“What do you call an educated negro with a B.A. or an M.A., with a B.S., or a PhD? You call him a nigger, because that is what the white man calls him, a nigger.” – Malcolm X
Note from BW of Brazil: Shameful. Absolutely shameful. When I found out about this story all I could remember were the famous words uttered by Malcolm X back in the 1960s. Interestingly, Brazil has always proclaimed itself to be so different from the United States in terms of race relations. “No, we don’t have those problems in Brazil” – “The discrimination in Brazil is of a class nature.” – “If a black person attains an education and gets a good job, discrimination doesn’t exist.” – “But all of the famous futebol stars are black” – “I’m not racist, I talk to my maid everyday.” There’s many more that could be listed here, but you get the message.
The woman whose ordeal is featured in today’s post knows how discrimination works very well. Josefina dos Santos was poor. She worked as a maid. She’s from Brazil’s northeast. And she’s black. She worked for a wing of government that specifically fights for the promotion of racial equality in a country that has always denied its very existence. Josefina experienced all of the forms of discrimination that Afro-Brazilians endure everyday but she managed to beats the odds, get an education and eventually become a lawyer. She, like other Afro-Brazilians of prominence, was reminded yet again that that doesn’t really matter when one has a skin color that is always judged as “suspect”. Even so, when things like what she experienced last week happen, one must really ask, why does society treat us this way?
There are a few things that you should keep in mind as you read this. 1) It doesn’t matter what your education level or what title you have when you are black. 2) People that look like you aren’t necessarily your brother or sister. 3) Very intriguing how a recent film recently won several awards based on a story dealing with police racism against Afro-Brazilians the capital city and 4) When blacks earn their position and paychecks based upon the oppression of others, their first allegiance is to their masters.
Former secretary of the Federal District says she was called “a piece of shit neguinha lawyer” and threatened by Military Police
The teary eyes of lawyer of Josefina Serra dos Santos, 52, denounced the intensity of the grief that she feels. Originally from the northeastern state of Maranhão, the former Special Secretary for the Promotion of Racial Equality of the Federal District (Sepir-DF), lawyer, former domestic servant and activist of the Movimento Negro Nacional (National Black Movement), was attacked and threatened on October 8th; according to “Doutora Jô” (Dr. Jo), as she is called, it happened near the Museum of the Republic, in the Esplanada dos Ministérios (Monumental Axis). The site is located less than 2 km (1.25 miles) from the National Congress and 7 km (4.35 miles) from the Palácio do Buriti, headquarters of the government of the Federal District. Reports of other victims indicate that this is not an isolated case.
“It was very painful. Now I seek the ombudsman of the MP (Military Police), the Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB or Lawyers Guild of Brazil), the prosecutor…,” promised Josefina. In an interview convened by the Commission of Racial Equality of the Union of Journalists of the DF, the lawyer had support from representatives of the Movimento Negro (black movement). The PM sent a spokesman, the Secretary-General Marcos de Araújo, also black, who ranked the episode as an exception.
The incident happened at around 6:30pm. On weekdays, at this time, there is a large movement of pedestrians and cars. Nevertheless, so far, no witnesses of the fact have presented themselves or were identified. Dos Santos recalled the incident this way:
“I went to a hearing yesterday in Cidade Ocidental, came down from the Rodoviária (bus station) of the Plano Piloto and as it was early, I decided to go walking to the PDT (Partido Democrático Trabalhista or Democratic Labour Party) headquarters, I was near the National Library and saw five black Military Police soldiers yelling at a black youth and two white girls, the girls were released, but the police screamed at the young man, throwing his things on the ground.”
“When he passed by, I headed over to the young man and asked him where he lived and I told him to go home. There was another young man sitting on the phone and I went straight ahead. I saw the car heading toward him, and I continued on my way.
“I was walking and I heard someone say: “Ma’am stop!” I kept walking, because several people had passed me by, but they were not black like me. The person spoke again and said if I didn’t stop she would shoot, that’s when I turned and saw it was a black cop who was threatening to shoot me. Then I saw another armed black cop with gun in hand to shoot and screaming: “You’re deaf.” The first thing I did was to take out my OAB/DF ID from my purse, and asked what was happening. This black police soldier said for me to remain silent, and began to drag me into the van (1); I said I needed to talk to someone and I grabbed my cell phone, he took the phone and told me that it was he gave the orders, and threw it to the ground. When asked why that was, a second police soldier, white, said that as a lawyer, I should have known that this was a standard procedure, especially with people like me – and that I could understand this as I wanted,” reported Josefina.
