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Brazil: São Paulo State police beat striking teachers

On March 26th 2010, thousands of teachers (20,000 people according to the organizers, only 3,500 according to the police) of the State of São Paulo marched towards the Government Palace, where some of them were beaten [pt] by State Police. On strike since March 8th, the teachers have been protesting on a weekly basis, thousands of people having marched on March 12th and 19th on the most prestigious street of São Paulo, Paulista Avenue. The strike goes on, so the protests go on.

Their goal was to pressurise São Paulo state Governor José Serra to meet  their demands, including a 34.4% pay rise, bonuses, and, a fair career plan. The confrontation was reported live on Twitter, and later uploaded to Flickr and YouTube, with many citizen journalists expressing disgust and disapproval at the police brutality against unarmed school teachers. So far, Serra has not commented on the incident through his personal Twitter account @joseserra_.

Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

The demonstration started in peaceful fashion. However, at 12:17 pm a teacher, Eduardo Prado [pt], reports the first signs of the violence to come that he later documented on his blog [pt]:

@eduardoprado: Tem inicio a repressao. Policia ataca os manifestantes com gas de pimenta.

@eduardoprado: The repression begins. Police attack protesters with pepper spray

Some teachers and students reacted to the violence. According to Rede Brasil Atual [pt]:

@redebrasilatual: Alguns estudantes tentaram reagir atirando pedras contra os policiais, que vão afastando os manifestantes do local de protesto.

@redebrasilatual: Some students tried to react throwing stones at the police, who are pushing protesters from the locality.

Soon after, there were reports of casualities, some of them seriously injured. Fernando Bustamante [pt] reports:

@fepardal: Um professor foi p/ o hospital em estado grave com uma bala de borracha alojada no pulmão (coisas que a imprensa não diz pra você)

@fepardal: A teacher was taken to hospital in a critical condition with a rubber bullet lodged in his lung (things that the media do not tell you)

Undercover police action:

Twittering from his mobile, Eduardo Prado [pt] updates on reports that undercover police officers had been mingling with protesters and using violence against them. Making serious accusations against the police, Sérgio Vaz [pt] was retweeted by dozens of people:

@poetasergiovaz: um policial á paisana botou fogo num carro para culpar os professores, mas foi fotografado. A Ditadura impera em Sao Paulo.

@poetasergiovaz: an undercover police officer set fire to a car to inculcate the teachers, but he was photographed. The dictatorship reigns in Sao Paulo.

Eduardo Prado [pt] reports the same:

@eduardoprado: Um carro foi incendiado, varias testemunhas confirmaram que foram policais a paisana.

@eduardoprado: A car was set on fire, many witnesses have confirmed it was by undercover police.

Several people were injured during the protests, 16 according to the teachers union. At 22:32, Rede Brasil Atual reports the end and final balance of the confrontation. Suzana Vier later provided the full coverage on their website [pt]:

@redebrasilatual: Acaba a manifestação. Saldo: professores seguem em greve, o governo não negocia e nove pessoas ficaram feridas

@redebrasilatual: The demonstration comes to an end. Balance: teachers remain on strike, government does not negotiate and nine people were injuried
Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

The [lack of] media balance:

According to Twitter users, the media was very slow to react and report the incident while it was happening, as reports Sérgio Vaz [pt]:

@poetasergiovaz: Os professores estão apanhando feio da polícia do Serra e não tem ninguém da imprensa séria cobrindo. SOS jornalistas sérios.

@poetasergiovaz: Teachers are being severely beaten by Serra's police and there's no one from the serious press covering it [the incident]. SOS serious journalists

Túlio Viana [pt] asks sarcastically:

@tuliovianna: Cadê a mídia paulista pra fazer uma reportagem catalogando todas esta rotina de “trabalho duro” do batalhão-de-choque da PM paulista?

@tuliovianna: Where's the Paulista [= from São Paulo] media to report on this “hard work” routine of the Riot Squad of the Paulista Police?

Eduardo Amaral [pt] also wonders about the next day's coverage:

@edu74: O clima é tenso no palácio. Professores indignados com a violência da PM. E vai sair na imprensa?

@edu74: The atmosphere at the Palace is of tension. The teachers are disgusted with the police violence. Will the press report it?

