In São Paulo, Hip Hop is one of the strongest cultural movements in the city. In Rio de Janeiro, this title goes to Funk music (1). Most singers, rappers and MCs are black. In recent years there has been a rise in suspicion of racism against this class of entertainers due to a wave of attacks on these artists. The January 5th murder of Laércio De Souza Grimas, better known as DJ Lah, of the São Paulo Hip Hop group Conexão do Morro and six other people, was only the most recent attack.
According to some reports, DJ Lah may have been killed by São Paulo’s Polícia Militar (PM or Military Police) in retaliation for the rapper claiming, jokingly, that it was he who filmed Military Police kill bricklayer assistant Paulo Batista do Nascimento, an unarmed suspect who had surrendered, back in November. The video was recorded and shared on the internet showing a clear example of police “resistência seguida de morte (resistance followed by death)” techniques. Friends and family of Lah, however, say that it was not he that recorded the murder. “The accusation that he did was through rap. He has a family, and knows that whoever records such actions may die,” said David Sobreira, 36, o Cachorrão, another rapper of Conexão do Morro.
The writer Reginaldo Ferreira da Silva, known as Ferréz, also said during the funeral of DJ Lah that the authorship of the Lah’s execution was São Paulo’s Military Police (2).
“Only the governor doesn’t want to see it,” said Ferréz, adding that in rich neighborhoods “police say good morning and good night, here they kill,” referring to poorer areas of the city called the periphery. According Ferréz, “young black and poor on the periphery of São Paulo live in terror amid the wave of violence that has intensified since October of last year. We are in a dictatorship, on the edge of oppression,” said the journalist Alfonso Benites, of the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo, who also attended the rapper’s funeral and burial.
The São Paulo Military Police says not that it doesn’t “condone crimes” and that they will “investigate them.” Everyone knows that officers involved are never punished, especially in cases of massacre, where the PM acts as a death squad.
Lah was only the latest in a string of murders and shootings of Brazilian rappers. In the last few years, Lah’s death marks the killing of at least 6 rappers in southeast Brazil. MC Careca was killed in the city of Santos (São Paulo state) in April of 2012, MC Primo also killed in April of 2012 in São Vicente, near the city of Santos, MC Duda was also killed in Santos in April of 2011, DJ Felipe and MC Felipe Boladão were both killed in Praia Grande, São Paulo in April of 2010. Julio César Santos Ferreira, known as MC Neguinho do Caxeta, 26, from the Baixada Fluminense region of Rio de Janeiro, was shot four times in June of 2012 in São Vicente but survived.
MC Careca worked in hair salon when a man walked into the salon fired shots killing him. MC Primo was killed in the doorway of his house in front of his wife and kids. Eduardo Antônio Lara, known as MC Duda do Marapé, 27, was killed with at least 9 shots by armed men at close range at a bus station. Felipe da Silva Gomes, known as DJ Felipe and Wellington da Silva Cruz, MC Felipe Boladão, both 20, were gunned down as they waited for a ride to their show which was to take place in Guarulhos, São Paulo. Two individuals on a dark-colored motorbike appeared on the scene and fired shots, killing them both.
In the case of MC Neguinho do Caxeta, the singer had performed a concert and then went to a restaurant in São Vicente. About 5 am, after meeting friends at a petrol station, the singer was taking two friends at home, when a vehicle pulled up to the car and fired several shots.
According to Police, the woman who was in the passenger seat ended up having facial injuries as she jumped out of the moving car attempting to escape the gunfire. But the singer, who was driving, was hit by four shots in back. One of the bullets ended up lodged in his right shoulder. Another woman crouched inside the vehicle and was not shot.
MC Neguinho’s stepfather says that the rapper was able to continue driving until her got home. The singer arrived at the scene along the woman who was in the backseat of the car. “He said he had a vehicle behind him. He arrived and said to me ‘Help me I’m dying,’” says the stepfather. Neguinho also said, according to the family, that he was being chased since leaving the restaurant. Just a week after the incident, Neguinho gave a television interview. He appeared very thin and pale, with an expressing of fear on his face. “I have no idea who wanted to kill me. I don’t have any enemies,” he repeated several times.
As the media began to report on this string of murders and attempted murder, one young rapper made a statement to denounce threats he had received. Today he’s in hiding: afraid of dying.Funk singer Elison dos Santos, 18, known as MC Menor PG. PG meaning Praia Grande, a city on the coast of São Paulo. He was forced to stop performing and left school. All because of an anonymous phone call.
“I asked who was threatening me, and they said that I was next,” Santos said. He’s not the only one who says he’s in danger. Two other Funk singers from the coast also received threats. “Our families are apprehensive, yes. Especially my mother.” The three canceled shows and have serious reason to stay on alert. There is a general atmosphere of fear is on the outskirts of Santos. Whoever lives there lives in constant fear. Especially after the death of several Funk singers/rappers that were true idols in the community. They were all brutally murdered.