“I asked: black like me? And they [the police] started laughing and said ‘understand it how you want’. So it’s because of my color. They said ‘these neguinhas when they learn something they find themselves.
“Even with my ID in hand, the lieutenant (to which others obeyed) came and did a “baculejo” (pat down) almost to the point of removing my clothes and said:
“So, this ‘neguinha’ is a lawyer. Piece of shit lawyer… to me it’s the same thing, especially ‘preta’ (black) like you. Shut up, for your rights and your family will see tomorrow if we throw you in the car!” threatening me constantly. I said I would report this to the party, I said that I was a candidate and they said that the election had passed. I said that now we would work to elect Governor Rollemberg, they threw all of my stuff on the ground, and with gun in hand the Lt. ordered me to gather my things and said it was no good to report, because who would believe the word of a preta (black woman), it would be my word against hers and the others, and mostly I had no witnesses and there was no camera.”
Josefina, raising her hands to her mouth recalling from the insult that she heard the following: “They called me neguinha abusada (abused neguinha).” (2)
The lawyer pointed out that, during the search, her cell phone was thrown away, her shirt was lifted so that her breasts were exposed and her arm twisted hard by one of the police officers.
She continued: “I always defended rights, I have suffered a lot of discrimination, but for me this was the worst I ever suffered, it was humiliating, degrading, violent. I’m not afraid of dying, but yesterday I was more afraid of being thrown in the paddy wagon and turning up dead the next day, even with drugs and weapons inside my purse.
“I imagined if I would die at their hands, I would have no way to defend myself. So I ask, who would believe that I was not a drug trafficker? This is what the lieutenant hinted at after approaching me.”
Still according to dos Santos, she was told that that it would do no good to expose the police, because nothing would happen. “They tried to intimidate me by saying that it was easier for something to happen to me than to them. What would I say? I just wanted to protect myself. I was never afraid of the police. I know many good people who do their work in the PM, but, unfortunately, there are people like that and, despite there being a work [of raising the consciousness of police], it seems that is not having an effect, and from what I heard and went through, I can only say it is racism.”
Josefina says it took almost a week to denounce the five policemen on charges of racism, threat, torture and intimidation because of initially being afraid. “I was afraid, yes. I mean, I still am. I have clients who have gone through the same thing and that the victims almost became defendants [in the process]. So, it is natural that the person making any complaint becomes fearful,” said the lawyer, claiming that after calming down, she decided to denounce the police to warn others and try to prevent similar events from recurring.
“Unfortunately, Brazilian society is still racist and sexist. And as the people who make up the PM come from this society, the corporation will make all efforts to ensure that these people do not put out those feelings. This is an unusual situation, because that’s not how we teach the police to act,” said the Secretary-General of the PM, Colonel Marcos Araújo, ensuring that, for over two decades, the Training Course of the Military Police of Brasília includes concepts of human rights.
Araújo reported that an inquest will be opened and camera images will be analyzed. If the complaint is upheld, the police may even be punished with expulsion. As the PM, officially, only became aware of the facts on Wednesday, it still not talking about the deadline for completion of the investigation. According to Colonel even identified, police will not be suspended from their duties for the duration of the administrative process.
“There (the location of the incident) is a place for drug trafficking, but the way the doutora (doctor or lawyer) said that the police acted is outside of the knowledge passed on to them,” he said. “It could be that some police have not yet internalized what we teach at the academy, but the corporation vehemently repudiates these facts. We don’t support these attitudes. The General Commander and the Inspector of the PM are already aware of the complaint and we will investigate it quickly,” said the colonel. “I cannot move anything forward, but the story, the stop is outside of the standards and yes there were some errors. We’ll have to also hear to the police.”
