Hundreds took to the streets in São Paulo this Thursday, December 18 to protest against racial profiling and police violence against black people.
More than just support for the rallies in the US that followed the deaths of Ferguson, Missouri's Michael Brown and New York City's Eric Garner — two unarmed black men killed by white police officers — Brazilian protesters wanted to underline the country's own reality: black people are systematically targeted and slain by the Brazilian police.
A study carried out by University of São Carlos showed that 61 percent of all people killed by the São Paulo military police were black. According to another study, from the Forum Brasileiro de Segurança Pública, Brazilian police officers are the most deadly in the world, killing six people every day in the last 5 years.
During the protest, signs with “Não conseguimos respirar” [We can't breath] written on it could be seen, as well as the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, or the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media.
A marcha Ferguson é aqui está em frente Secretaria Estadual de Segurança esperando secretário receber uma comissão. pic.twitter.com/KpM9v8opWY
— Podemos mais (@PodemosMaisBR) December 18, 2014
The Ferguson march is here in front of the State Secretary of Security waiting for the secretary to meet with a commission.
In an official letter handed to São Paulo state government, more than 50 human rights organizations and black movements detailed a number of requests: that killings of young black men by the police be investigated, that the State Prosecutor’s Office have stronger oversight of police activities, and that the families of those killed by the state receive legal compensation, among other things:
Vivenciamos em nossas comunidades o extermínio que se dá através de sistemáticos assassinatos, já traduzidos em números que se assemelham a até superam guerras. Isso somado às precárias condições de vida e à negação de direitos básicos tais como saúde, educação, segurança, moradia, transporte, acesso à universidades, à cultura e ao lazer – que atingem sobremaneira a população negra – configura na visão dos movimentos sociais e do movimento negro, um verdadeiro genocídio contra a juventude e o povo negro.
We see in our communities pure extermination, which happens through systematic homicides in numbers similar to those seen in war, or even higher. This, added to the precarious conditions of life and denial of basic rights like health, education, security, housing, transport, access to university, culture and entertainment – which affects, above all, the black population – means for the social movements and the black movements a true genocide of Brazilian black youths and the black population.
For blogger Douglas Belchior, Brazil’s mainstream media has different attitudes when covering the matter in the United States and in Brazil:
A grande mídia, por sua vez, ao mesmo tempo em que noticia parcialmente o levante das massas negras nos EUA, em denúncia à violência policial daquele país, omite-se em repercutir as atrocidades promovidas pelas polícias brasileiras. Ao contrário, […] naturalizam a morte onde, via de regra, o silêncio do morto configura a prova da inocência do assassino.
The mainstream media, while partially covering the black people's rallies in the United States denouncing the violent police there, overlooks the atrocities committed by the Brazilian police. On the contrary, […] the media naturalize death, so that [the news] reads as if the silence of the dead means the innocence of the murderer.
Since the Ferguson protests began in the US, Brazilians have been making the connection. In August, journalist Fernando Vianna wrote an article for newspaper Folha de São Paulo with the same name of yesterday’s protest, “Ferguson é aqui” (Ferguson is here), in which he says:
Se para cada morte de um jovem negro pela polícia, no Brasil, segmentos da população saíssem às ruas tomados de revolta similar à ocorrida em Fergurson, nos EUA, viveríamos em convulsão diária.
If after every death of a young black person at the hands of police in Brazil, part of the population took to the streets in fury, like in Ferguson, we would live in daily convulsion.
Rio de Janeiro Federal University sociologist Ignacio Cano told Bloomberg in November:
Our police kills by the hundreds. We have a Ferguson every day. [The difference is that] there (in the US) everyone agrees that all people are equal before the law. Here, there's no consensus, and many still believe that people from poor neighborhoods are dangerous or criminals, or both.
Brazilian police: a history of violence
In the afternoon of 1992, a discussion between inmates at the prison Casa de Detenção São Paulo, known as Carandiru, sparkled a mutiny. Unable to deal with situation, security called the police, who stormed the building and killed 102 inmates.
The incident – in which the assailants only faced justice 20 years later, in 2012 – became known as “The Carandiru massacre” and was depicted in the 2003 movie “Carandiru”, which earned international acclaim.
The Carandiru bloodbath, however, is only one of the many massacres perpetrated by the many Brazilian state police forces.
