The authorities have been lambasted for allowing racism to fester during a final farewell to Lassana Cisse, the 42-year-old man who was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Ħal Far as he walked home in 2019.

Survived by his two children and his elderly mother, Cisse's body is expected to be repatriated to the Ivory Coast in the coming weeks, three years after what is believed to be Malta's first recorded racially motivated murder.

On Thursday, he was bid farewell at the Paola mosque by Imam Mohammed El Sadi, Archbishop Charles Scicluna, members of the government, civil society, and the Muslim community.

His body was not present at the mosque for health and safety reasons.

The Imam led prayers remembering Cisse as "a model of migrants who sacrifice and strive to maintain their children and secure a better life for their family".

He was also "a victim of racism, which is inhuman, unjust and immoral", El Sadi said, adding that his murderers did not represent the rest of the Maltese population.

"We are sure the Maltese authorities will bring justice to the late Lassana. We remember that different races, colour and faith belong to one human family."

Archbishop Scicluna meanwhile expressed sadness, saying Cisse's dreams and projects were "shattered by bullets in an insane attitude of disrespect if not hatred".

While human justice will take its course, he warned that Cisse's murder should "show us how terrible disrespect and hatred are".

He asked for forgiveness for "our negligence and disrespect".

The Maltese, he said, were proud of their heritage of being a welcoming nation and "it is a very sad day for us when this high ideal is shattered. We are called to be better people".

He called for a change of heart, adding that "we should take this day to commit ourselves to do whatever we can to live for brotherly love, respect tolerance and mutual acceptance".

Two soldiers – Francesco Fenech and Lorin Scicluna – have been accused of his murder as well as the attempted murder of another two men and a hit-and-run incident that was exposed by Times of Malta. All four victims were black.

Both men have since been granted bail, a decision that instilled fear, humiliation and disappointment among black people and the migrant community. 

Institutional racism violates people of colour every day

Maria Pisani from Integra and Regine Psaila from the African Media Association Malta, who addressed the memorial on behalf of civil society, had harsher words for the authorities.

"We are here because, to our shame, Lassana's life was brought to an abrupt end because of a deadly virus that was allowed to take root and fester: racism," Pisani said.

Cisse deserved justice, she said, adding that this will not be served with court delays and lack of commitment to transform the systemic racism and violence.

"Institutional racism is an ongoing source of violence that continues to violate people of colour every day."

Confronting racism required those with power to affect change to acknowledge where was done wrong and commit to much better, she said.

"It requires a commitment to investigate and understand how policies and practices - knowingly and inadvertently - discriminate against people of colour."

Failure to do so is an affront to Lassana, his family, friends and community. The institutions established to protect all of us failed to protect the man, she added.

Cold-blooded killing never in the picture for black people

Psaila meanwhile noted that Cisse's death could have been avoided.

"To know how and why he died not only led to deep pain for his relatives but the entire black community in Malta was horrified," Psaila, a black woman herself, said.

His murder, she said, had sent shockwaves of horror across the migrant community.

"Horror that today, after the abolition of slavery and end of colonialisation, people can still lose their life for the fact they were born with different skin colour. Horror that the men accused of his murder are free. Horror that the murder could happen again."

Careless political discourse that uses migrants as scapegoats and the underrepresentation of minorities in media led to Cisse's murder, Psaila added.

Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Present for the memorial was also Parliamentary Secretary Rebecca Buttigieg, who did not address the event.

In comments to Times of Malta afterwards, she said the government ensured proper measures were in place to avoid a repeat of the "shocking" murder, including the launch of an anti-racism strategy.

Why is Cisse's body still in Malta?

Cisse’s body was released for burial nine months after his murder, leaving his relatives in Ivory Coast and friends in Malta baffled as to why the corpse was kept at the mortuary for such a long time.

By March 2020, the government had committed itself to cover all repatriation costs, including transport to the burial place, permits and mortuary fees. But COVID struck and ports were closed because of surging virus cases.

Last year, Cisse’s cousin, Abdoulaye told Times of Malta that a sense of “fatigue” had blanketed the family since the murder.

His cousin had been “killed in the street like an animal” and Cisse’s mother, for whom the murdered man was an only child, just kept asking when she was going to see his body.

Times of Malta is informed his body is being repatriated by the end of the month.

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