‘We are black, but we are business people’, says wife of famous DJ after being removed from the bank by the police
Entrepreneur Lorenna Vieira was even taken to the police station after agency officials suspected fraud; bank apologized
By Marques Travae
So, let’s be clear. In Brazil, black people are always expected to represent the poor, criminal and uneducated element of Brazilian society. As such, if one or two, or a handful should ascend in society, it will automatically be assumed that they must have done something illegal to attain such status. As if we don’t have enough examples of this, now we have the case of entrepreneur Lorenna Vieira, who happens to be the wife of popular Rio-based DJ, Rennan da Penha, who just went through a legal ordeal himself.
In a recent post, Vieira shared her anger and frustration via her social network profile, after having being taken to a police station in the neighborhood of Penha, in Rio de Janeiro, a short time after she attempted to make a financial transaction in a branch of the Itaú bank.
Communicating with followers via text and video, she detailed what she saw as a clear case of racism due to the idea that a young black woman is not supposed to have access to certain amounts of cash. In her version of what went down, bank officials didn’t believe the woman in her identity photo was her and then called the police with allegations of fraud.
According to the Lorena, the whole problem started because she had worn her hair natural and in her ID photo she appeared with her hair straightened. “I just have my hair straight and I explained that. It’s just because of the hair, I don’t have another nose, I don’t have lenses, it’s me, only the hair is different. It was the same woman who opened my account and she knew it was me, so for me she was prejudiced,” said Lorenna.
“(The police) saw everything and found nothing and released me. The three policemen who came after me and said things that hurt me are white. There is no other explanation than prejudice. They asked if I was ever arrested, if I had any run-ins. I went through this horrible situation, I have a headache and want to throw up. Why can’t I earn get paid well? Why can’t I have money?”, she commented, as she promised to sue the bank.
The crazy thing about to me about this whole thing is the fact that she was only trying to withdraw BRL 1,500. 1,500 reais, which today is worth about US$350. $350? All of this over about $350? Seriously. When I first heard about this story, I thought, that she must have been try to transfer $50,000 or something. $350? A black woman is not supposed have $350? Incredible.
The other thing is that, while most of the press continues to present her in stories about this incident as simply being DJ Rennan’s wife, the fact is that Lorenna is an entrepreneur in her own right. Vieira has a brand of cosmetics, a hair cream for women having curly hair like her. The product is called Use Bad Gall and has become a successful brand for the young businesswoman. She also has a significant following in social networks where she has 300,000 Instagram followers and another 125,000 on Twitter.
Black folks in Brazil know what time it is though. Like Fernando in the photo above points out, ”This is Brazil, my friends, a Brazil in which no bank called the police on Sérgio Cabral and (Luiz Fernando) Pezão, Eduardo Cunha, never called the police on Geddel (Vieira Lima), nor Flávio Bolsonaro. This is the racist Brazil everyday.” The names he mentions are all Brazilian politicians who have all been accused or convicted of corruption, money laundering and all sorts of other types of crimes in the amounts of tens of millions of reais. Why are these men never suspected of such crimes but Lorenna is being accused of fraud over about $350? If you can’t figure it out, check out the article ”Rich, powerful white men being cuffed and taken to prison is a common sight in Brazil, so why is it that black people are deemed the criminal element?”
While in the front of the police station, she further detailed how the situation unfolded when she arrived.
“I’m here in front of the 22nd DP (precinct). They released me almost now. I was working out my things there with the person who works with me at my company. I waited and didn’t understand the delay. They called the police, took me out of there, that embarrassment and they said it was not me on (my) identity (card). They said that the money that was coming in wasn’t normal. So maybe I can’t have money, can’t you have anything? (…) I will sue whoever I have to sue. They kept asking questions like ‘who are you to Rennan da Penha?’ I didn’t understand why the questions about Rennan.”
Rennan is the creator of the famous (and extinct) Baile da Gaiola (Gaiola dance), and was sentenced to more than six years in prison, in the second instance, for alleged associations with drug trafficking. However, he gained freedom in November of last year. His arrest was considered controversial, as Rennan had been acquitted on the first instance.
The DJ, known for his hit “Hoje eu vou parar na Gaiola”, returned to freedom after spending eight months of the sentence in prison at the Complexo de Gericinó, in west zone of Rio de Janeiro.
On Thursday 21, the STF (Superior Court of Justice or Supreme Court) granted a writ of habeas corpus to the DJ. The decision was made due to the Supreme Court’s decision about the arrest in 2nd instance. In a session held on November 8, the Court decided that his arrest should occur only after a trial, after all possible appeals by the defense.
In the first instance, the DJ had already been acquitted of any association with drug trafficking due to a lack of compelling evidence. The case was constructed upon the idea that Rennan promoted dances in order to spread drug trafficking, singing songs that supposedly exalted crime in the favela.
Lawyers and activists argued the artist’s sentencing was yet another case of Brazil’s power structure wanting to criminalize funk dances and the favela population, a common accusation that has led to the death of countless black youth, specifically in the city of Rio de Janeiro. One of the justifications for his imprisonment was the idea that Rennan had used the WhatsApp cell phone application to warn residents about the movement of police in the favela. And what would be the problem with that? How many more stray Military Police bullets do we need to see claim the life of poor, black favela residents?
Warning the people about police actions is common practice amongst residents of drug trafficking regions, and as the Court sees it, “these elements are insufficient to support a condemnatory decree,” said the decision.
Now we see this same criminalization of black skin affecting Rennan’s wife.
“I can’t have money because of being the wife of an ex-convict? We are black, we are humble, but we are entrepreneurs, yes, we generate jobs”, she added.
In a typical note, Banco Itaú expressed regret for the incident. “Itaú Unibanco apologizes for the inconvenience caused to Lorenna Vieira this Thursday, in Rio de Janeiro, and has been trying to contact her to resolve the situation,” read a very standard text.
According to the bank, the actions were standard procedure adopted at the agency when there is suspicion of fraud, “and has no relation to issues of race or gender”.
“The objective was to protect Lorenna’s resources from possible fraud, since there was already a preventive lock on her checking account and it was difficult to identify her with the document presented at the register. Itaú Unibanco believes that all forms of racial discrimination must be combated,” added the bank’s note.
Sought for comment, the Civil Police has not yet taken a position on the case.
As I often deal with the issue of Brazil’s treatment of its black population, I had to sit back and analyze this situation in the same that I consider other cases. I always have questions and if something doesn’t necessarily add up, I will mention that, as I did in the incident involving the young people who said they were victims of a lynch mob type attack in a Rio bar a few weeks back. In terms of Lorenna Vieira, two immediate questions come to my mind. If this case isn’t about racism, what other motive could there have been for her to have gone through this? Perhaps a better, more specific question considering the hair issue would be, considering the fact that women always change their appearance, if Lorenna had been a white woman who changed her hair color from blond to brunette, would bank employees have called the police on her or would they have simply thought, ”Oh, you changed your hair color” and followed that up with, ”What can we do for you today?”
More details about this case have been recently coming out so I will be keeping my eye on it…
Information courtesy of Correio 24 Horas and Carta Capital