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Police brutality in Brazil

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Brasília, May 28: No, actually I did not want to write about police violence in Brazil anymore. The debate about it torments me. It's like with George Floyd in the United States ⁠— outbreaks of racially motivated violence keep recurring in this country as well.

Many Brazilians probably feel the same way I do. I feel powerless, and, at some point, I look away. It's a questionable attitude, I know. But, now I can't just suppress these feelings anymore.

Police brutality in Brazil

On Wednesday, May 26, Genivaldo de Jesus Santos, a 38-year-old motorcyclist was stopped by Brazilian police in the city of Umbauba, in the state of Sergipe, because he was not wearing a helmet.

Death by asphyxiation on camera

Footage on social media shows the man being tied up by three police officers and loaded into the boot of a police car. His legs stick out from the vehicle, kicking, clouds of white smoke drift out and cries of pain ring out.

A few hours later, Santos was dead. Even though the result of the forensic medical examination is not yet available, the preliminary result of the Brazilian forensic medical institute IML shows that the man suffocated, from tear gas and pepper spray.

The death by asphyxiation "like in a gas chamber" has sparked angry protests throughout Brazil.

"Justice for Genivaldo," writes one user on Twitter, adding: "Some of the triggers for protests across the country are inflation, unemployment, housing shortages, rising food and energy prices, a lack of security, murder of indigenous and black people."

How can it be that police officers execute a man as people film the scene with their mobile phones? The scene is reminiscent of the murder of George Floyd in the US and the many other cases of brutal police violence in Brazil.

Just a few days ago, police stormed a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro, Vila Cruzeiro. The police raid to hunt down drug dealers ended with 23 people dead. Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro congratulated the police in a tweet for "neutralizing 20 criminals involved in drug trafficking."

Unfortunately, it is not enough to lay the blame for racism and police violence at the Brazilian president's door.

"At the end of the day, we must ask ourselves if structural racism is not rooted in each and every one of us," Brazilian journalist Leonardo Sakamoto wrote.

Rightly so. Racism has not been widely seen as a Brazilian problem even though Bolsonaro glorifies police violence and fuels racism. Since the end of the military dictatorship in 1989, not a single politician in Brazil has made police violence and racism a campaign issue during elections.

On the contrary, crime and the growing drug trade have always been fought with more repression. The results of this war on drugs are devastating ⁠— according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Brazil has now risen to become the largest market for cocaine consumption in Latin America.

Majority of murder victims are black

Brazil's murder rate has also increased. In 1990, a total of 31,000 people were murdered in Brazil. In 2021, the figure was 41,000, according to the Brazilian Forum of Public Security, FBSP. Of that, 76% of murder victims are black, although black Brazilians make up only 53% of the total population.

Police brutality in Brazil

Racism is an insult to God, former Brazilian Archbishop Dom Helder Camara would say. The "Red Bishop" of Recife, who resisted Brazil's military dictatorship, coined the phrase "poverty is an insult to God."

Racism and racist violence should rise to the top of the political agenda and become the number one election issue in Brazil. The debate around it would give voters the chance to end their own perceived political powerlessness and the perceived powerlessness of millions of people around the world.

On October 2, Brazil will elect a new president as well as a new Congress, new state governments and legislative assemblies in 27 states.

It's an opportunity for collective catharsis. The struggle against the legacy of slavery and colonialism, which manifests itself to this day in brutal violence against the black population in Brazil, is more important than the "war on drugs."

Source: DW

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