Brazil's Black lives matter too



While the streets of America burn in the wake of George Floyd’s public lynching, a lesser known tragedy is playing out in Brazil. As COVID-19 ravishes the South American behemoth, home to the second largest number of infections worldwide, police and military forces continue spilling the blood of Black youths.

Main image: Protestor holding sign reading 'João Pedro Presente' at Black Lives Matter rally (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

On May 18th, a week before Big Floyd was murdered by Minneapolis policemen, Rio de Janeiro’s notorious Special Police Operations Battalion (BOPE) and federal agents stormed the Complexo do Salgueiro favelas. Thirteen suspects were killed. João Pedro, just 14 years old, was in his aunt’s living room during the police operation. He, along with his cousin and friends, were playing video-games, obeying state-imposed quarantine measures to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Still, policemen invaded the residence and fired at least 72 rounds. A 5.56mm caliber round pierced his back. Moments later he was rushed to a police helicopter and airlifted away from the scene.

Family members and friends frantically searched hospitals in the region but to no avail. Pleas were made on social media concerning João’s whereabouts. Seventeen hours would go by before the teenager’s corpse appeared at the morgue.

My nephew was a black youth, but just because he’s black doesn’t mean that he’s a criminal,’ Denise Roza, João Pedro’s aunt, told reporters.

Like the murder of George Floyd, João Pedro’s execution and lethal techniques employed by law enforcement on Black communities are not isolated incidents. Coverage remains lax to non-existent. Only now has it been reported that Minneapolis police officers have used neck restraints on 428 people since 2012. That’s to say, what happened to George Floyd, to one degree or another, occurred, on average, once a week over the past eight years. Fifty-eight people lost consciousness.

Last year Rio de Janeiro’s police force set a new record. At least 1,546 people were killed by those tasked with protecting and serving. I reiterate at least because the body count is calculated from January to October 2019, according to the Instituto de Segurança Pública. Black youths comprised the majority of the victims. ‘The more the state kills, the more it strikes... black youths in favelas,’ said Daniel Lozoya, a member of Rio de Janeiro’s Public Defenders Office.


'That the police murders of João Pedro and Ágatha Félix were somehow unworthy for headlines speaks volumes about the fifth estate in this day and age. How are stories selected? And who selects them?'


Does nine-year-old Ágatha Félix ring a bell? Shot in the back, murdered by policemen who invaded the Complexo do Alemão favelas on the 20th of September 2019, Rio de Janeiro’s governor, Wilson Witzel, publicly blamed her murder on people who ‘smoke marijuana.’

In 2017, Brazil broke another record. Government figures registered 63,880 homicides, a number far exceeding annual casualties in countries at war. While the majority of the victims were Black youths, the Institute of Research and Applied Statistics (IPEA) and the Brazilian Forum of Public Safety revealed that Black people comprise 75.5 per cent of fatal police shootings. A senate investigation went on to highlight that Brazilian law enforcement officers kill a Black youth every 23 minutes.

Notwithstanding the carnage meted out by those tasked with upholding public safety, COVID-19 has reared its lethal head in the tropics. No reprieve has been offered during the fight against the virus. In fact, little has been done at all save quarantine and lockdown measures imposed by governors. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro initially described COVID-19 as a ‘gripezinha’ (‘little flu’), one which he could easily recover from based on his athleticism. Meanwhile, as João’s family desperately searched for his whereabouts on May 18th, an epidemiologic bulletin was released by the Ministry of Health. It showed that Black people lead the number of Covid-19 fatalities. On April 10th they represented 32.8 per cent of the deaths. As of May 20th the percentage had jumped to 54.8 per cent.

That the police murders of João Pedro and Ágatha Félix were somehow unworthy for headlines speaks volumes about the fifth estate in this day and age. How are stories selected? And who selects them? Though some in the industry may argue that George Floyd’s execution was recorded, thus making it suitable for global news reels, it’s no less of an indictment of foreign correspondents, their editors and directors. Editorial lines, more often than not, are shaped by a select group. These people circulate around revolving doors of opportunity. A cursory glance at media racism and cultural disparities in the field shows that these individuals are often as detached from the oppressed communities they report on as George Floyd was to those police officers who didn't see his humanity.

Staying informed need not be relegated to a handful of choices. We need contextualized news over surface clips and soundbites and to demand uncompromising media produced from grassroot communities. Unlike George Floyd or Madeleine McCann, João Pedro and Ágatha Félix are not household names for a reason.



Julian ColaJulian Cola is a translator (Brazilian-Portuguese/English) and former staff writer at teleSUR.

Main image: Protestor holding sign reading 'João Pedro Presente' at Black Lives Matter rally (Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Julian Cola, Brazil, police brutality, media



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Existing comments

What people forget is that if they are a Christian you must believe that all people are created by God. My mother's definition of "colour" is that it is geographical. Your geographical ancestry determines what colour your skin is, God made us all to plan. It would be hard to survive in a dry, arid, country or steaming hot jungle with fair skin. On the other hand many dark skinned people would find it difficult to survive in the cold and freezing winters of European Winters.
Mavis Jean Symonds | 11 June 2020

Perhaps (with apologies to Google Translate) Brazil needs a miracle: Uma manhã, os cariocas acordaram e descobriram o Redentor. However, given that, like the rest of us, Brazilians are as likely to be as set in their ways as the brothers of Dives, it’s probable that nothing much of consequence will happen as a consequence.
roy chen yee | 11 June 2020

Thanks for revealing what news media in the USA and Brazil wishes to keep hidden.
Jerry Ward | 12 June 2020

As Mavis Jean Symonds' post suggests, among his followers race cannot be an obstacle to the "new creation" of brotherhood and sisterhood to which Christ calls the baptised, where living faith carries the recognition and obligation of ensuring skin-colour is not a cause of oppression and division. (Gal 3: 28; 2Cor 5: 16-17; Rev 7:9). And as Roy Chen Yee's reference suggests, more than simply human resourcefulness is required to combat injustice in Brazil, and I daresay wherever it wears an all-defining cloak of racial discrimination - including that deadly proclivity of the human heart that Yeats calls a "foul rag and bone shop", and novelists Joseph Conrad and William Golding identify as an epicentre of evil.
John RD | 13 June 2020


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