These murders are still a mystery. The police know who killed the rappers acted in the same way. They were men on a bike or in a car, hooded, shooting several times at close range and fleeing. Residents accuse the military police for the deaths.
In 2010, the newspaper A Tribuna reported that police criminals manipulated the weapons so that the ballistics evidence was falsified (3). Two police officers, on condition of anonymity, explained in an interview that they were members of a death squad active in Santos. They not only killed but also forged evidence and helped their colleagues.
So why are these rappers being targeted and by whom?
When a reporter arrived in Santos to do a report on the murders of rappers, she sought to meet with Débora Maria da Silva. She is a member of the group Mães de Maio (Mothers of May), which demonstrated their solidarity with the deaths of MCs. Débora is convinced that corrupt police are involved in the murders, and also the death of her son in May 2006. When asked if she believed that other factions have some involvement, Débora said: “This standard is incompatible with drug gangs. These killers want to convey a different message.”
But what message and why would MCs e the main targets of death squads formed by police? Thus question was asked over the course of a few months to many people in Santos and São Paulo. Really all the MCs who were murdered in the past three years (with the exception of DJ Lah whose group’s lyrics denounced police violence), belonged to a genre called “Funk Proibidão” The “funkeiros” describe in this kind of music a world in which drug trafficking, robberies and murders are part of everyday life, as well as corrupt police. They sing in the name of crime, not in the name of law and order. According to them, these are only these two options that exist.
Funkeiros vs. Police
Whoever studies literature learns in the first semester that the narrator is not always the author. Also in everyday life it’s clear that an actor in theater, film or television is just a character. In São Paulo and Rio, experts study Funk and the nature of its controversial character. But the police seem to take their writing seriously, literally.
Funkeiros can’t expect much sympathy on the part of police, said a spokesman for police in a television report about the death of MC Primo and MC Careca. The reporter also adds: “These lyrics create a zone of conflict between police and funkeiros.” There is no doubt that the MCs, with their lyrics, open space for attack. In many songs, crimes are legal and police are nothing more than garbage. In MC Primo’s song “Se mexer com nóis, a bala come (if you mess with us, you’ll eat a bullet),” cops are trophies of the Primeiro Comando da Capital (First Capital Command) (4). And they always sing in the first person, as if they were part of the criminal group. Actually there exists in the Brazilian Penal Code a paragraph prohibiting the glorification of crime against the state. But so far no MC has been tried. Instead, there have been rapper deaths and injuries. Does the Funk, because of such songs, encourage hatred of the police? It’s hard to believe that that’s the only reason they’ve have become the target.
In the press, it is common that the mysterious killings in Santos are treated as occurrences of the peripheral suburbs. But, with a closer look, it becomes clear that these areas are central. “Periphery is a term often used as a code for ‘precarious’,” confirmed the historian Danilo Dara. “It’s always the working poor that are cast out of the central regions, so as to make room for new construction. These neglected areas of the city are forgotten and nothing is invested in them.”
Deaths of 2006
The Mães got together in 2006, when their sons were killed. That year, in a few days hundreds of youths died on the streets of São Paulo and in the Santos Baixada region. Days before that, rebellions erupted in São Paulo prisons, all attributed to the PCC.
The PCC was founded in early 1990, when Brazil was an economic crisis. The prisons were overcrowded, the state had abandoned the prisoners and the result was disastrous. There were the beginnings of rioting and prisoners were beaten by Military Police. There have been hundreds of deaths. Given this situation, the prisoners came together under the slogan “paz, justiça e liberdade (peace, justice and freedom).” The PCC had created a state within a state, recruiting its members in prisons and slums. They also donated “baskets” to families in need, but also established obligations. Whoever did not comply was summarily punished, even with death.
In May 2006, the PCC organized the biggest bloodbath in São Paulo. It was motivated by the blackmailing of their leaders by corrupt police, and because it was decided to transfer their leaders to high security prisons. The PCC then took hostages inside prisons, and attacked simultaneously, police stations throughout the city. Three days later the city was closed, and the government declared a nightly curfew. Most people watched it all in shock in front of their TVs.
Backlash to PCC
During this period, about 200 people died, officially. Human rights organizations, however, say it was closer to 500. The people then believed that the death of these people would have been the fault of the PCC. Only with time, in spite of the police trying to keep hidden files, it became clear that police had created a kind of “retaliation.” The victims were mostly young and poor, especially blacks. They lived in the suburbs. Some had police records, others had already been in prison. But most of the victims were students and employees. As a rule they were men, but if these men were with girlfriends or women at their side, these women were also killed. Besides São Paulo, areas of Santos were also targets of assassinations.
In Brazil there are two types of police: civil and military. The first is responsible for investigating crimes. The second uses soldier uniforms and is armed not only with guns but with automatic weapons and machine guns. In the event of problems in the bailes funk (funk parties), it’s the Military Police that always appears.
