Persecuted as a suspect, young black man who practiced photography denounces racism in Jundiaí
“Can a black man just take some pictures?” ”Fear of a black photographer?”. This is all I could think after learning of this story. I’m sure many African-American readers understand what it means when neighbors or just every day people think everything black people do should be seen with an eye of suspicion. You can’t barbeque. You can’t even enter your own apartment. Unfortunately, Afro-Brazilians are all too familiar these sorts of incidents as well. Folks can’t believe that a young black woman can possibly live in a nice apartment.
Due to these crooked looks, many young black Brazilians have to think twice about just the type of clothes they’ll wear before leaving the house. It can actually be as serious as the difference between leaving the house in the morning and never coming back. In Brazil, black folks face daily harassment for simply wearing name brand items, entering a mall, or a club, and don’t even think about driving an expensive car; you might get thrown to the ground and have the cops called on you.
Today’s story definitely hits home as I am a part-time photography enthusiat myself and I’ve spent plenty of time taking pics of various American and Brazilian cities. I’ll be real with it. I know that a camera can call attention, but the question is always, what is the difference in the reaction to a black man taking pictures and a white man taking pics? Let’s not pretend that any incident or situation can’t be interpreted differently simply due to skin color. And Gabriel Souza knows this.
Gabriel, 17, loves photography, and often likes taking photos in his freee time when not working in his family’s rubber shop. But this passion for photography didn’t exempt him from becaming a target of Whatsapp groups of residents of his own neighborhood. Gabriel lives in the Eloy Chaves district in Jundiaí, São Paulo, where he works with his father in the family rubber shop.
According to a report that appeared in the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, in one of his first outings with a new camera he had just bought, Gabriel became a target of local residents.
One day, while working in the rubber shop, the young man met a client who showed a list of messages from his condo’s Whatsapp group. In the images he saw, people had taken photos of him photographing, along with messages in which he was treated as someone with “suspicious behavior.”
“Whoever finds this guy please call 153 (Municipal Guard number), this guy is taking pictures of the houses,” read one of the messages. In fact, Gabriel’s photos show that he wasn’t at all interested in their homes, but rather a pássaro joão-de-barro, or rufous hornero bird perched in a tree.
Gabriel felt threatened as he watched guard vehicles pass by and peak into the tire shop as if they were looking for him. Worried about this behavior, the young man went to two police stations in the company of his father and his photography teacher, Anderson Kagawa. But guess what, he was unable to register an incident report.
“They said there was no crime and refused to take action. In one of them, they suggested that I take a picture with a sheet of sulfite paper with my name spelled out in full, to avoid problems in the future. They wanted to add me to the record,” he said.
“At another police station, they said I should go a week without taking pictures. After that, I should go around with a certificate from a photographer’s course, a badge, a camera receipt, and be accompanied (by someone),” he said.
Asking for such things is almost akin to asking someone for their documents in order to verify that they live in a certain region. Hmmm…sounds a bit like Brazilian-styled apartheid. Oh, didn’t you know about apartheid brasileiro? It’s a little sneakier than that associated with South Africa, which is why most people are unaware of it, but in some ways, even more effective. And by the way, it wasn’t me that invented the term. Gabriel may not know about this term but he clearly knows what’s going on here.
“There is prejudice involved, yes, in my view. Eloy Chaves is a neighborhood that has many photographers, I know a lot of them, they are always on the street, and that had never happened, and they are white, ” he said.
Wednesday the 9th, Gabriel decided to go to the capital city of São Paulo to talk with lawyers about what legal action he can take. Knowing how black folks get played when they attempt to call out racist practices, all I can do is wish him luck.
With information from Revista Fórum