In Brazil: ‘White People Running Are Athletes; Black People Running Are Thieves’

Posted: June 10, 2014 in Shorts

As the country prepares for the World Cup to begin later this week, black Brazilians allege violent treatment by police, and everyone complains about infrastructure shutdowns.

Posted: June 10 2014 3:00 AM

A suspect is handcuffed by military police during a joint operation including the CORE police special forces near the Complexo do Alemao pacified community, or “favela,” on May 13, 2014, in Rio de Janeiro.

Whether it’s a mural in Salvador, Brazil’s Barra neighborhood with the message “– copa + educacao” (less cup, more education); street art in Sao Paulo that reads “A Copa Pra Quem” (The Cup for Who?); or a message on Rio de Janeiro’s main highway, scrawled in black spray paint, that says simply, “Foder-se FIFA” (F–k off, FIFA), Brazilians are making their feelings about the 2014 World Cup known in as many public spaces as possible.

Many are angry at FIFA, the international soccer governing body. Others are angry at sanitation workers, police, teachers and bus and metro drivers who have been intermittently on strike for the past year. But much of the anger has been directed at Brazil’s government.

“Maybe around 70 percent of [Brazilians] don’t care about World Cup anymore,” says Rafa Hossri, a 27-year-old who has lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro’s Vidigal shantytown, known as a favela. “Our governments are doing bad things for people so I’m not sure if people are taking the team seriously anymore. Brazil bought this World Cup. Mafia and money talks.”

It didn’t start out this way. Most Brazilians welcomed the news when it was announced in 2007 that the country would host the World Cup this year. But when the government began forcing people out of their homes to make way for infrastructure demands, like road and parking lot construction and railway expansion, people began to protest.

The Brazilian government reports that 19,200 families have been removed since 2009. Some have cited figures closer to 40,000 or 100,000. Others have gone as high as 250,000.

Black Brazilians have been especially wary of their country’s actions.

In Rio de Janeiro, favelas are home to about 22 percent of the population, or nearly 1.4 million people, most of whom are black. After relocating many residents and arresting and detaining others, Brazilian authorities sent Pacifying Police Units (UPP) to occupy the shantytowns with semi-automatic weapons and armored vehicles.

“The police are trained to use violence against anyone that is suspicious or live in favelas,” says Vinicius Basillo, who lives in Rocinha, one of Rio’s 763 favelas. “They say they are here to bring peace, but there is no peace. The police in Rio, they are very violent, they are trained to war, not to [save lives] or neutralize.”

Rocinha is the site of almost daily shootings, residents say, because the gangsters who have not been arrested have been concentrated mainly in the center of the favela, creating a hotbed of rival gang activity and shoot-outs.

To Basillo, the police mistreatment has largely come along racial lines.

Posted: June 10 2014 3:00 AM

“The cops love to look tough and they don’t like black people that are dressed like gangsters,” he says. “[For them] white people running [are] athletic; black people running [are] thie[ves].”

Brazil’s multiple police forces, which have now grown to include federal, civil and military police, as well as the army, air force and navy, aren’t just in the favelas. They have become a constant presence in almost every public space, even in small cities. The country is set to spend the equivalent of $85 million on security forces for the World Cup, including adding 9,000 newly trained officers. This has already led to multiple violent clashes with citizens protesting government and police actions.

Amnesty International reports that hundreds of protesters have been beaten and injured while taking part in public protests in Rio and Sao Paulo over the past year, “largely at the hands of military police.” Most incidents have involved police use of “less lethal” weapons including tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades and plastic or rubber bullets, but during at least one protest, in Rio de Janeiro last year, organizers say there were credible indications that police used actual firearms to disperse protesters.

But there are those who say that preparations for the World Cup have done more to help than hurt Brazil’s impoverished populations. Luiz Ricardo Duarte, who lives in Rio’s Providencia favela, says that “real Brazilians” can see the positive impact that the World Cup preparations are having.

“The [government is] trying to connect the favelas to the urban space, with cable cars or new roads. Here, for example, we didn’t have roads or steps. Now they are building them,” he says. “And there have been social projects, lots of social projects for favela people. If you ask any poor people, for example, they can see a difference.”

Duarte noted education programs that offer scholarships to college, health initiatives and training programs specifically geared toward young people in favelas that were small or nearly impossible to run before the UPP moved out some drug traffickers.

“I think it’s a very good moment for the country and I really hope [the World Cup] push[es] Brazil to a good direction,” he says. “It’s like the Brazilian way. It’s not perfectly done, but they’re doing something. And it’s better to do something than to not do anything like the governments before.”

Dion Rabouin is a freelance writer currently based in Rio de Janeiro. Follow him on Twitter.

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