AFRICANGLOBE – Note: Sure there are plenty of things of which one can like about Brazil. But police murders and violent oppression of poor, mostly Black neighborhoods is not one of them. As previous reports have shown, the number of homicides coming out of Brazil are more synonymous with a country at war than a country that officially ended a 21 year military dictatorship nearly 30 years ago. And although people still don’t like to admit the influence of race, the irrefutable fact is that such violence affects Black Brazilians much more than those who are considered White.
Considering such violence, there is also evidence that this constant victimizing of the poor, Black population is actually an agenda that was planned decades ago. A powerful documentary will attempt to give voice to some of the many Black faces who have mourned the deaths of friends and family members that were victims of these shocking massacres that are far too regular a part of Brazilian life than many would like to admit.
I still can’t forget the testimony of Vera Lucia dos Santos in the documentary À Queima Roupa (At Point Blank), by Thereza Jessouron, which premieres on Thursday, the 13th, in São Paulo theaters. To tell the truth, I will never forget it. Vera is dressed in all black and her figure has the sobriety of evangelical matriarchs of Brazilian slums. She is a mixture of Black and Indian. She lived in Vigário Geral when, in August 1993, 21 residents were killed by police. Eight victims were from her family.
Her father, her mother, five brothers and a sister had just come home after church. They were executed in cold blood by the police. Only three children under five years of age were spared. With their little teddy bear and clown pajamas, they went to ask for help at the nearby home of their aunt. In the film, Vera tells how she found the bodies of her relatives after the massacre. Her mother had her bible in hand. Her brother died on his knees, holding the documents that he attempted to show the police. One of her sisters was to marry within days. Another would release an Evangelical CD. The sister who tried to defend her parents had her fingers broken by police.
I ask of the reader, with all due respect, for an effort of abstraction. Imagine a vengeance with such cruelty practiced by the police against residents of Pinheiros in São Paulo, Leblon in Rio, or Stella Maris in Salvador. Parents trained in public universities, with their children in private schools, all White, seven bodies lying in the dining room to satiate the revenge and hatred of the police marginals. Let’s not be hypocrites. That would be unthinkable. It is unimaginable. The state would not tolerate the consequences.
We only tolerate the scenes from the documentary À Queima Roupathat repeat themselves with absurd frequency in Brazil, because the victims are poor Black Brazilians from the peripheries. Watch the documentary and see for yourself. It is irrefutable proof. Only a cynic or a liar could deny it.
Still in the scene from the Vigário Geral, as Vera describes in detail the position of the bodies of her relatives, the documentary shows photographs taken at the time by the police forensics. The overlapping of images and narrative is a punch in the stomach: where the blood of her sister flowed, which part of her brother was wounded, etc., the scenes remained intact in Vera’s memory. Also how the sky was, the period of the moon, the last words spoken to her father. Vera was condemned by the system to carry on her shoulders for a lifetime a massive cross that weighs tons. She only managed to reduce the weight thanks to the greatness of her spirit, that forgave the murderers.
21 people were murdered in Vigário Geral in revenge for the death of four soldiers who had been executed by drug traffickers on the previous night. Men, women and children were killed in Vigário Geral only because of living in the same neighborhood where the police were attacked. At the time, there was outrage. Rio was governed by Leonel Brizola and Nilo Batista was the Secretary of Security. Both reacted strongly.
Only the years have passed on. And vendettas and random killings of the poor have reoccurred. In January 2005, 30 people were killed by police in the Baixada Fluminense. The previous year, five teenagers were killed in Caju. In 2007, I climbed the morro (hill) in the Complexo do Alemão and witnessed next day following the execution of 19 local residents. Homes of women and elderly were raided by police to serve as trenches. Radios from stolen cars, extorted shopkeepers, crimes against the poor of Alemão by police with a carte blanche from society to kill.
In São Paulo, there was Carandirú in 1992, with 111 deaths. More recently, after the PCC (1) attacks in 2006, 493 people were killed by shots from a firearm in early May. Workers caught in the middle of the streets of poor neighborhoods; police playing Russian roulette with the destiny of assassinating those who unfortunately were on the streets of the peripheries. Mães de Maio (Mothers of May) are the result of the mobilization against this cowardice that keeps repeating itself. Watching the movie was especially cruel because the day before nine people had been murdered in the slums of Belém in the state of Pará.
À Queima Roupa should be discussed in all the law departments and police academies of Brazil. Our prosecutors, police and judges are being trained in a plastic bubble. We need to talk to them about the reality of Brazilian wounds.
By: Bruno Paes Manso