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BRAZIL
The genocide of black youths
Jimena de Garay, Lívia Alcântara
8/11/2016
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The possibility for a black youth to meet a violent death is exponentially greater than that of a white youth or adult.

On July 4, dozens of people, mostly black, were holding a protest in front of the Court of Justice in Rio de Janeiro where the third public hearing was taking place regarding the overkill, in November 2015, of five young black men between the ages of 16 and 25 in the Costa Barros neighborhood, in the outskirts of the city. On that day, four policemen fired 111 shots at the car of the boys.

According to the police version, the officers were tasked with monitoring from a distance a number of trucks loaded onto a train. One of the trucks left the train and supposedly was being looted by the young men who started the shooting. According to witnesses’ accounts, the victims were in the neighborhood just looking for something to dine on and the police officers gunned them down at close range. The policemen involved remain at liberty despite the fact that the investigation determined that the crime scene had been altered and that no shots had come from inside the vehicle.

“They [the young men] were killed purely and simply for being black,” says Monica Cunha, founder of the Moleque Movement and coordinator of the Network of Communities and Movements Against Violence, both organizations of political articulation against violence from the police and the state. Days after the third hearing, Joselita de Souza, the mother of Roberto Silva de Souza, one of the victims, died of grief and depression, this according to her family members. In a statement, the Network denounced that cases like this one are constantly taking place: “Since the establishment of the Network of Communities and Movements against Violence in 2004, we have mourned the deaths of the warrior mothers who fell ill waiting for justice to arrive for the deaths of their sons and daughters.”

This is just one more case among several others shaping a situation of genocide of black youths in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888. With the largest black population outside of Africa, the slave and racist tradition in Brazil manifests itself in countless ways, which until today produce devastating inequalities.

That past is linked with the existence of a Military Police that has been questioned by countless black social movements, but remains intact since its creation during the Brazilian civil-military dictatorship (1964-1985). Violent death rates in Brazil exceed those in regions in active armed conflict. And those deaths mainly affect a very specific population: the poor black youth, particularly male. Young black women suffer most other types of violence, such as discrimination in the labor market, sexual violence and the consequences of having their brothers, boyfriends, husbands and fathers imprisoned or killed.

Selective mortality: Young and black
According to the 2016 Atlas of Violence, prepared by the governmental Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), the general trend between 2004 and 2014 was the drop in the homicide rate in the white population (-14.6 percent), and an increased rate of victimization of the black population (+18.2 percent). Considering the geographical criterion, the increased number of homicides occurred in the northern and northeastern regions of the country, home to a larger black population.

These figures are even more alarming considering the ages of the victims. The homicide rate between the ages of 12 and 20 is significantly higher than in other age groups. However, the gap that exists between the white and black population in this age group continues to be excessive. According to the “Map of Violence; The Color of Homicides in Brazil,” published in 2012 by sociologist Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, during the period between 2002 to 2010 and in the 12 to 21 age groups, “the homicide rate in white people move from 1.3 to 37.3 per 100,000 people, a 29 times increase. However, the homicide rate in black people went, in the same period, from 2.0 to 89.6, increasing 46 times.” In short, Brazil figures indicate that the probability of dying in a violent manner for a black youth is exponentially greater than that of a white youth or adult.

The justification put on the “war on drugs” for the militarization of the areas inhabited by poor and black populations is behind much of this violent scenario in Brazil and hides altered scenarios, arbitrary reviews, impunity, lack of access to justice and a growing number of killings by the police. A large number of these murders occur under the justification of being in self-defense, translated in police jargon as “resistance” or “resistance followed by death.”

In the case of the five young men killed by 111 shots, for instance, the police officers planted a gun in the trunk of the car and declared, in the Complaint Report, an action of self-defense. However, early investigation revealed that the crime scene had been altered.

For Eduardo Ribeiro, a member of the Black Initiative for a New Drug Policy, “the policies to fight drug trafficking are in reality effective tools for the control of territories and the black population, and their ability to socialize.”

It is in this context, countless of battles against police and state violence have been prominent in Brazil. Among the main participants are the mothers of those young black men killed; they are linked to black youth movements and those movements in the favelas and in the peripheries of the city. In Rio de Janeiro, for example, the Mothers of Acari, a group of mothers whose 11 children were kidnapped and disappeared by a military-police extermination group in 1990, for years accompanied police investigations and exhumation of bodies in search for their children. The case was closed 20 years later without any of those accused ever indicted, leaving the victims’ families in the dark as to what happened to their children.

In May 2006, 562 people were killed in São Paulo, the result of a war between the police and the First Capital Command (PCC) criminal gang. Debora Maria da Silva, a housewife who lost her son in those bloody days, founded the Mães de Maio (Mothers of May) movement, which brings together mothers in search of the truth about the murder of their children.

“The mothers want to see justice and perform their own investigations,” says Da Silva to Latinamerica Press, adding that the mothers act by gathering evidence, testimony and by fighting for the crimes to be tried in more impartial courts.

Women protagonists
The sociologist Fábio de Araújo, in his book Das técnicas de fazer desaparecer corpos (The techniques to make bodies disappear) explains that in this attempt to transform suffering into justice, the grieving into fighting, the figure of the woman becomes crucial in a context of criminalization of the poor and black populations. The fact that they are women and mothers, allow for their political activity to be not only associated with drug trafficking, although there exists a constant tension.

Cunha, mother of a killed young man, says to Latinamerica Press that she is convinced of the change brought on by black women.

“We become warriors when our children are taken and incarcerated. It is then up to us to change that story, because we are tired of seeing our people being exterminated,” she said.

The Moleque Movement was born in 2003 in Rio de Janeiro and brings together mothers of young people who are in conflict with the law. They fight for the rights of their children to be guaranteed within the socio-educational system, in which under age young men and women, blacks in the vast majority, are serving a sentence for violations of the law. This is a system whose goal, in discourse, is the social reintegration of young people, but in reality it is supported by a punitive and racist logic which ends up generating more exclusion, greater involvement in crime and, in some cases, even death. Thus, mass incarceration also becomes one more arm added to the genocide of the black youth.

In this sense, the discussion on the functioning of the prison system, the decriminalization of drug use, the demilitarization of the police and territories are currently pending issues for black movements in Brazil. Ribeiro argues that all these issues are linked.

“The process of regulating substances [drugs], although it is an important step, must be accompanied by a radical change in the model of public security, with the demilitarization of not only the police but of politics. A radical reform of the judicial system is key, a system that legitimizes the deaths, by archiving processes and imprisoning by the color of the skin on a daily basis.”

In addition, the fight widens to cover issues that touch the precariousness of life of the black population, which has been historically excluded and exploited, highlighting the lack of access to education, health, justice, housing, the right to free movement, and to their own artistic expressions, culture and information. —Latinamerica Press.


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Mothers of black youths killed by police demand justice. / Jimena de Garay
Latinamerica Press / Noticias Aliadas
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