Police Violence Against Afro Brazilians Deserves National Attention

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Warning: Graphic Images of Police Violence

Last Wednesday, in the state of Sergipe, a mentally disabled Black man was tortured and killed by Brazilian police in the middle of the day on a public street while a crowd watched. The day before, 23 people were killed during a raid in Rio de Janeiro. 

Eighty percent of people killed by police are Black. Local and international advocates point to the indifference towards this reality. The UN Population Fund reports, “every year 30,000 people are murdered in the country, 23,000 are young Black people” 

A similar report by UNICEF shows that out of every one thousand Brazilian adolescents, four will be murdered before they turn 19, three of them Black. Afro Brazilian activists gladly joined with the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, highlighting the obvious connections between systematic racism, police violence and the oppression of Black voices by the media. This became especially poignant after the murder of George Floyd. A popular police tactic is the strangling of citizens with feet or knees on the necks of men, women, and children. Activists took to social media to show support for a global Black Lives Matter movement by explaining that every 23 minutes “another George Floyd” occurs in Brazil.

I hesitate to list more statistics, because for me, as a Black man raised in the southern United States, the scale of state violence against Blacks in Brazil is difficult to reconcile. This is especially disorienting when one understands that not only do Blacks make up the majority in Brazil, but also that Brazil has the largest population of African descendants in the world outside of Nigeria. Simply listing these facts often feels like exaggerating.

Some things simply need to be seen to be believed.

Graphic Imagaes of Police violence:

This week, Afro Brazilians are enraged at viral cellphone footage of two police officers constructing a makeshift gas chamber and torturing Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, a 38-year-old mentally disabled man.  

The police threw a tear gas canister in the trunk of the SUV, stuffed Santos inside, and held him there while his legs kicked and squirmed. Onlookers watched in horror as the police held him in the trunk until he stopped screaming and went limp. He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead. The autopsy indicated that he died from asphyxiation. 

This atrocity comes on the heels of the May 24 police raid in Rio de Janeiro that ended with the deaths of over 23 residents in a neighborhood called Vila Cruzeiro. Less than half of the victims were identified as subjects of the police operations. Several bystanders were injured by stray bullets. 

This raid was the second most lethal police operation in modern Brazilian history. The first, occurred one year before, the favela of Jacarazinho was raided ending in 28 murders. No gang members were arrested. 

By the time you would have read this, many more have been killed.

I implore everyone dedicated to the fight for justice for Black lives to understand this is a global struggle.

Follow the hashtag #VidasNegrasImportam (Black Lives Matter) today. 

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