Apparently, the demonstration marred by violence did not make to the main headlines nor was it reported accurately. Fernando Bustamante [pt] carried out an analyses of the pictures published in the main newspapers next day:

@fepardal: Com dezenas de profs feridos, a única foto que vemos nos jornais é de uma PM atingida (merecidamente, aliás). Por que será?

@fepardal: With so many injured teachers, the only photo we saw in the papers was of a police officer (deservedly) being attacked. Why is it?

Conrado Galdino [pt] reports that GloboNews, part of the biggest television network in Brazil, had a subtle caption claiming that the teachers had confronted [pt] the police:

@conradopreto: Da forma como foi escrita o leitor desapercebido culpará facilmente os professores. Caracteres tem forte apelo subliminar!

@conradopreto: The way it was reported, the distracted reader will easily blame the teachers. Captions have a very strong subliminal message!
Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

The Twittersphere reaction

Twitter users all over Brazil have been discussing the strike and the police violence. Some people believe that the education strike was a measured political act, as the election approaches, such as Vinicius Vianna:

@ViniciusBruno: Que a educação em SP tem muitas deficiências é verdade. Mas essa greve tem interesse político eleitoral e corporativista de acomodados!!!

@ViniciusBruno: It is true that the education system in SP has many shortcomings. But this strike represents the political and electoral interests of this accommodated corporativist class!

José Fernandes Jr. [pt] agrees:

@jfernandesjr: Antes de qualquer coisa direito de greve é sagrado. Mas não de cunho político e criminoso com essa.

@jfernandesjr: To begin with, the right to strike is sacrosanct. But not those of a political and criminal nature like this [one].

So does Leo Brandão [pt]:

@LeooBrandao: Greve eleitoreira em SP. E tem gente se iludindo que isso é manifestação de professores apartidários.

@LeooBrandao: Electioneering strike in SP. And some people delude themselves thinking this is a demonstration of partisan teachers.

Regardless of the politics behind the strike, the majority seem to agree that violence should not be used, as Túlio Vianna [pt] explains:

@tuliovianna: Tão dizendo que a greve dos professores de SP é eleitoreira. E se fosse? Nestes casos a polícia teria o direito de descer o cacete no povo?

@tuliovianna: There are some people saying that the Sao Paulo teachers’ strike is electioneering. And what if it is? Does it give the police the right to beat people up?

Fernando Amaral [pt] asks, after the various recent instances of violence against demonstrators, whether this is a new rule of public security:

@Quodores: Será mesmo que o Governo de São Paulo NÃO consegue que nenhuma, repito, nenhuma manifestação de rua NÃO acabe em pancadaria com a PM?

@Quodores: Is it really the case that the Sao Paulo Government CAN'T refrain from any – I emphasise ANY – street demonstration ending in State Police violence?

On the education system

Some other bloggers, such as Conrado Galdino [pt] laments the inversion of values:

@conradopreto: São os professores os responsáveis de fato pelo desenvolvimento do BR merecem respeito e não porrada. #serrafail

@conradopreto: the teachers are  in fact responsible for the development of BR [Brazil] [and] they deserve respect not beating. #serrafail

Sergio Vaz [pt] takes the opportunity to reflect on the impoverished Brazilian education system:

@poetasergiovaz: Falta de educação:muitos desses pms foram alunos desses professores. Os filhos deles estudam em escolas públicas também.

@poetasergiovaz: Lack of education. Many of these officials have been taught by these teachers. Their children study in state schools too.

Like many people around the country, Twitter user @dolphindiluna was deeply saddened by the news [pt]:

@dolphindiluna: Todas essas notícias sobre os professores estão me deixando tão triste… Da revolta e indignação à uma profunda tristeza. #solidariedade

@dolphindiluna: All this news about the teachers is making me so sad… From revolt and indignation to deep sadness. #Solidarity
Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

Photo by Yuri Gonzaga, used with permission

This last violent incident has made citizens feel more alarmed, especially because José Serra will run for president of Brazil in the forthcoming elections of October 2010. Today, March 31st, was his last day in office before starting his campaign. The teachers organized his “leaving do” party, marching again through the streets of São Paulo. So far, no major incidents have been reported.

The photos that illustrate this piece has been kindly provided by Yuri Gonzaga. Written in collaboration with Paula Góes.

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