Cristian Andrade or Aylan Kurdi? Children Die and Communities React

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Police brutality in Rio’s favelas triggered a new wave of outrage on social media this month. On September 8 at 11:30am a police raid in Manguinhos, in the North Zone of the city, carried out by the Civil Police’s Special Operations Unit (CORE) and Homicide Division (DH), resulted in the death of 13-year-old Cristian Soares Andrade who was playing soccer in a nearby field.

The operation was an attempt to arrest the four men suspected of killing Clayton Fagner Alves Dias, an officer with Manguinhos’ Pacifying Police Unit (UPP), on April 28.

A graphic video showing Cristian’s body lying next to the community’s soccer field was immediately uploaded on the Internet, where it has received almost 50,000 shares.

As reported by the Manguinhos Social Forum community page, residents rushed to the site after hearing the shooting “in order to protect Cristian’s body and dignity, knowing too well how the Rio police acts.” This refers to the various documented cases of police altering crime scenes, for example placing guns next to victims’ bodies. According to Amnesty International Brazil, police tried to carry the boy’s body to their armored vehicle before residents’ intervention.

Manguinhos residents expressed their rage over Cristian’s murder–the most recent police killing of a young black male in the community–on social media.

“Regardless of the post mortem report, which will reveal from where and whom the bullet was shot, the incapacity of the State to fulfill its duty to serve and protect is once again evident and documented. It is inconceivable, under any circumstance, that an action carried out by public authorities should result in the death of a member of civil society. Is this war against children now?” wrote one resident on Facebook.

Amnesty International Brazil condemned the “unnecessary and irresponsible” use of force and weapons by the police and called for an urgent investigation: “Once again a child died as a result of the war logic that characterizes Brazil’s public security policy.” A report published by the organization last month shows that Brazil’s police force is the most lethal in the world, with 15.6% of all homicides in the country committed by police. In Rio de Janeiro, 99.5% of the victims of police violence between 2010 and 2013 were males, almost 80% black and 75% between 15 and 29 years old.

One powerful condemnation of the killing came from the collective Occupy Alemão, which addressed inequality, injustice and the historic and deeply entrenched racism of Brazilian society. “A black body on the ground as usual, more than 500 years after the invasion of the European demon. And the question is always the same: was he ‘involved’ (in crime)? How can you not be ‘involved’ if they took your land, kidnapped you and left you in poverty?” wrote the collective on its Facebook page. “The real ‘involved’ ones never have to pay. On the contrary, they get the best opportunities, eat the best food, sleep in the best beds. Where is Eike Batista’s son after killing a cyclist? The blond devil is on the loose. And our brothers? Our brothers are all in jail”.

On the same day as Cristian’s death, the Military Police’s Special Operations Unit (BOPE) carried out operations in Nova Holanda, a favela in Complexo da Maré. Local NGO Redes da Maré released a note reporting intense shooting between police and criminal groups, which forced many residents to lock themselves in their homes or find shelter in shops, churches and bars. Classes were suspended at the Educandário Sena Santos school in Parque União and it was reported that a woman and a policeman were wounded during the shootouts.

Local organizations Redes da Maré and Observatório de Favelas strongly condemned the police operation: “Once again the logic of war on drugs at any cost, which assumes favelas are enemy territories and civillian ‘casualties’ are acceptable, has prevailed. It is certainly not with this attitude that the State will guarantee peace and build a common sovereignty for all residents. On the contrary, in admitting that there are ‘territories of exception’ where, under the excuse of enforcing the law, residents’ lives are seen as less valuable, the State ends up endorsing police actions that may turn into real tragedies.”

Violent police operations are routinely carried out in Rio’s favelas and young black lives are lost with alarming frequency, yet the tragedies rarely spark widespread outrage in the media or amongst wider society.

The photo of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish shore after fleeing the Syrian civil war shocked people around the world–including Brazilians of all backgrounds–and drew global attention to Europe’s migrant crisis. However, children and youth killed in Brazil do not seem to trigger the same empathy among the country’s population.

Rene Silva, founder of community newspaper Voz das Comunidades, shared an illustration depicting Cristian’s body next to Aylan’s on his Facebook profile and in a different post wrote: “I can’t understand how we have different emotional reactions to (different) deaths and violence in the world. Last week, a boy washed up dead on a beach in Turkey and this image has been seen everywhere. Yesterday, a 13 year-old-boy was killed in Manguinhos and few newspapers highlighted it or are even talking about it. I often find myself staring into space and thinking how hypocritical we are, saying that the biggest problems are on the other side of the world, when we don’t even want to look at what’s happening right under our own noses.”

This contradiction motivated a protest against police killings on September 10. Publicized as a Facebook event called “Indignation against the homicides of black children in Brazil,” the demonstration gathered around 300 people in front of Rio’s central train station. Many favela-based groups attended, including Coletivo Papo Reto which over the last month has organized a series of cultural events under the title ‘Everything Is Wrong’ to protest police violence in Complexo do Alemão.

On September 15, a demonstration was held in Manguinhos just a few hundred meters from where Cristian was killed. More than 300 residents and activists celebrated Cristian’s life and spoke out against State brutality against favela residents. The crowd was touched by the words of Irone Santiago, whose 19-year-old son was killed last year in Maré, and of other direct or indirect victims of this perpetual state of violence and fear.