“To me you’re a thief, with this disgraceful hair!”: Military Police caught on video punching and kicking 16-year black youth because he wore an afro
By Marques Travae with information from Correio 24 Horas
The fear and hatred of the black phenotype. It’s been documented for centuries. No matter where we are or what we do, we as a people are always at risk of being assaulted in a decidedly anti-black world. We should all know by now that Brazil participates in this daily assault on blackness and with the release of a recent video from Salvador, Bahia (nicknamed the “Black Rome”), we see yet another example of why so may people in this country take years to take on a black identity. Being black in world dominated by Eurocentric thought and standards is sometimes a heavy burden to bear.
And black youth are not immune this.
The assault on our youth is perhaps even more devastating to one’s self-esteem and psychological well-being, as often times, they haven’t or are still coming to know what it actually means to be black. In a country like Brazil where so many people are taught to avoid defining themselves as pretos or negros (Portuguese for blacks), if anti-black ridicule, jokes or exclusion don’t persuade persons of visible African descent to define themselves with terms other than black, then there is the constant threat of physical violence, harassment and even death. After experiencing such an attack on one of the most recognizable symbols of blackness, another young black male is wondering if proudly flaunting this symbol is even worth it anymore. After experiencing such a trauma, in some ways, I can understand why he would feel this way.
Over the weekend, a stop by Military Police (MP) in Salvador ended with punches and kicks in the back of a young black male, in addition to racist insults. The whole thing was recorded last Sunday (2) in the neighborhood of Paripe, in the Subúrbio Ferroviário region de Salvador, Bahia, without the police involved in the approach noticing, and released on social networks on Monday afternoon (3).
In the images, which will be analyzed by the corporation’s internal affairs department (see vídeo below), a police officer is seen punching the 16-year-old teenager who was being searched alongside another man. In the aggressive approach, the policeman took the beret that the teen was wearing off, saw that he was wore cabelo black power (an afro), and throws it on the floor. Upon hearing the boy say he is a worker, the MP replies:
“You’re a thief to me. You’re a vagabond! This disgraceful hair. Take it off [the hat], go! This disgrace here. You’re a what? You’re a worker, huh, a faggot?”
The victim detailed the incident in a report for a local newspaper:
“I stopped to talk to a colleague who was in a car. That was when the car came and approached. He kicked my colleague in the leg first and then came at me. He said I was a vagabond with this hair here, a thief.”
Interviewed by the Correio newspaper on Tuesday, the boy said he wants to “cut his hair now” because of the trauma and the possibility that the MP would recognize him and do something worse after the repercussion of the case.
During the attacks, the MP is called by a colleague, who doesn’t appear in the images, to leave the scene.
The video started to go viral after several profiles started sharing the recording. One of them was social activist Raull Santiago, creator and member of the Coletivo Papo Reto, a group based in Rio de Janeiro that works to denounce human rights violations, especially in the poor communities of the country.
In the post, Santiago condemns police violence and the racist content of the insinuations that the youth doesn’t work.
“POLICE VIOLENCE | “TO ME, YOU ARE ME THIEF, YOU ARE A VAGABOND … WITH THIS DISGRACEFUL HAIR HERE” said the policeman and then PULLS THE BOY’S HAIR, WHO IS IN A FRISK POSITION AND BEGINS TO BEAT HIM, I repeat, he was surrendering and with his hands on his head. | I received this video a little while ago, I don’t know where this police officer is from, but following the post, I printed parts of the video where we can try to identify the criminal in uniform and like the last video, I posted a clipping with repetitions at the time he pulled his hair and various assaults. | Let’s identify the “mad man” in uniform! Spread this nonsense! How revolting???? RACISTS: “you are a thief to me, with this disgraceful hair” said the policeman before pulling the boy’s hair and beating him. RACISTS!”
In a note, the press department of the Military Police informed that the corporation “does not advocate violence and rejects any and all types of violent conduct”. The corporation also reported that it does not provide psychological care for the young man. The Public Ministry of Bahia (MP-BA) communicated that it is seeking information from the police to learn more about the case.
