The only thing that three men shot at on April 6 were guilty of was being black, Joseph Muscat said on Sunday.
Addressing party supporters in Qormi, the Labour leader dedicated most of his speech to the murder of Lassana Cisse in Triq il-Ġebel, Birżebbuġa, allegedly by two young soldiers, calling it a “national tragedy”.
The father-of-three from the Ivory Coast died on the spot, metres away from two young men - a 27-year-old from Guinea and a 28-year-old from Gambia – who were injured but survived the drive-by shooting.
Investigators have said that one of the accused admitted to targeting the migrants “just because they were black", and sources said the two suspects had also been linked to a hit-and-run incident along the same road a few months ago.
On Sunday morning, the two young suspects, Lorin Scicluna and Francesco Fenech, appeared in court and pleaded not guilty to the murder, hit-and-run and other crimes.
The cold-blooded murder has sent ripples of fear among the black and migrant community.
Fears for adopted children
On Sunday, the Prime Minister said people had told him they feared their adopted children will be mistreated as they grew older because of the colour of their skin, despite being Maltese.
“We have a historical opportunity to plant a tree of hope from a story of fear. This will be a change that each and every one of us will be part of,” he said, adding, however, that integration issues needed to be acknowledged.
Dr Muscat said that when faced with what Malta was facing, other countries had segregated black people into ghettos, and these communities had eventually grown into whole cities.
“After years these countries realised they had sown a seed of hatred and recrimination in these ghettos, and people in ghettos grew hating, rather than being grateful to those who had welcomed them.
“Whoever comes to Malta needs to understand our culture and lifestyle and we understand theirs. We should understand each other and integrate each other – no one will be cut off on his own.”
He reiterated that there were hundreds, if not thousands, of Maltese who had adopted black children, who were therefore as Maltese as any of us.
“We want these children to grow with Malta, and not hate, in their hearts.”
He also called on people to speak up when something bothered them, giving as an example those bothered by people urinating outdoors, something that the Maltese did as well, he was quick to add.
'They did not do anything to anyone'
Mr Cisse’s murder was a big tragedy, Dr Muscat said.
“Violence and murder can never be justified – although sometimes one can start to understand retribution, although still wrong.
“However, the tragedy is that these people did not do anything to anyone. The only thing they were guilty of is that they are black, and they were walking in Ħal Far at night.
“We need to understand this national tragedy, and as a nation reflect on this moment.”
He appealed for something good to come out of the tragedy and called on people to turn over a new leaf for all children's wellbeing.
This could be done by facing and fixing your own prejudices, stopping those who are sowing extremist ideas, and avoid repeating or smiling at such rhetoric.
Those who wanted a good laugh should go to a comedy, and not listen to poisoned discourse that has been spreading for years in Malta, he insisted.
He also warned about those who had subtly sowed the narrative of us and them, such as comments like “Malta has been overrun by foreigners" (Pajjizna mifquh bil-barranin), without making a direct reference to the Nationalist Party.
It was easy to box people, however, there was no us and them, Dr Muscat said, adding that people should look for that which united them, rather what divided them.
Muscat warned about those who had subtly sowed the narrative of us and them
He also said he wanted to pass on some words of courage to all: “we are not a people who hates, our heart is in the right place and we know how to love.”
MEP candidates call for unity
Mr Cisse’s cold-blooded murder featured prominently throughout the political event in Qormi, with MEP candidate Alex Agius Saliba calling Saturday’s news a wake-up call, especially for those who joked around about far-right extremists.
Labour MEP Miriam Dalli called on the Maltese to unite and show that there was no place for divisiveness.
She referred to past warnings about those who, whether blatantly, or subtly but consciously, had introduced the idea of us and them.
“None of us should accept hate speech on social media, at work, at school or when we come together as a family,” she said.
“We need to have a stronger voice so that we don’t see Malta being split on the basis of colour, whether partisan, sports, belief or skin colour.”
'We have a cow that we can milk'
In his concluding remarks, Dr Muscat reiterated the need for the country to move forward and continue to create wealth and employment.
This would help improve housing, support people in keeping up with their rent and ensure the elderly lived a decent life with their pension.
On Tuesday the Cabinet will approve a scheme that would ensure justice with former Telemalta employees, he said.
“We can do this because, quoting [former Prime Minister] Mintoff, we have a cow that we can milk. For as long as I’m here I will continue feeding the cow, milk it and distribute the fruit.”
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