Note from BW of Brazil: The recent news that a Florida jury acquitted George Zimmerman of the murder of African-American teen Trayvon Martin speaks volumes for the value of life of young men of African descent throughout the Diaspora. This news could have easily been applied to Brazil where the numbers of black males being killed by death squads and Military Police have been labeled genocide by a number of sources. The Martin decision comes out at the very moment that more tragic news about black men in his very age group is released in Brazil. Having followed the situation throughout Brazil (see here, here and here, for example) one must ask, what is the life of a young black male really worth?
In five years, the homicide rate for blacks grows 9%
Rate among whites fell 13% in the same period
Danon favela (slum), in the municipality of Nova Iguaçu, June 20, 2011, in Baixada Fluminense (state of Rio de Janeiro). The boy Juan Moraes came home without imagining that those would be the last moments of his life. What happened at the instant he was killed is unclear and has not yet been fully clarified, because the case will still be judged by the jury.
An arraignment of the Ministério Público (MP or prosecution), however, reports that Juan, a black boy, 11 years old, was killed by military police, who did an operation in the favela (slum). According to the MP, the police fired on the child, thinking he was a drug dealer. Realizing that they had killed an unarmed boy, police attempted to conceal the crime and hid his body.
The crime, maybe never would have authorship identified if a brother of Juan, wounded in the incident, had not survived. It was he who reported the disappearance of his brother and the attempt of the police to carry away the body. Juan was one of 35,207 black citizens killed in the country in 2011, according to a report by Agência Brasil based on data from the Sistema de Informações sobre Mortalidade (SIM or Mortality Information System) of the Ministério da Saúde (Ministry of Health).
Crossing the information from the Ministry with population census data from the Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE or Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), it appears that, in 2011, the homicide rate in this population was 35.2 per 100,000 inhabitants, 9% above the rate observed that five years previously, when 29,925 cases were reported, or 32.4 per 100 thousand inhabitants.
At the same time that blacks were more vulnerable to violence in these five years, the homicide rate of the white population fell 13%, going from 17.1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2006 (15,753 in absolute numbers) to 14.9 per thousand in 2011 (13,895 cases).
The data reflects the large racial disparity that exists in Brazil, when it comes to murder victims. With the increase in homicide rates among the black population, the probability of a preto (black) or pardo (brown) being the victim of murder in the country came to be 2.4 times greater than that of a white. In 2006, the ratio was 1.9.
Mother of a young black man executed in 2006 by a death squad, in Santos, São Paulo, Débora Maria da Silva doesn’t see an improvement in the situation in the country. The street sweeper Edson Rogério Silva dos Santos was shot dead in May 2006, during a wave of attacks in the state of São Paulo, when he went to buy medicine.
For the mother of Edson, blacks are the biggest victims, because they live in the poorest areas of the city. According to her, the state still maintains a racist posture, even 125 years after the abolition of slavery in the country.
“We have to end this. We no longer live in the time of slavery, which has colonels, capitães-do-mato (captains of the woods) (1) and sinhozinhos (2). Besides the senzalas (slave houses) still being here, that are the peripheries, and the basements of slave ships, which are the prisons,” said Débora, who leads a movement for justice for the killings of May 2006.
For the coordinator of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) Observatório das Favelas (Observatory of the Favelas), Jaílson de Souza, the increase in the homicide rate of blacks is related to the geographical shift of murders in the country. In recent years, while the South and Southeast have experienced a reduction in homicide rates, the North and Northeast have seen an increase in violence.
These states, according to Souza, are those that concentrate the largest populations of pretos and pardos. “When this geography of death changes, and there is more violence in the North and Northeast, this change ends up generating more deaths of negros be they pardos or pretos. In Alagoas, for example, there is one branco (white) (killed) for every 20 blacks,” he said.
Of the five states where the murder of blacks grew more, four are from the Northeast and the North. Rio Grande do Norte has grown 2.7 times in the homicide rate, rising from 16.1 per 100, 000 inhabitants in 2006 to 43.6 per 100,000 in 2011. In Paraíba, the rate doubled, from 30.1 to 60.3 per 100,000.
Among the other states where the growth was large between 2006 and 2011, are Alagoas (53.9 to 90.5 per 100,000 inhabitants), Amazonas (22.3 to 42 per 100,000) and Ceará (17.8 to 29 per 100, 000).
