Woman threatens street vendor and calls him ‘monkey’ after being scolded for throwing litter on the ground
By Marques Travae
Whenever I feature stories such as the one that I present today, I know there’s usually nothing really new about it. Another day, another example of how racist Brazil is. But sometimes when I read such stories, they reveal little things, not only about how one group continues to see itself as superior to another, but in the boldness, reaction or lack of reaction, they tell us something how people see this hierarchy. All of these stories are revolting, sometimes depressing but sometimes they’re really saddening. At a certain point, that’s how this story hit me.
A woman, white, called a street vendor, black, a “monkey” and even threatened him with death. Well, as this is Brazil’s favorite racial insults for its black citizens, this is nothing shocking. But the other details just kind of made me shake my head. That kind of, “what can be done?” frustration set in.
This incident went down in Rio’s Duque de Caxias metropolitan region, last Friday. The incident was recorded, as is so common in a time when cell phones allow everyone to be an on the spot reporter. Orlando Alves, the man responsible for the video, said the woman called the black street vendor “monkey” several times.
Alves said that the street vendor was outraged by the verbal aggressions, and it took several people witnessing the scene to hold him back from getting at his aggressor.
“I started filming when she started cursing. Then she even threatened him, saying she could call ‘the guys’ so she could shoot him,” he says.
What provoked all of this, you might ask. The woman started throwing trash on the ground in the area where the street vendor was working. In another video recorded by Alves, the woman even admits to throwing the trash on the ground, for no apparent good reason.
“I did this there and he got in the way. I’m on the street,” says the woman.
The vendor replied: “I work here, the street is not like that, you do that in your house.”
After the vendor checked her, that’s when the woman came with the insults.
No police support
After having thrown her trash on the ground and insulting the man numerous times, the images recorded by Alves also show the vendor tell his aggressor that he would call the police. She had already disrespected him twice and broke the law in doing so. First, by throwing trash on the ground in the area where he was working and two, by calling him a “macaco”, monkey, which could be classified as racism or a racial insult.
Being threatened with police action, the woman wasn’t the least intimidated and challenges the vendor call the police “Call them! Call the police!” she says. According to Alves, several people who witnessed the whole thing did in fact call the police after hearing the woman utter racist
But that after about 30 minutes, the police didn’t show up and the woman simply boarded a bus and left the scene. There wasn’t even a way for the vendor to identify her her to make a police report if wanted to.
Sought for comment on the incident, the Rio de Janeiro State Military Police reported that the incident was never actually registered. What happened there? I thought a number of people called the police after having witnessed the situation. Either the people actually didn’t make the calls, the police didn’t answer the phone, or simply didn’t show. According to the 15th BPM (Duque de Caxias) there was no record of this occurrence.
Tears and discouragement
Alves later revealed that he recorded the situation when he heard the woman start offending the vendor with racist taunts. When the police didn’t show and the woman left, he offered the videos he recorded to the vendor so that he could make a police report and take the appropriate measures.
But, the vendor, who survives by selling candy and water on the streets didn’t want to take any action. “He got upset, started crying alone. He said he’d never been through this,” reports Orlando.
According to the law, there are several mechanisms for victims of racism to make denouncements, as such acts are defined as crimes according to the Federal Constitution of 1988. Penalties for such offenses, depending on whether they are classified as racial injury or racism, can be up to five years.
If the report is made while the crime is taking place, the Military Police must be called through Dial 190 hotline. The aggressor must then be referred to a police station for referral of the process.
If the crime had already gone down, the victim could seek a Civil Police Station to report the case with as much detail as possible with contact details, and witness names if possible.
A victim can also denounce racist acts through Dial 100 – a Human Rights hotline. The call is free of charge and operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. After the complaints are taken, analyzed, and processed, they are then forwarded to the responsible agencies.
Those the official mechanisms that are often shared when such incidents take place. But after reading about so many of these types of incidents, I have to ask, what’s the point? It sounds good on paper, but it’s really just lip service.
As university professor Juarez Xavier recently opined, Brazil’s racists have lost their shame of being racists. Xavier, who is black, was recently himself the victim of racist insults as well as physical assault with a weapon. Again, racism has existed in various forms in Brazil for centuries, but, different from past decades, people are more likely to define themselves as racists these days rather than deny it and pretend they are embarrassed in some way.
The sad part here is how this recognize of place played out. Increasingly these days, white Brazilians are boldly challenging the black people that they insult to go ahead and call the police. Many simply take the attitude or actually say, “I’ve got money; I’ll pay the fine and walk.” (see here, here or here) This tells us everything we need to know about the effectiveness of Brazil’s racism law.
But the worst part about this situation was the reaction of the vendor. Selling candy and water on the streets tells us about the precarious economic situation he is most likely in. His lack of desire to report the case also tells us that he probably knows this law against of racism is pretty much useless. In his situation, he’s probably experienced this sort of treatment before and his tears simply hint at the feeling of powerlessness to be able to really do anything about such treatment in a country that, until recently, still denied that these sorts of things even happened. After all, “Brazilians aren’t racists”, as we’ve been told a million times.
The last thing I thought after reading about this incident was the difference between how this black Brazilian reacted and how a black American would have reacted in the same situation. It seems that that Brazilian official speaking to President Theodore Roosevelt was right. In America, segregation and the history of racial animosity has kept black Americans enraged to the point that the woman in today’s case probably would probably have taken a pretty good ass whooping had this happened somewhere in the US.
But Brazil’s style of “we’re all equal” racism seems to have unarmed its black population from taking action in such situations. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many black Brazilians react this way when confronted with racist acts. Again, I ask, in reality, both Brazil and the United States are clearly racist countries, but which country’s racism is more effective?
My money is still on Brazil.