naples Mayor Rosa Iervolino for failing to deal with the southern city’s organized crime gangs dominated by the Camorra, the Neapolitan version of the Sicilian Mafia.
The issue erupted last week when Thomas Matthew Godfrey, a young tourist from Utah, chased and tackled a thief who had grabbed his camera as he strolled through Naples’ picturesque Spagnoli quarter. As Mr. Godfrey called for help, a pack of angry Neapolitans swarmed him, kicking and punching, allowing the thief to escape. Two days later, the city’s image took another hit when a pregnant American, identified only as Consiglia G., was robbed by a man who punched and kicked her to the ground in the central Piazza Municipio square.
Doctors said that the woman, 23, who is six months pregnant, runs no risk of losing the baby, but the assault led to further calls for more police at the height of the tourist season.
Mrs. Iervolino apologized to Mr. Godfrey for the incident, and authorities assigned about 700 extra police to the city center, many of them armed with submachine guns, to protect thousands of foreigners, many on their way to the island of Capri, or heading for the ancient ruins at Pompeii and Herculaneum, the Roman cities buried by the ancient eruption of Vesuvius.
The attack on Mr. Godfrey “is an episode that struck and wounded me very much,” said the mayor, calling it an example of “a misunderstood sense of neighborly solidarity.”
“I asked the tourist to excuse us, explaining to him that fortunately Naples is not all like that,” the mayor said, adding, “The network of living solidarity in the neighborhoods of our city is very beautiful, but in this case the tourist who was robbed should have been defended.”
Hotel owner Lello Iovine offered Mr. Godfrey a free stay at her hotel, the Albergo Neapolis, if he will give Naples a second chance, while Leonardo Impegno, the president of the city’s Municipal Council, invited Mr. Godfrey to pizza and a personal tour of the city.
“This was an odious episode in which, unfortunately, the worst Naples emerged — that of blind and gratuitous violence. … The American tourist was enjoying our city, and he was betrayed by a little part of it,” said Mr. Impegno.
Some relief for authorities was provided when a special team headed by the Naples deputy police chief, Antonio Chiementi, arrested the suspected attacker of the pregnant woman. Identified as Marco Aiello, 33, he was described as having no criminal record.
A number of arrests also were made in connection with Mr. Godfrey’s attack. But the conservative Il Mattino newspaper, Naples’ leading daily, asked whether the mayor was losing her grip.
“Every day there is a disconcerting episode even if, as in the case of Godfrey, those responsible eventually are arrested,” said the newspaper.
“The real problem is not repression, which all things considered produces results, but of prevention.”
Naples’ police force is severely under strength, as labor unions representing police officers have cautioned repeatedly, the newspaper said.
“In outlying areas, especially, police managers have to work miracles just to organize a prowl car patrol. And because of the deployment to ensure vacationers a peaceful sojourn, the number of operative reserves is reduced to a trickle,” it editorialized.
The newspaper pointed out that the American woman first received assistance not from officers on the beat but from an elite escort squad, which happened upon the assault when returning to headquarters after guarding a local politician under death threat from Camorra gangsters.
Two agents nabbed Mr. Aiello and returned the woman’s handbag before taking her to the hospital.
Archbishop Cescenzio Sepe, the Roman Catholic Cardinal of Naples, on Wednesday during a Mass marking the Feast of the Assumption said prayers urging the Virgin Mary “to liberate us from macro and micro crime because what is happening is not worthy of the children of God.”
“Naples cannot be canceled by hate, violence, the Camorra and daily difficulties of life such as absence of work,” the prelate told a crowd of Neapolitans. “Naples can once again become a beacon of hope.”