‘My black identity is wounded’, reports teenager attacked by MP
The afro hairstyle, that is seen as a symbol of resistance (hence the name cabelo black power in Brazil), didn’t withstand the aggression on the part of the Bahian Military Police. “I’m even scared to leave the house, I’m afraid something will happen to me and my family,” said the 16-year-old after being punched, kicked and insulted by the MP. Until then, he wore an afro as a form of self-affirmation. “It’s more than fashion, it’s my black identity that is now wounded”, added the young man.
Frightened, he said he would cut his hair. “I’m not going to wear it anymore. I’m going to cut it,” he said. “I no longer feel comfortable wearing it [an afro].” The teenager’s mother, Carina Barros, 32, endorsed her son’s will. “I don’t want him to wear it anymore. This traumatized us a lot. He sleeps and wakes up scared,” said the mother who currently does cleaning work.
Since the episode, the teenager hasn’t left the house. “I think he can come after me because of the video. I’m not leaving the house for anything”, he said, reacting to the repercussions. “I had no idea that the video could cause all of this. I am very afraid that he will take all of this out on me.”
Asked if he had already gone through a similar situation, the boy replied: “I’ve worn this style for more than a year and I have never gone through this, I wasn’t even the target of racist comments, while on Sunday I was beaten,” he concluded.
To put this incident in proper context, it is very common for the Afro-Brazilian population to see cabelo crespo, meaning kinky/curly hair, as a source of shame. Brazilian society has long demonized this hair texture, humiliating men and women, making all sorts of demeaning jokes and comparisons with objects meant to disgrace anyone who doesn’t acquiesce to society’s standard of beauty, which is straight hair. For decades, pretas e pardas (black and brown women) have used all sorts of treatments, including harsh chemicals, and hair devices to straighten out their kinks, curls and waves. To avoid ridicule, most pretos e pardos (black and brown men) simply shave their heads as close to the scalp as possible.
Under the standards of white superiority, many non-white women would spend large percentages of their meager pay to in an attempt to look “civilized” or “presentable”. But in the past few decades, specifically the last decade, there has been a huge movement for the appreciation of blackness and all of the physical traits associated with it. In streets all over the country, we see black men, women and teens proudly rocking afros, curls and locks for all the country to see.
If James Brown made the slogan “I’m black and I’m proud”, in Brazil, the slogan takes on a second meaning: “I wear a black and I’m proud”. Black, in this sense, referring to a black power, which means an afro. But this growth of black pride doesn’t mean that the power structure will automatically relinquish its enforcement of Eurocentric aesthetics, as the young man in today’s story recently learned the hard way.
One other thing I’d like to mention here is that I will refrain from any judgment on the police officer’s race as this has yet to be confirmed. But just a word of caution…In a country in which black people have been indoctrinated to hate themselves, it should come as no surprise when blacks are found to be as abusive to other blacks as non-blacks. Lest we forget, Afro-Brazilians make up a large percentage of police units throughout the country.
The teenager is the oldest of Carina Barros’ three children. She expects justice. “The fear remains, but we believe in justice. My son didn’t make a mistake. It was the policeman’s mistake. Even if my son did something wrong, which he didn’t, this isn’t the way to approach people. My son was beaten by whoever was supposed to protect the citizens,” she declared.
According to the teen and witnesses, the young man was returning home, along with his girlfriend, when the couple stopped to talk to a friend who was in a car. When they were talking, a MP team approached and one of the policemen said: “What’s going on here?”
“He put the boys against the wall and the aggressions started. In addition to calling him a vagabond, he punched and punched him. I was crying, but I couldn’t do anything because he was looking at me angrily,” said the teen’s girlfriend.
She is also terrified. “Like him, I’m very scared. It was at the time and I saw everything and I don’t know what the police will be able to do after all this is over,” she said, ending the conversation. In a previous comment, the victim echoed his mother’s sentiments: “I feel threatened, if he [the MP] is going to want to catch me because of the video, do something bad to me.”