Despite being a frequent complaint on the part of mainly residents in impoverished neighborhoods, the colonel said there were no, in internal affairs of the PM, formal complaints of racism. (3) “There is a huge amount of procedures from the possible misconduct of police officers being investigated, but not racism.” The colonel revealed that a survey done in 2008 found that 62% of the approximately 15,000 police officers of the Federal District are black, but could not say how many of those are officials and in positions of command in the corporation. “There are some, but not many. But what really helps change the mindset of the corporation is what we’re already doing, working on education and the internalization of values of respect for human rights. A fact like this, which is the exception, hurts us because it overthrows all our work.”
The Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (Sepir) reacted to the episode with a note of repudiation that supports the dissemination of the case and “highlights the courage of the militant of the Movimento Negro, Josefina Serra, in making the fact public.”
The current chief minister, Viridiano Custódio also sent an official letter to the Secretaria de Segurança (Secretary of Security) to request “special attention” to possible racism. (4) Difficult to prove and to forget “I’ve had my eardrum burst by security officials here in DF,” says Daniela Marques, 35, educator and activist for black women. She cites the case of Cláudia Silva Ferreira, killed by Rio PMs in March this year, and Vinícius Romão, wrongly imprisoned in the same city after being confused for a thief, as evidence of institutionalized racism.
A resident of 414 Sul for five months, the public servant Ana Paula Rodrigues Costa, 33, says she feels the marks of racism every day, including for being part of the only black couple of her building. Her greatest outrage, however, was when her husband, Cássio Mota, Physical Education teacher for 28 years, suffered discrimination by the PMs in a nearby pizzeria.
“After he enters, a police soldier was asking my husband if he lived in the region. Then when he went to get something in the car, a police soldier followed him,” says Ana Paula, angry with the situation. “Institutional racism was blatant. It is difficult to prove this kind of thing. Only those who feel it know prejudice. There’s no way to report this in one instance,” she complains. It extends the question to the other residents. Often, she said, when she comes down to the playground with her son, she is mistaken for a nanny. “The impression is that we don’t match, we don’t live here,” she says.
»In 2010, the Military Police and graduate student in Sociology at the University of Brasília (UnB) Gilvan Gomes presented his dissertation A Lógica da Polícia Militar do Distrito Federal na Construção do Suspeito (The Logic of Military Police of the Federal District in Construction of the Suspect). He affirmed, after case studies and research, the typical suspect for the corporation is a poor, young African descendant, with earrings or tattoos, baggy clothes and cap.
“Last year, the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA or Institute for Applied Economic Research) released research pointing to an average of two black victims of every three deaths in the country.
»The Pesquisa Nacional de Vitimização (National Victimization Survey), the Ministry of Justice, also revealed that, in 2009, at least 6.5% of blacks assaulted had public agents as tormenters, double that for whites.
In addition to expressing solidarity and offering legal and psychological support to the lawyer, the Special Secretariat for the Promotion of Racial Equality (Sepir) promises to follow the determination of the case together with the PM and also the possible developments in the prosecution. “We must ensure that the law is enforced. In the Brazilian imaginary, blacks are seen as objects, as non-humans, which results not only in a charge of personal prejudice, but also of institutional racism. A black citizen discriminated against and by a black agent of the State has their psyche itself assaulted. And the aggressor, on the other hand, doesn’t see in his equal a victim of such discrimination,” Jacira da Silva, Sepir’s ombudsman said.
1. Although there was a white officer participating in this incident, it must also being pointed out that many Afro-Brazilians affirm the violence and abuse of black Brazilians by black police officers. See for example the segregation enforced on Rio de Janeiro’s most beautiful beaches.
2. Important to state once again that the term neguinha (feminine) or neguinho (masculine) basically meaning “little black” is often considered an affectionate term by Afro-Brazilians and white Brazilians alike. But it always depend on the context, the situation and tone of voice in which it is used. In this situation it was clearly used to diminish the lawyer as a racial insult.
3. One must wonder about this statement. First, if this is actually a fact one must ask if people citizens could be simply afraid to denounce racist acts of the police considering the number of complaints of racism there are in the nation’s capital city region.
4. Although one can only hope that an investigation produces some answers because as the story stands it appears that the police never once provided a reason as to why they approached dos Santos in the first place.