In another example of the way in which brown skin is automatically associated with crime in Brazil, well-known actress/singer Thalma Freitas was stopped, picked up and taken to a police station in Rio de Janeiro on October 14th, 2011. Freitas was leaving the home of a friend in the Vidigal favela located in the south zone of the city when she was stopped on Niemeyer Avenue. Freitas says that all of the contents of her purse were emptied out and placed on the hood of the car.
According to Freitas:
“I was stopped leaving from the home of my friend Dani in Vidigal. They checked my purse, didn’t find anything and took me to the police station. I remained calm and at peace in my innocence and the police chief didn’t oblige me (to stay), but I made a issue of being frisked by a female police officer.”
Freitas accused the police of abuse of authority:
“I am collaborating on a process of legal actions for abuse of authority on the part of the police. This is common for many people and today I speak for those who don’t have a voice.”
She went on to say:
“This is the first time that I’ve gone through this type of humiliation. There’s nothing else to do but sue them for abuse of power. Why did the blonde that was being searched before me not have to come here? Do artists like me and residents of Vidigal, black like me, have to go through this? Do we have to have fear of the police? Why am I here? I am a suspect of what? I wish they would explain that to me.”
Freitas said the incident lasted for four hours.
In an interview, businesswoman Paula Lavigne, a friend of Freitas, said that the actress/singer was released at midnight and that she filed a complaint alleging abuse of authority:
“Even the police chief didn’t see think the case added up. She found it unnecessary that Thalma was brought to the police station, but Thalma made an issue of being frisked because she being called a suspect the whole time. She was accompanied by a blonde woman that was not treated in the same manner. She lost a night of rehearsal in the police station and now the police will respond to (a complaint) of abuse of authority.”
The police said that the procedure was standard:
“We don’t have female military police in the battalion, and because of this, we drove her to the police station. We know how to make stops and the area where we found her is considered risky, so we went to the police station to guarantee the physical integrity of the actress”, said corporal Menezes, who along with military police officer Rodrigues from Rio’s 23rd Military Police Battalion, are accused of bringing the actress/singer to the police station. As of right now, the two officers have been suspended from their duties until the investigation of the incident is completed.
Freitas’ experience with the police is all too common for Brazil’s black community. Brazilian police, notably of Brazil’s two largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, describe non-white persons as “suspects of the standard color”. Posessing this “standard color” means that color trumps status or class as in the high profile cases of Flavio Sant’ana, a black dentist whose body was filled with bullets by five military police of São Paulo in 2004, and Januário Alves de Santana, a black man who was beat up by security at an Osasco, São Paulo, Carrefour supermarket after being accused of stealing his own car. The crime of both of these men was simply being black.
There are numerous other stories like these.
This association (blackness and crime) plays out in police murders. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, Afro-Brazilians make up 72% of murders by the police even though they account for less than half of the city’s population. A study by the Centro de Estudos de Segurança e Cidadania (Center of Studies of Security and Citizenship) in Rio de Janeiro found that Afro-Brazilians experience a body frisk 55% of the times that they are approached by the police in comparison to 32.6% for white Brazilians.
There are many other grim statistics that show that unequal treatment and homicide have a definite color in Brazil. For instance, in 2003, in the city of São Paulo, the rate of homicides amongst whites was 42.6 per 100,000 while it 70 per 100,000 for Afro-Brazilians. In the northeastern city of Recife, the discrepancy was huge: 15.5 for whites and 102.3 for Afro-Brazilians. In the nation’s capital city of Brasília, the numbers were 61.5 for Afro-Brazilians and 11.7 for whites, while the figures in another northeastern city, Salvador, were 30.7 to 2.3.
It is also necessary to note the area of the Thalma Freitas case, the Vidigal favela along with Rocinha, Vigário Geral and others in Rio de Janeiro are areas whose populations are mostly made up of black and poor residents. These areas are also places where Rio’s military police indiscriminately invade, occupy and routinely kill residents in a war on drugs even though studies have shown that less than 2% of the area’s populations have anything to do with drug trafficking. It seems that in Brazil, dark skin really is a sin.