The president of the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Bar Association (OAB-BA), Jerônimo Mesquita, explains that there was an abuse of power in the police stop. “The young man had his back turned; he wasn’t a threat. What he could do is immobilize the boy, but there was a free aggression,” he evaluated.
Mesquita also explains that, when attacking the boy, the agent committed bodily injury, accompanied by racial injury due to the depreciation of the afro hairstyle and also homophobia for having called him a ‘faggot’.
“It’s important that this police officer responds to a disciplinary process from internal affairs. When the Military Police allow these things to happen, they send a message to the other officers that there is a violent policy at the institution,” said the lawyer.
Governor Rui Costa, in a post made in his official profile on Twitter, on Tuesday morning (4), commented on the accusation of racism involving the case.
“As governor of the State of Bahia, I don’t condone behavior of police violence like what happened in the video that is circulating on social networks. It is unacceptable, inadmissible and does not reflect the institution’s behavior and ideals,” said Rui.
The governor said that he is following the investigation of the case.
“I determined a rigorous and immediate investigation by the Internal Affairs Department of the Military Police, with due legal punishments for those responsible and disclosure to the society of the measures adopted, so that these isolated cases cannot continue to compromise the image of the institution,” he wrote on the social network.
Of course, companies and governments always make the typical “we don’t condone violence or discrimination of any kind” bla bla bla, but police under Governor Costa’s have long been accused of violent, aggressive and murderous acts against the black population, so what do his words really mean? The governor’s stance on “public security” is often compared to the current right-wing extremist President Jair Bolsonaro. Lest we forget, shortly after taking office in 2015, Costa’s Military Police savagely slaughtered 12 young black males and wounded 6 others in an action that has been labeled the “Chacina do Cabula” (Cabula Bloodbath).
In another headline making incident from June of 2018, in Salvador’s Largo do Santo Antônio region, a German tourist recorded MPs assaulting another young black male with slaps, punches and baton strikes in a video lasting 11 minutes. With shocked onlookers screaming “stop” and “cowards”, one of the police crossed the street in the direction of one of the protestors, a three-month pregnant black woman. The MP proceeds slap and punch the woman, as well as pull her hair leading her in the direction of the police truck. These are just two of the numerous complaints of Bahia’s brutal Military Police.
Speaking to a newspaper, the woman was assaulted and refused to identify herself out of fear of police retaliation said:
“I felt humiliated, impotent, discriminated against. I was beaten in front of my daughters. There were a lot of white people there screaming too. Why didn’t you get a white man? He grabs a black woman, pregnant, who lives in a hole in the wall…”
The general coordinator of the Collective of Black Entities (CEN), Marcos Rezende, commented on the case and said that he expects the police involved to go through the disciplinary legal measures of the Military Police itself. In his opinion, the police authorities have acted in this way, not only because of racism, but also because people from peripheral neighborhoods are treated as if they have fewer rights.
Still according to him, situations like that of the young man could be avoided if the vehicles had cameras. Rezende believes that, in this way, the agents filmed would think about the risks of violent approaches.
“As much as these cases are treated as isolated, there is a sequence of these isolated cases that becomes routine, the norm. And this is shaping the idea that this is the police procedure, but it is not. Police training must be changed. The police receive training that does not make human rights important. Nobody sees this police stress in an upscale neighborhood,” said Rezende.
Person who recorded the video of the aggression has also been threatened
As if the victim, his girlfriend and mother being terrorized weren’t enough, we now also know that the person responsible for recording the video is being threatened by Military Police in the same neighborhood where the incident occurred.
An activist of the Collective of Black Entities (CEN) and collaborator of the institution’s projects, said the institution is keeping their eyes on the young man responsible for recording the incident.
The MP Internal Affairs PM is being called by the lawyers of the entity, who have already acted in several other cases of the sort. The General Command of the Military Police was also called into by the National Coordination of CEN, which is also guaranteeing the protection of the youth.
Needless to say, this case is simply all around appalling, but again, after everything I’ve seen, I can’t pretend that I’m at all surprised by this case. This sort of situation has become far too normalized by a nation that is far too accustomed with seeing such violence perpertrated against the black community.