A year later in 1993, eight homeless boys between 11 and 19 years old were shot and killed as they slept in front of the Candelária church in downtown Rio de Janeiro. Later, three police officers were prosecuted and went to prison, but have since been released. Their motivation remains unclear, but many speculate they killed in revenge for petty crimes perpetrated by boys in the area.
Revenge is a common motive for police’s incursions in favelas and poor neighborhoods in Brazilian cities. In that same year again in Rio de Janeiro, 50 police officers with their faces hooded executed 21 people in the Vigário Geral favela, in retaliation for the deaths of four officers in the same region. It was later proved that none of the dead had any criminal history.
Eight of the victims belonged to the family of Vera Lúcia dos Santos. Being devoted Protestant Christians, her father, mother and five brothers had just arrived from church when they were confronted by the police and shot dead.
Vera recalled that night in the documentary “À Queima Roupa” (Point Blank), which premiered in Brazil in November. In a horrifying testimony, she explains how she found their bodies after the massacre: her mother, with a Bible in her hands; her brother, on his knees, with the documents he tried to show the police before being shot:
The moon was bright, the sky was alight with stars. And then he said: your whole family is dead.
The film, which was partially crowdfunded, won the prize for Best Documentary at the Rio Film Festival in 2014. In his column about the movie in newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, leading public security and human rights reporter Bruno Paes Manso says Brazil tolerates the murder of poor, black people. He made an appeal to his readers:
Peço ao leitor, com todo o respeito, um esforço de abstração. Imagine uma vingança com tal crueldade praticada pela polícia contra moradores de Pinheiros, em São Paulo, do Leblon, no Rio, ou Stella Maris, em Salvador. Pais formados em universidades públicas, com seus filhos em colégios privados, todos brancos, sete corpos estendidos na sala de jantar para saciar a vingança e o ódio dos policiais marginais. Não sejamos hipócritas. Isso seria inconcebível. É inimaginável. O Estado não toleraria as consequências.
I ask of the reader, with all due respect, an effort of abstraction. Imagine a retaliation with the same cruelty perpetrated by the police against dwellers of Pinheiros in São Paulo, of Leblon in Rio de Janeiro, or Stella Maris in Salvador [all high-end neighborhoods]. Parents with university degrees, their children in private schools, all of them white, seven bodies lying in the dining room to fulfill the police’s thirst for vengeance and hate. Let’s not be hypocrites. This in inconceivable. It is unimaginable. The state would never tolerate its consequences.
That kind of behavior didn't stop in the 1990s. In July, police dashcam footage published by TV Globo confirmed that two officers killed a 14-year-old and injured his 15-year-old friend in Rio. After arresting the two black teens in the city center, where the two apparently used to commit petty theft, they were taken to Morro do Sumaré in the Tijuca Forest to be executed. In the footage, the officers are heard saying “stop crying, we didn't even begin hitting you yet” and laughing as they descend the hill back into town — with the two teens no longer in the car.
They didn't count on the 15-year-old surviving to tell the story. He said he pretended to be dead to save himself, and his testimony was crucial for the officers to be prosecuted.
Despite the fact that Brazil abolished the death penalty in the 19th century, many Brazilians agree with the saying that “a good criminal is a dead criminal” — 43 percent, in fact, according to a survey.
The numbers of racial inequality in Brazil
Brazil was one of the larger importers of African slaves in the western world. Between the 16th and 19th centuries, about 4 million people from the European colonies in Africa disembarked in Brazil – compared to less than a million in the United States, according to the Transatlantic Slavetrade Database.
Black people comprise 51 percent of the Brazilian total population, according to the 2010 Census of IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistic). But they count for 63 percent of Brazil's poor, and 70 percent of those who live below the poverty line.
In 2012, 56,000 people were murdered in Brazil, of which no less than 77 percent were black, and 53 percent were between 15 and 29 years old, according to Mapa da Violência 2014 (Violence Map 2014), a study carried out by Instituto Sangari.
According to the same institute, between 2004 and 2007 more people were killed in Brazil than in the 12 main armed conflicts that happened in the same period, including conflicts in Afghanistan, Israel and the Palestinian territories and Sudan, among others.
Such alarming numbers triggered Amnesty International's campaign Jovem Negro Vivo (Young, Black, Alive).