Astrid Kusser interviewed João Pereira (fictitious name to protect the source) in São Paulo, a former military policeman. “Our training was military,” he recalls. “We learned to shoot, get tough and develop a police spirit. And that was everything.”
Today, João is a broker in Praia Grande, near Santos, and lives in São Paulo on the fourteenth floor of a heavily guarded building. The second door opens only if the first closes. A person is in there like a cage behind bars, and waits for the doorman to hit the button. Today, João builds and sells homes to people using loans subsidized by the government. “I’m happy with my work today, I do something positive,” he says early on in his conversation with the reporter. For him, it’s not easy to talk about police times. “I didn’t have the spirit to be a cop. For some, the adrenaline is a good thing, but I was afraid of going mad.”
His decision to become a police officer happened early in the crisis of the nineties. “There was no work. I was 25, and since I was 14 I’ve worked. And then, simply, nothing. “After a few months in a training battalion, they sent him to the service. A few weeks later, his colleagues killed a ‘suspect’. “It was practically an execution.” Two men had robbed a restaurant, where there was also a military policeman. Because they had threatened the colleague they then wanted an execution as an example. “I wasn’t there when they killed one of the robbers. I came later.” The case was filed, as usual, under the “autos de resistência seguida de morte (resistance followed by death)” title.
João decided to leave the police years later. His choice came during a police chase, when a colleague was killed and he noticed he felt an insane rage and the danger of his becoming a killer. For years he has visited a spiritual center and believes in reincarnation and in contact with the dead. He gives the impression of being at peace with himself and finding his place in society.
João asked Kusser for what reason she was investigating such negative things in Brazil, and why she didn’t write about something else more positive. He couldn’t see that resistance against a policy of extermination could be something positive. At the end he said: “We have to cry anymore …Cry for the dead.”
Perhaps the Mães de Maio have today, such a task. They are highly sought, heard and requested. They receive awards and have conquested, step by step, the country, not only morally, but also judicially, some of their goals. In June the grave of Débora’s son was reopened, with numerous cameras aimed at her while she cried in the arms of a friend. She had managed, after six years of investigation, the exhumation of the body of her son to retrieve a bullet still lodged in his body. Equally long is also a struggle for this case to be investigated from this step.
During our meeting in Santos, the medical examiner called her, and Débora cried, this time of relief, because they found the bullet, a clue that could lead to the killer. During Kusser’s meeting with Débora, she tried to contact the relatives of the murdered MCs. She wanted them to join the movement. But after MC Felipe Boladão’s father was threatened, living under police protection and in hiding, nobody wants to talk to her. In general, they are all in shock for it was still a short time of which MC Neguinho was almost another victim.
Research and Punishment
Only a police investigation and a fair trial should determine who were responsible for the death of the MCs. But it is precisely in the police that many people don’t trust. In one month the police kill 20 to 30 people, just in São Paulo. The justification is “resistance followed by death”. In May, the number reached 50 deaths. In June, surprisingly, many police officers died as they worked in so-called “bicos” (extra work hours).
Could it be that São Paulo is going through another reign of terror and a “backlash” as in May 2006? Several buses have been burned, and bus routes suspended. People are unprotected in the streets. This is not good news for a country that in two years will host the World Cup and, in four years, the Olympic Games. But at least now São Paulo is under the media spotlight, as well as federal agencies. In August, federal prosecutors affirmed the necessity of changing the command of the police in São Paulo, since the institution had apparently lost control.
The website Partido da Causa Operária is hardly optimistic. Writing about the death of DJ Lah, the site published the following:
Examples of São Paulo’s Military Police show that the corporation is acting in illegality, based on the carte blanche to kill that the governor gave to the PM. This routine of police executions in poor neighborhoods has an outline of social and racial genocide in São Paulo, due to the size of the city, but it is the same in all Brazilian cities.
Thus, solving the problem of violent action of the PM is not in its reformulation or change of command and structure. Much to the contrary, only the dissolution of all armed forces of the state can, in fact, end the repression in poor neighborhoods and blacks.
1) The music known as Funk (pronounced “foon-ky”) in Brazil for the past few decades is a style that is reminiscent of and highly influenced by the graphic sexual lyrics and fast beats of the 80s/90s Miami Bass sound coming out of Florida in the United States.
2) In another clue that points to a Military Police/Death Squad hit, Witnesses said in an informal testimony to the Civil Police that the murder of DJ Lah and six others, people in a black Corsa returned to gather the shells of the shots that were scattered close to the bar.
3) A common occurence in Military Police/Death Squad hits. See more here
4) An anti-establishment Brazilian prison gang and criminal organization based largely in the state of São Paulo
By Astrid Kusser with material from G1, Fantástico, Folha de S.Paulo and PCO
Additional translation by Bruno Ribeiro
Additional editing and revision by Sâmia Gabriela Teixeira and Danilo Dara