Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday afternoon outside the seat of the Rio de Janeiro State Government under the slogan #VidasNegrasImportam, Portuguese translation of #BlackLivesMatter, against police fraud that plagues the majority of black residents. favelas.
Encouraged by the wave of demonstrations that swept across the United States since George Floyd, an African-American killed in a violent police arrest, human rights activists in Rio de Janeiro wanted to seize the opportunity to condemn the resurgence of fatal police operations in faves during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is not a one-off event, but the first act of a long fight,” event organizer Raull Santiago promises. The 31-year-old associative activist is equipped with a mask and protective visor and speaks briefly in front of the gates protecting the palace of Guanabara, the seat of the government of the state of Rio de Janeiro.
For this event, exceptionally due to the pandemic and current social distance measures, organizers have issued precautionary instructions which they repeat regularly. “Spread your arms! At least one meter fifty between each person!” All participants wear a mask, but the agglomeration effect is inevitable, especially when the collection decides to march a few hundred meters on a narrow street in Laranjeira’s district.
177 dead during police operations in April
After a few weeks break at the beginning of the implementation of social distance measures, police efforts in favelas increased in April. A total of 177 people died, one every four hours on average and 43% more than the same period in 2019, an already record year. The month of May was also marked by several murderous raids in the favelas that caused public outrage.
The most emblematic case is João Pedro Mattos Pinto, a 14-year-old black teenager, killed on May 18 in São Gonçalo, a poor suburb of Rio. The teenager was playing with his cousins when, according to witnesses present, the elite police broke into the house they believed was occupied by drug dealers. They opened fire and launched grenades inside the home where 72 bullet holes were identified.
Relatives of victims showing banners or T-shirts with their effigy are many to stand on. Brown Silva is a regular at meetings against police violence. In 2018, she lost her 14-year-old son, Marcos Vinicius, who was killed on his way to school with a shot from police. She holds in her hands what remains of her blood-colored school shirt.
“Genocide on the favela population”
“We are dying from the virus or from state violence,” she said of the residents of favelas. “They are in control of the pandemic, but no one is in control of the state. That is why we are on the street today and pray that someone checks their actions and prevents the death of our children.”
Just as in the protest movement that has rocked the United States since May 25 and the death of George Floyd after a violent arrest, so is the racist nature of police cheating that provokes outrage and anger in Rio. According to the latest official statistics available, 80% of Rio dead in the first half of 2019 were black or mixed-race, in a city where they represent about half the population. The slogans shouted by the protesters condemn a “genocide of the people of the favelas”.
“In the US, activists are used to filming all the police leftovers, but it’s very different here. In the favelas in Rio de Janeiro, if someone picks up his phone to film, the police will also kill the person filming,” says Cosme Felippsen, journalist and Travel guide living in Providência favela, in the center of Rio, a week ago, a police operation killed another 19-year-old innocent victim and interrupted a joint distribution of basic necessities.
A context of political tension
These interventions against drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro’s favorites often cause security victims. With Covid-19, the inhabitants of these districts are victims of a double penalty. They are confined to their homes and many unemployed, and they are at the mercy of the firearms between the drug dealers and the police who do not hesitate, at present, to invade homes by shooting blind, as occurred in the case of João Pedro.
During the procession, the slogan sometimes attacks President Jair Bolsonaro, sometimes Governor Wilson Witzel, whose mandate is marked by an increase in police violence, including the use of gunmen. In the prosperous neighborhood of Laranjeiras, the only one in Rio where the presidential candidate had not received the majority of votes, residents at their windows applaud the protesters and echo their slogans. Very quickly, the organizers ask everyone to spread and leave the rally that took place in a peaceful manner.
A few moments later there is a group that joined the demonstration late face to face with the police whom they provoke with stone throwing. Police respond with shots from rubber bullets and stun grenades, and a youth is arrested. A slight overflow, compared to clashes between supporters and opponents of President Bolsonarodont São Paulo, was the theater a few hours earlier.