Protests have erupted across the United States and abroad seeking justice for the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless more Black deaths at the hands of the police. The more than 250 protests, rallies, and vigils have brought centuries of racialized violence and police brutality to the forefront once more. As cities across the US are marked by protests filled with cries of “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace,” other countries have responded with their own protests, both in solidarity and to address their grievances. One location to turn to is Brazil, where anti-racism protests have taken over the country, all amidst a pandemic that has made it the hardest-hit in Latin America. These protests have highlighted the dire situation Black Brazilians face, as police violence, which disproportionately affects them, has only increased despite decreases in crime and the implementation of social distancing measures.
“We go out on the streets because they are coming to kill us in our homes” – The movement for favelas in the struggle
Police brutality has raged on in Brazil for years and has only worsened, much of which can be attributed to increased police presence and a change in tactics. The country’s president, former army captain Jair Bolsonaro, vowed to address crime by militarizing the police, allowing officers greater freedom to kill and loosening gun laws. He has even said police accused of killing “10 to 15 criminals,” should be given impunity and “celebrated.” Many indigenous, low-income, and LGBTQ+ advocates have argued that the president endorses violence against their communities. In Rio de Janeiro, Governor Wilson Witzel has spoken openly about his plans to “slaughter” anybody armed and have authorities “dig graves” for criminals. He has been criticized for his shoot-to-kill policing tactics, which have led to alarming death rates. In 2019, an average of five people per day were killed in Rio de Janeiro. Putting this in perspective, the number of people killed by police in Brazil in 2019 was six times that of the United States. 75% of homicide victims are Black, a rate that has increased by 33% in the past 10 years. In the first four months of 2020, police have reported killing over 600 people in Rio de Janeiro. In April alone, Rio police killed 177 people, approximately one person every four hours.
“In terms of vulnerability to violence, it’s like Black and non-Black people live in completely different countries” – Atlas da Violência
Just one week before George Floyd’s death, João Pedro Matos Pinto, a fourteen-year-old Black teenager, was shot and killed by a police officer in Rio while playing in his cousin’s backyard. The family, unaware of his whereabouts or condition after the crossfire, spent 17 hours searching for him, eventually finding his body in the coroner’s office. João Pedro’s father told the Guardian, “the pain’s still there… It’s like it eats you from the inside out.”
João Pedro’s name can be heard across protests in Brazil, where many carry signs and call for an end to a police system that targets Black lives. They also demand that their government invest in the vulnerable communities that are often victims of this violence. Gizele Martins, a resident of the Favela da Maré and member of the antiracist movement Julho Negro explained that “we want to have the right to health, housing, land, and an education. We suffer from violence in the forms of shootings, police, and military operations every day.” Brazilians have mobilized and unified under this cause, creating organizations and leading movements that support victims as well as build up their communities.
The Rede de Comunidades e Movimentos contra a Violência, a social movement for the families of state violence victims, is a notable example of this. They hope to eliminate human rights violations and deaths at the hands of the police and military, demand that victims receive reparations, and fight against the socio-economic and cultural criminalization of these communities. Their Facebook page is an active site where they share victims’ stories, organize protests and showcase community involvement.
Their Doando Esperança or Giving Hope initiative fights against these injustices. The goal is to create baskets of goods and hygienic kits to donate to the families of victims of police violence, incarcerated people, and favela residents. In many of these families, Black women are the sole breadwinners, and a large percentage of them are currently unemployed and live on low resources due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Their page is filled with pictures of people collecting and delivering these baskets, showcasing both their progress and community spirit.
Recent events have shown that even charitable actions like those are not spared from police violence. On May 21st, 19-year-old Rodrigo Cerqueira was shot and killed as he was working in Morro da Providência, a favela in Rio de Janeiro, while the high school Pré-Vestibular Machado de Assis-Providência was distributing baskets of goods. The newspaper Extra reports this as being the fifth case in less than a month that social work has been violently interrupted by police in Rio. In other instances, police profiled these men as being burglars, allegedly driving stolen vehicles, or supposedly carrying drugs and weapons.
