Note from BW of Brazil: It’s a case that dates back to 2013 during the headline-making protests that rocked Brazil. It’s a case that I’ve followed since first becoming aware of it at that time but never addressed. Well, with recent developments the time has come to finally touch upon this case that many see as yet another example of the vast inequalities in Brazil’s legal system, corrupt police and the continued stigmatization of young black men as criminals.
In 2013, Rafael Braga was in the streets as millions of Brazilians took to the streets in protests against the rising costs of public transportation, corruption and the overall situation of the country, but he wasn’t a participant. He was also the only one imprisoned in the protests the size of which Brazil hadn’t seen in decades. Braga is poor, black and from the favelas. So what was his crime? Carrying a bottle of disinfectant and a bottle of bleach that, normally are products used for cleaning homes, but, according to police were intended to be used to create a Molotov cocktail! Braga denied the accusation saying that the bottles were in fact still sealed and that he didn’t even have a cloth to light it.
Braga served his time under a sort of house arrest in which he worked by day and spent his nights at home and wore an electronic tether. Little did he know that his situation was to get worse! As you read this story please keep in mind how Brazil’s Military Police routinely kill poor Afro-Brazilians who are either accused of being drug dealers or who get caught in crossfire often initiated by the police themselves. They also have a reputation for planting drugs and weapons on suspects in attempts to justify their actions or attain guilty verdicts.
To be clear, I am not saying that I have absolute certainty that Rafael is innocent, after all, I wasn’t there. But based on what I’ve read about this case, if I were a betting man I’d put my money on his innocence! Read the story below and come to your own conclusions…
Rafael Braga, black, a carrier of pine-sol, condemned to 11 years by the racist “justice
By Carolina Cacau of Esquerda Diário with additional information courtesy of Brasil de Fato. Protest photos by Jorge Ferreira of Mídia Ninja
It was published on April 21st on the website of the Court of Justice of the State of Rio de Janeiro (TJRJ) the sentence of the case against Rafael Braga Vieira, who ended up being sentenced to 11 years and 3 months in prison and a payment of R$1,687.00. Rafael is a black man, works in the streets and his condemnation blatantly displays, once again, how racist justice is.
Rafael Braga, black, a carrier of pine-sol, condemned to 11 years by the racist “courts”
Was candidate for MRT councilor for PSOL in 2016, is a student of UERJ, member of the Academic Center of Social Service and teacher in the state network of schools
Rafael Braga was arrested for the first time on June 20, 2013, when more than 1 million protesters protested in Rio de Janeiro. Rafael ended up imprisoned in Lapa for carrying a bottle of Pinho Sol (Pine Sol), which he used to clean cars as a way to support him and his family. For the civilian police who detained him, the bottle of Pinho Sol (Pine Sol) was a Molotov cocktail.
On the morning of January 12, 2016, while serving his sentence in a regime aberta (open regime or house arrest) and wearing an electronic anklet, he was arrested by Military Police (MP) of the UPP with a blatant frame up by MPs who threatened Rafael to incriminate him if he didn’t disclose information about drug traffickers of the Vila Cruzeiro community where Rafael lived with his mother.
According to police officers who arrested him, he carried 0.6 g of marijuana, 9.3 g of cocaine and a firecracker squib. In his testimony at the 22nd Police Station in Rio de Janeiro, Braga claimed that the material didn’t belong to him and that he was threatened by agents to disclose traffickers in the region where he was approached.
During the trial, five prosecution witnesses and one defense witness, whose testimony was not taken into account by the judge, were heard. Evelyn Barbara, a neighbor of Braga, said she saw the young man being approached alone and with no objects in his hand, and was then beaten and dragged to a point far from out of her sight. The magistrate also denied, in February, a request for defense measures.
Rafael Braga’s case has become the symbol of structural racism of justice and the Brazilian state, which condemns a young black man from the favela for carrying a bottle of Pine Sol to spend 11 years in jail for a flagrant framing by the also racist and reactionary Military Police.
The Brazilian prison system is the living image of the character of Brazilian justice, of the institutional and overwhelming racism of the Brazilian State. The figures express the situation better. 67% of prisoners are black and approximately one-third of those in prison have never been tried; many of them remain in prison even after having served their time.
This same justice at the service of the rich and powerful, that leaves in freedom Thor Batista, who ran over and killed a man (see note 1), is the one that advances its reactionary methods, with judge Sérgio Moro and Lava Jato, to consolidate methods that serve to attack the whole working class, to guarantee the profit of the bosses and the continuity of this system of misery and oppression.
While the businessmen mentioned in the Lava Jato “serve time” in their mansions and soon all politicians who close deals of agreement may follow the same “hard life”, despite the millions that were stolen, Rafael Braga is serving a much greater sentence, never having been judged by a jury, for carrying Pine Sol.
What happened to Rafael is totally disgusting. We cannot allow the Brazilian state, founded with the blood of black slaves, to crush the rights of the thousands of blacks who, like Rafael Braga, are victims of institutionalized racism in Brazil. Which is expressed not only in the portrayal of the Brazilian prison system but also in the violence and impunity of the police in Rio de Janeiro, with police officers operating in Acari being released the same week that Rafael is convicted.
Due to the conviction, social movements held a vigil in solidarity with Braga on Monday (4/24), starting at 6 pm, near the MASP museum, in São Paulo. The act was called by Movimento Mães de Maio (Mothers of May Movement) and several articulations that have mobilized since 2013 for the freedom of Braga in both São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.
According to Débora Maria da Silva, of Mães de Maio, the decision shows the selectivity of the Judiciary that criminalizes poverty and massively jails young blacks. “There is evidence that this crime has been framed. The vigil is a response of the movements against a class and racist justice system that needs an urgent reform, what is happening with Rafael is unacceptable,” she says.
There are thousands of “lost bullets” that kill the black youth of the favelas and peripheries every day. They took the lives of Maria Eduarda, Claudia Ferreira, Amarildo, the boy Eduardo, DG and an endless list of people murdered by the police.
“The sentence is based on the most frequent and worn out inquisitorial practice in Brazil: condemnation exclusively based on the word of the police agent,” Professor of Criminal Procedural Law of the School of Magistracy of the State of Rio de Janeiro Antonio Pedro Melchior points out on his Facebook page. “The practice of treating the agents involved in imprisonment as witnesses of the fact is wrong in every aspect that is analyzed,” he says.
Once more and stronger, it is necessary to raise the cry for the freedom of Rafael Braga. As part of the end of this miserable and racist system, let us fight so that no more blacks are tried other than by a jury composed of a majority of blacks.
- Thor Batista is the son of businessman Eike Batista, formerly ranked as Brazil’s richest man. Eike Batista’s fortune was once estimated at US$12 billion. In January, the businessman was arrested in the huge Lava Jato scandal for having paid $16 million worth of bribes to the former governor of Rio de Janeiro. In 2012, Thor Batista struck and killed a cyclist on the BR-040 highway in Rio de Janeiro. The case, featuring the son of an extremely wealthy white man and a poor black man, once again showed the vast social/racial inequalities as well as lack of justice for the poor and black in Brazil. The story here.