by Thais Nunes
Since December 21st of last year, police officers of the Taquaral district, one of the most upscale in the city of Campinas (state of São Paulo) (1), comply with the order of approaching “individuals of suspicious attitude, especially those of brown and black color.” The order was given by the official who heads the company responsible for the region, but the Command of the PM (Polícia Militar or Military Police) denies racist content in the decree.
The document signed by captain of Ubiratan Carvalho Góes Beneducci directs troops to act with rigor, if they encounter youths aged 18 to 25, who are in groups of three to five people and have dark skin. These are the characteristics of a supposed group that commits burglary in the neighborhood.
The officer’s order was prompted by a letter from two residents. One was the victim of a robbery and described the criminals in this manner. None of them, however, was identified by the Military Police for the approaches that were directed in this manner.
Police memo: “…focusing on approaches of passers-by and pedestrians of suspect attitude, especially individuals of brown (parda) or black (negra) color
For Friar Galvão, of the NGO Educafro, the service order implies that if the cops come across a group of whites, there’s no danger. This morning, he plans to send a request of explanations to the governor Geraldo Alckmin and the Secretary of Public Security, Fernando Grella.
O Diário (Diário de S. Paulo newspaper/website) unsuccessfully requested an interview with captain Beneducci. The report also urged something similar in another official letter, in which the target of the approaches were a group of white youths, but it obtained no response by the end of this edition.
Below is the full note of clarification sent by the Military Police Commander:
“The Military Police regrets that a group historically discriminated against by society, who are black, are used for sensationalism.
“The case deals with a written order of a Military Police authority because of the demands of the local community, to strengthen the policing aimed at a group of criminals, with specific characteristics, which happened to be composed of blacks and browns. The order is clear as to refer to that group, “focusing on the approaches and passersby in vehicles of suspicious attitude, especially individuals of brown and black color, aged apparently from 18-25 years, who are always in groups of 3 to 5 individuals in the practice of residential robbery in that locality.”
“The order also describes the locations (four streets) and time when the crimes occur. So, there is nothing to talk about in (terms of) discrimination or racist attitude in having the captain issue the order based on real and specific indicators. Discrimination and racism is the fact of exploiting this situation recklessly and out of context.”
The governor of the state of São Paulo, Geraldo Alckmin, also commented on the controversy saying:
“What happened was an assault occurring in a neighborhood. You have a suspect determined by characteristics. It’s as if one says, ‘Look, there was a robbery and the suspect is a blonde, a blonde person, or the suspect is a Japanese person, Asian.’ After all, the suspect was a person of brown color,” said Alckmin. “But (this was) a specific case where there was a suspect. There is no form of discrimination,” said the governor, adding that if it were found prejudice, “the punishment would be very vigorous.”
Note from BW of Brazil:
To be sure, this letter sent by the captain of the Military Police in the city of Campinas is sparking quite a debate on this topic. Is this an example of the infamous “stop and frisk” practices that are being described as a form of “racial profiling” in New York? But before prematurely jumping conclusions, let’s analyze a few things. First of all, throughout Brazil, historically, non-white men have always been the preferred target of violence and assassinations, from the era of slavery, when the Portuguese used a number of torture techniques and preferred to work slaves to death and simply buy more rather than preserving them, to the current era when police and death squads are killing young black men in this exact age group at rates that could be called genocide. This besides the fact that Afro-Brazilians are the preferred targets for overall murders in the country.
In Brazil today, police already refer to Afro-Brazilians (blacks and browns) as “suspects of the standard color” and the numbers and skin color of victims of police assassinations prove this. Certainly, police could simply argue that they are simply doing their job to protect this particular neighborhood according to a description of previous suspects, but my concern would be the police using this order and going overboard to blatantly stop, disrespect, physically abuse and/or kill any darker-skinned Brazilian because it has now been officially requested whereas before the term “suspects of the standard color” was just jargon that police used in reference to brown-skinned Brazilians without any official decree to discriminate in this manner.
My question would be this. I have nothing against fighting crime. But is it fair that any brown-skinned male who happens to be with 2-4 friends of this color be approached by police because they fit this description? Reports also show that police in Brazil often times approach, frisk and sometimes kill Afro-Brazilian males who HAVE NO PREVIOUS POLICE RECORD! After all, what constitutes a “suspicious attitude” or behavior? As people of color already know, simply having this skin color is enough to be considered “suspicious.”
People commenting on this story fell on both sides. On one side, people argued that this is simply more discrimination against a group that has always been discriminated against. On the other hand, people see nothing discriminating in the order because it simply narrows the target group down to the color, age group and number of people in the group that were described in previous robberies, accusing the press of simply fomenting sensationalism. Many people wrote comments along the lines of, “why should they stop and search white males when the thieves were described as black or brown?”
What do you think? Is this fair or is it discrimination? Feel free to leave a comment. Below is how blogger Pedro Amaral reacted.
Pequena nota sobre a lógica da suspeição (Little note about the logic of suspicion)
By Pedro Amaral
An official document of the Military Police of São Paulo caused a furore on the internet today, January 23, 2013. It deals with an order issued by the PM Captain of Campinas, Ubiratan de Carvalho Góes Beneducci, which mandates that black or brown passers-by or pedestrians in the Taquaral neighborhood should be approached first.
I accessed this news on UOL and I was intrigued by the explanation given by a criminal lawyer about the content of the message. In summary, the lawyer says the police order is based on objective data provided by Taquaral neighborhood residents, who reported the profile of the assailants: black men, between the ages of 18 and 25. Police then issued the order based on objective data, aiming to detain people who fit the profile of the criminals circulating in the Taquaral neighborhood.
What captured my attention was the superficiality with which marks someone as a suspect. The main feature of criminals is skin color: black or brown. It’s based on these characteristics that the police will classify people between suspects and non-suspects: black and brown – suspects – on one side; white – non suspects – on the other.
Police used the following logic: black men are assaulting the neighborhood. Thus immediately, all black and brown men passing through the neighborhood are suspects, so they must be addressed as a priority.
I keep thinking if the black and indigenous populations may also make use of the same logic of the police. We all know that intercontinental expansion was massively practiced by Europeans: Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, English, French, etc. All of them chose violence as an instrument of conquest, being unnecessary to calculate how many Indians, Africans and Asians were decimated and enslaved during the mercantilist period. A peculiar characteristic is common to all these people: the white color of the skin of those men.
Yes, you understand what I’m getting at. Because of this, I ask: do we blacks or Indians, have the right to feel threatened every time a white direct a look in our direction? “Will they come back wanting to decimate blacks and Indians again …” – I could think.
My suspicion is consistent. White men killed millions of blacks and Indians in Brazil. Thus immediately, every white man approaching me is suspected of wanting to kill me. Should I contact the captain of the Military Police in my town and ask him to order his men to protect me and all the other blacks from white men that circulate through my neighborhood, all suspected of wanting our collective death?
I based my allegations on true events, widely documented and public knowledge. I have, I think, serious reason to believe that any white man approaching my house has a desire to kill me.
Therefore, I feel entitled to ask a simple question to all: if you were the captain of the Military Police legally responsible for protecting my neighborhood, would you issue an official order so that your men would approach every and any white man that was circulating in the place where I reside?
If you would not deliver this order is because you see in it an explicitly racist and superficial content. That’s how I see the official order issued by police in Campinas. It is racist. And you have a duty to observe this.
1. Campinas is a city located in the interior of the state of São Paulo, 60 miles northwest of the state’s capital and largest city, São Paulo.
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