For Jaílson de Souza, the country’s economic growth, without a change of social structure also contributes to the increase in violence among vulnerable populations. “Our challenge is to recognize that economic growth is not enough, you must have a policy that takes account of racism, which is a structural element of Brazilian inequality.”
More than a third of homicides in 2011 in Brazil victimized black men between the ages of 15 and 29
Male, black, aged between 15 and 29 years. This is a description of the main victims of homicides in the country, according to the same sources. Of the 52,198 homicides in Brazil in 2011, 18,387 of the victims were black men between 15 and 29, i.e. 35.2% of the total.
According to social scientist Áurea Carolina de Freitas, which integrates the Fórum das Juventudes (Youth Forum) of the Metropolitan Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais), the phenomenon is a result of factors such as a police force that does not respect human rights and social culture that doesn’t value the life of the young black man living on the outskirts of cities.
“It would require a radical change in the justice system, in this logic of mass incarceration, of always seeing black youth always as suspect, that even dead wrong, the practice of shoot first and then ask what the person is doing. We’ve received many denunciations of people who were first picked up, and then asked by the police what they are doing at that time, in that place,” said the activist.
According to Felipe Freitas, of the Secretaria de Políticas de Promoção da Igualdade Racial (Seppir or Secretariat for Policies to Promote Racial Equality) of the Presidency, the persistence of violence against black youth is apparent both from the historical process in the country, where the black population was being pushed to the poorest and most vulnerable areas of the cities, as from the racism that still exists in society.
“These populations were pushed to the most vulnerable areas of the cities, reducing their opportunities for inclusion and participation in the social life of the country. This is already a racist. But beyond that, we have the persistence of this phenomenon, generating new inequalities. The young man cannot enter public space and be treated as equal. He is more easily caught up in the prison system. The blame of this subject is soon presumed without due process of the law,” he said.
According Seppir, there is evidence that Brazilian society tolerates the death of more blacks than whites. A survey by the Department, in partnership with the DataSenado, in 2012, showed that for 55.8% of the population, the violent death of a young black is less shocking to society than the violent death of a young white man.
When there is institutional racism, there are cases in which the police receive clear instructions that blacks are suspect, as with a work order of the 2nd Military Police Company of Campinas (SP), which directed police to address “particular individuals of black and brown color, aged between 18 and 25 years in groups of three to five individuals.”
When news circulated by the media earlier this year, the Military Police of São Paulo defended itself by saying that the purpose of the order was due to a request of the local population, who complained of a group of criminals that operated in the region and had as characteristic, being composed of pretos and pardos between the ages of 18 and 25.
Felipe Freitas coordinates a plan of the federal government called Juventude Viva (Youth Alive), launched last year, with the goal of decreasing the murders of black youths in 132 priority municipalities in 27 states, which together presented 70% of homicides of young black men in 2010.
The plan aims to coordinate various actions of the federal government, in conjunction with state municipalities and civil society, seeking to transform the territories where these people live and give more opportunities for social inclusion for black youth.
Among the measures in the plan are to raise public opinion about violence against blacks, deployment of facilities for culture and leisure in poor communities, reducing police lethality and combating institutional racism in government agencies.
For now, the plan was only released in four municipalities of Alagoas, but Freitas believes by the end of this year, Juventude Viva will reach the 61 municipalities of six states (Paraíba, São Paulo, Bahia, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, Pará and Rio Grande do Sul), and the Federal District.
He warns, however, that the effects of the plan may take time to appear in the homicide statistics. “The operation of facilities in the communities, like a sport square, culture and leisure, for example, has an immediate dimension. Reducing vulnerability is already being felt. Now, the reduction of homicides actually takes longer. The fatality figures are reversed very slowly. It’s not fast moving,” said Freitas.
Another of SEPPIR’s actions to reduce police violence against the black population is the defense of the approval of Projeto de Lei 4.471 (Project of Law 4471), which is currently in the Câmara dos Deputados (House of Representatives). It provides for the adoption of more transparency in the investigation of so-called autos de resistência (acts of resistance), ie, deaths in clashes with police.
Source: Diario de Pernambuco
1. Capitães-do-mato (captains of the woods) – During the slavery era, those who were designated to task of hunting and re-capturing runaway slaves.
2. Sinhozinho or sinhô-moço were the terms Brazilian slaves used to referred to the slave master’s son.