Another social movement, Favelas Na Luta (favelas in the fight), released a statement following these events, condemning police operations that “physically and psychologically” harm the residents of these communities and impede their efforts to distribute essential goods. They continue on to emphasize that, “Our favelas and periferias [historically low-income suburbs of a city] have never had public policies that ensure health services, basic sanitation, housing, and education. This is only worsened by the fact that the only ‘support’ that the state provides in these Black and non-white spaces is that of militarization. They use war instruments, military torture, and fear tactics (a direct result of Brazil’s past) as a control apparatus. They use the language of the “war on drugs” to eliminate their favorite targets, young residents of favelas and periferias.”
These deaths have been met with enormous resistance and anger. On June 5th, in the face of the large and persistent protests that had been occurring, Justice Edson Fachin of Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered to suspend police operations in Rio for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. This decision come as a response to a petition filed by a coalition of NGOs and social movements in support of their Allegation of a Violation of a Fundamental Precept (ADPF) Case 635, which called for an immediate change to the state’s policing tactics so that they better align with human rights standards. Justice Fachin had previously accepted some requests related to the preservation of crime scenes, the nature of forensic work, and restrictions on the firing of guns from police helicopters. This new injunction established that only in “exceptional cases” can police operations occur during the pandemic. These must be described in writing and approved by Rio de Janeiro’s Public Prosecutor’s office. While this decision has been celebrated as a step forward in efforts to end the anti-Black state-sponsored violence, Gabriel Sampaio of Conectas’ program to Combat Institutional Violence explains, “ADPF Case 635… challenges Rio de Janeiro’s entire public security policy that, historically, has turned communities into places of genocide.”
Another organization involved in the May 27th petition to end police operations, Redes de Desenvolvimento da Maré (Network of the Development of Maré), focuses a portion of its efforts on decreasing the violation of human rights in police operations in the Maré favelas. In 2018, while the rates of violence in Rio increased, those of Maré decreased. The organization partly credits this to their initiative, the Public Civil Action of Maré, which created measures to hold police forces accountable to the rule of law and protect the rights of residents. Established in 2018, the Public Civil Action of Maré was the first collective lawsuit targeted at public security in Brazil. This lawsuit established guidelines that would contribute to decreasing the danger of the police operations, and restricting their presence. These measures included prohibiting police operations from complying with warrants at night, the installation of cameras and GPS systems in vehicles, and making ambulances available during days when there are police operations.
This initiative was celebrated for its successes, Redes de Maré reports that these measures led to a 61% decrease in the number of police operations and an 82% decrease in the number of people injured from firearms in the area. However, in 2019 there was a drastic increase in police operations in Maré, and on July 19th, the Public Civil Action was suspended. Organizers have been demanding that it be re-established. An effort by the NGO Conectas took the case to the UN’s Human Rights Council, asking that Brazil respond to the Public Civil Action’s suspension.
Redes da Maré, Conectas, Favelas Na Luta, and other organizations, continue to pressure government leaders while launching their own campaigns. They have created programs that address educational, health, and socio-economic problems, as they recognize that there is a connection between the lack of opportunity and crime in their communities. However, it is important to note that the problem with police brutality is one that transcends the state’s need to address crime rates. Through their chants of “Vidas Negras e Faveladas Importam” (Black and Favela Lives Matter), Brazilians are expressing that the state’s policies and police forces have done little to protect and support them and are rather targeting, killing, and traumatizing countless people in these communities.
Through every small success, whether it be suspending police operations or creating a public safety lawsuit, Brazilians are more hopeful of a future that cares for its citizens. A change in the policing system could not be more essential because it too is a public health crisis, without the characteristics of a virus, but having a similar impact: carelessly killing Black Brazilians and damaging their livelihood.
If you are interested in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement in Brazil, the following organizations are currently accepting donations:
The Rede de Comunidades e Movimentos contra a Violência is led by the families of state violence victims. Donate to their Doando Esperança (Giving Hope) program here. The program provides hygiene and food kits to victims of police brutality and their families, those formerly incarcerated, and favela residents.
