Do black lives matter in Brazil?

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| March 08 2016,

00:30 am

In recent years, divisions within America have widened due to the frequency of high profile cases of shooting deaths involving white cops and unarmed black suspects. It seems like every couple of weeks, our hearts, minds and social media platforms are captured by a new hashtag. But although the very heated issue of police brutality grips America’s focus, another country in the Americas suffers this problem to an even greater degree.

According to the Anuário Brasilerio de Segurança Publica (Brazil’s annual public safety report), an average of six people were killed by police per day from 2009 to 2013. To put that statistic in further context, Brazilian police have killed more civilians in 5 years than U.S police have in the last 30, and about 80 percent of these victims are young, poor and Afro-Brazilian citizens of the country’s favelas.

If this rate continued into 2016, Brazilian police would have killed 390 people so far, compared to the U.S. law enforcement’s 183 currently counted by The Guardian. Some organizations suggest that the statistics could even be higher, because not all states in Brazil report their police-involved murders.

Much like in the U.S., Brazil’s police are rarely indicted for these shooting deaths. Amnesty International reviewed 220 investigations of police killings opened in 2011 in the city of Rio de Janeiro and found that in 2015, only one case led to a police officer being charged. Many cases are listed as “resistance followed by death,” similar to the “I was scared for my life” defense by officers here in the states. But from 2010 to 2015, an astounding 16 percent of all homicides in international tourism hot-spot Rio de Janeiro were committed by on-duty police officers.

The Brazilian military has been accused of violating citizens’ rights to peaceful assembly. There are reports of police firing tear gas, stun grenades and killing protesters. One example is in 2014, when residents of the Pavao-Pavaozinho favela protested the death of Douglas Rafael da Silva Pareira, a 25-year-old popular dancer who was killed by police who 'mistook' him for a drug trafficker. When protesters took to the street over Pareira’s death, another man was killed and others were injured. This happened just two months before the Olympics, and international watchdog organization Human Rights Watch has reported several other extra-judicial killings.

But Brazilians have still galvanized in several protests against police brutality and different social issues such as the public transportation fare increase, the lavish spending for Carnival instead of Brazil’s infrastructure, teacher strikes and more. Groups such as “Reaja Ou Será Morto” (React or Die), Brazil’s older version of #BlackLivesMatter, formed around 2005 to fight against what it calls “the genocide of black poor."

The Zika virus outbreak has pushed this human rights crisis to the periphery of international news coverage. This might be due to a combination of factors: The charitable response for Zika research, mainstream audiences are more concerned with how the virus affects their tourism, police violence is more isolated and in the favelas away from the cities, the Brazilian government might be diminishing the rights of their free press, etc.

Much like America, this gorgeous, tropical, culturally-diverse nation is a tale of two countries. This crisis is alarming for the citizens of Brazil, but it also furthers the framing of state violence against countries’ black and/or minority populations in an international context.

It begs the question: Where do black lives matter?

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Joshua Adams is an arts & culture journalist with a M.A. in Journalism from USC. He currently works as a freshman English teacher on Chicago’s south side, and as a journalism teaching artist for Young Chicago Authors, a non-profit focusing on youth empowerment through performance art. His writings often explain current and historical cultural phenomenon through personal narratives. Writing and music are his biggest passions, connecting the dots is his life goal. Chicago is where his heart beat at. Twitter & IG: @iRockJoshA

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