Abdalla Mohammed, 32, was beaten to death by three Detention Services officers who have been charged with his murder.
The alleged violent murder of an immigrant by soldiers whose first responsibility was protecting life, was an event of enormous gravity.
One has to be blind not to see the wider picture of rampant racism, which has desensitised the nation from feeling empathy for migrants and asylum seekers.
It would be a tragic mistake to treat this incident simply as the result of problems related to the management of detention centres or the lack of training of detention officers as suggested by Labour leader Joseph Muscat, who firmly condemned the incident, and called for an enquiry but sidelined the issue of racism.
The PL's press release quoted Muscat saying, "This is not just a racial and cultural case (kaz ta' kultura u razzjali). This is also another case during this legislature of someone who died in custody." I beg to disagree. Missing the racism (not racial) aspect is like being in Alabama in the 1950s and blaming the current governor for the latest round of police beatings of black people.
For this reason it was refreshing to see the Prime Minister and the Nationalist Party firmly condemn racism and reaffirming Malta's international obligations to save people in distress on the high seas.
But this is only part of the story. The PN in government has devised a system based on institutional racism, which segregates people who have committed no crimes for months in detention centres. Most of the people who end up in detention are people who do not even try to enter Malta in an irregular way but are simply people who were rescued from the high seas according to our international obligations.
This system also supported by the PL perpetuates the idea that immigrants and asylum seekers are criminals. This policy helps in desensitising the nation from their plight. It also locks up traumatised people and puts army personnel in charge of them.
In reality detention is a way to appease public opinion instead of confronting it with real and effective political leadership.