The Iniciativa Direito a Memoria e Justicia Racial protects victims of state violence in Rio’s Baixada Fluminense, playing a central role in the fight against systemic racism. They are dispersing donations to smaller grassroots organizations with less access to funding. Donations will cover Covid-19 related expenses. To donate you can reach out to them through Instagram, Facebook, or email at [email protected]
Redes de Maré’s advocacy focuses on favela education access and the right to justice and safety. Since their founding in 1997, they have led several successful college access programs and spearheaded the Public Civil Action of Maré. You can donate through their website.
Alma Preta Journalismo is an independent Black-led news publication that focuses on issues affecting Afro Brazilians. You can support their efforts here.
Join us in remembering those who have have been killed by police violence in Brazil:
João Pedro Matos Pinto, 14 years old
Rodrigo Cerqueira, 19 years old
Lucas Custódio dos Santos, 16 years old
Ágatha Félix, 8 years old
Carlos Magno de Oliveira Nascimento, 18 years old
Everson Gonçalves Silote, 26 years old
Carlos Eduardo da Silva Souza, 16 years old
Cleiton Corrêa de Souza, 18 years old
Jonatha de Oliveira, 19 years old
Wesley Castro, 20 years old
Wilton Esteves Domingos Junior, 20 years old
Matheus Oliveira, 23 years old
Wilton Estever Domingos Jr, 20 years old
Wesley Castro Rodrigues, 25 years old
Cleiton Corrêa de Souza, 18 years old
Ketellen Gomes, 5 years old
Carlos Eduardo Silva Souza, 16 years old
Roberto Silva de Souza, 16 years old
Amarildo de Souza, 43 years old
Jean Rodrigo da Silva Aldrovande, 39 years old
Matheus Santos de Morais, 5 years old
Kauã Rozario, 11 years old
Alan de Souza Lima, 15 years old
Douglas Rodrigues, 17 years old
Roberto de Souza, 16 years old
Herinaldo Vinicius de Santana, 11 years old
Kelvin Gomes Cavalcante, 17 years old
Marcos Vinícius Dos Santos, 15 years old
Rodrigo Alexandre da Silva Serrano, 26 years old
Pedro Gonzaga, 19 years old
Claudia Ferreira, 38 years old
Adileu Santos de Araújo, 13 years old
Edgar Rodrigues de Arruda, 15 years old
Reginaldo Dias Magalhães, 16 years old
Flávio Lucas Azevedo, 19 years old.
Roberto Campos da Silva, 16 years old
Lucas de Azevedo Albino, 18 years old
Igor Mendes, 20 years old
Davi Fiuza, 16 years old
Emilly Caetano da Costa, 9 years old
Fabio dos Santos Vieira, 21 years old
Fábio Eduardo Soares Santos de Souza, unknown age
Rodrigo Abílio, unknown age
Evaldo Rosa dos Santos, 51 years old
Marcus Vinicius, 14 years old
Sofia Munoz | Scripps College
Sofia is a rising junior at Scripps College pursuing a major in Politics with a concentration in International Relations and a minor in Foreign Languages. Raised in Silver Spring, MD, a suburb of Washington, D.C., she is the daughter of two Bolivian immigrants. Her interest in Latin American politics stems from her connection to her family’s culture and her experience living in Brazil. She is interested in exploring the different sides of international development work and looking at the ways local people and organizations impact their communities. As a Latin American correspondent, Sofia is excited to delve into the unique stories and passion that fuels the work being done to address inequality, human rights, and community development.
Maria Hernandez Pinto | Pitzer College
Maria is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Foreign Languages at Pitzer College, where she is a rising junior. Born in Guatemala to Colombian parents, Maria has always been deeply invested in Latin American issues. She is passionate about Latin American politics, human rights, and community development. She is looking forward to using storytelling as a tool for advocacy while writing about Ecuador, Guatemala, and Venezuela as a Latin American Correspondent. Maria is excited to highlight and learn from the important work being done by local organizations in the region and hopes to bring Latin American voices to the forefront.