WASHINGTON – Fermo is a small city in Italy where not much happens. But after Tuesday’s killing, it is known worldwide – with the label “racist” attached.

Fermo is where Emmanuel Chidi Nnamdi, a Nigerian asylum seeker who escaped the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, was beaten to death, allegedly by a right-winger named Amedeo Mancini, in a scuffle after a racist attack.

His partner was called “monkey” as the two were going to buy a body cream.

The reaction of townspeople, shocked by what happened, was immediate. “Fermo is not racist. A town of 37,000 people can’t be defined as racist for just one person,” said Andrea Di Domenicantonio, a bartender at a local café.

Francesco Trasatti, Fermo’s deputy mayor, spent years promoting the image of the city in Italy and in the world.

“It’s like we took care of a forest for years and then a fire destroyed everything in a while,” Trasatti said.

Even though it’s still not clear who started the fight, the story of Chidi Nnamdi shocked the Fermo community. In less than one day, it became a national case.

This story became a symbol of an Italian province where racism and hatred against outsiders had found root.

But Fermo’s citizens don’t want to be defined as racists.

“Fermo is a supportive community for immigrants and nonimmigrants,” Bibi Iacopini, famous in the city for organizing an antique market during the summer, said.

Elisa Verdecchia, who works at a local company, stressed that “people of Fermo are not like this. And now we have to fight to restore our reputation.”

But Johangely Escobar, the daughter of Venezuelan immigrants who live in Fermo, has a different opinion about her city. “People here are ignorant, with a mentality of 70 years ago. Emmanuel was insulted without a reason and what scares me the most is that I could have been there instead of him.”

In the aftermath, many residents joined social media conversations about what happened Thursday. Many condemned the attack against Namdi, but others justified the aggression attacking the Nigerian.

Several shared their views on Facebook:

“We care about an immigrant, and no one cares for poor Italians who die every day,” “The Italian guy just tried to defend himself while Emmanuel was beating him with a road sign pole,” “People defend the young guy only because he is an immigrant. If he had been an Italian, no one would have cared,” “Why didn’t he remain in Nigeria?”

Beyond what happened and the contradictory versions of the story, Fermo’s people are raising their voices to send a message. “Our city is not the one described by the media since Wednesday,” said Luigi Rocchi, who works for DHL.

The municipality of Fermo released a statement proclaiming a day of mourning for July 12.

“The mourning was proclaimed to show the entire community solidarity with the victim’s family,” the statement said, “and to witness his aversion toward every form of racism and intolerance.”