The Enduring Voices and Legacy of the Mothers of Acari #AcariMassacre30Years

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On Monday, July 26, a symbolic protest marking the 30th Anniversary of the Acari Massacre, organized by the Fala Akari Collective—with authorization from the two living Mothers of Acari (Mães de Acari)—kicked off the 5th Annual Edition of Black July (Julho Negro), uniting voices of mourning and struggle from yesterday and today against state violence. The march #ChacinaDeAcari30Anos (#AcariMassacre30Years) took to the streets and alleys of the favela of Acari in Rio de Janeiro’s North Zone to mark the three decades since the crime. 

In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, the activists chose not to issue a public call for participation in the protest in order to avoid crowding. This was the only in-person event of this year’s Black July, which is occurring through a series of online events. The action in memory of the eleven youth assassinated in the Acari Massacre began on social networks with a Twitter campaign carried out on July 24.

“It’s not just any day. It’s thirty years without a response. Thirty years of impunity for the state. People say that Brazil is a country of impunity, but it depends—for whom? The prisons are full of our brothers, fathers, and partners, but the executors and those who ordered this massacre and those of others [in favelas] are never arrested or respond for their crimes,” emphasized Buba Aguiar, 28, a member of the Fala Akari Collective and resident of the community.

Favela of Acari, July 26, 2020

Sitting on the edge of a sidewalk beside a statue of a child with rifle capsules in hand is José Luís Faria da Silva, 59. He lost his two-year-old son to a stray bullet. A woman with long hair smokes a cigarette: it is Bruna Silva, 38, another victim of state violence. She holds in her hands a threadbare shirt stained with the blood of her son, Marcos Vinícius, 14, who was killed after being targeted by an armored police vehicle.

Marcos Vinícius' school uniform, in which he was killed, at 14 years, on his way to school during a police operation in the favela of Maré

Bianca Costa, 23, carries a framed photo of a smiling girl also dressed in a school T-shirt. The mother of the smiling girl, Rosilene Costa, 56, protected by her son, carries the same image, stamped on the chest of her blouse. Her daughter Maria Eduarda, 13, was shot dead with a rifle while inside her school building. Ana Paula de Oliveira, 43, is leaning on the gate of the Ronaldo Gazolla Hospital. She had her motherhood ripped from her when her son, Johnatha de Oliveira Lima, 19, was shot in the back by a military police officer. 

In spite of the different first and last names (or not), all of them were born separate, but today are part of the same family. They live a continued motherhood through the transformation of the pain of mourning into struggle. They are mothers and fathers, victims of state violence. They lost their children to assassinations or forced disappearances, as occurred to the Mothers of Acari. “We are only one. One is all. The bullet that killed my child was the same that killed the 11 young people of Acari!” cried Oliveira of the Mothers of Manguinhos movement.

In this scenario, today’s voices of the family members of young people assassinated by state agents propose not just to be the living voices of their dead children, but also the living voices of the dead of yesterday, of other mothers who are victims of violence, like the Mothers of Acari. It is a recognition of the pioneering struggle of the Mothers of Acari for justice, memory, and truth in the face of police violence. “We are not warriors. It was not a choice. Like them, we did not have an option,” said Oliveira. 

On July 26, 1990, a group of young people, seven of them minors, were kidnapped by men identified as Military Police. That is where the struggle began of 11 mothers searching for their children, who disappeared without a trace. Only a van that took the group to a rural site in Magé, in the Baixada Fluminense, was found. The Mothers of Acari movement came to be through the pain of mourning, the name given in reference to the fact that the majority of victims lived in the favela of Acari, in the North Zone

It is an experience similar to that of Argentina’s Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, who lost their children due to a military dictatorship and still today search for the bodies of their children and even grandchildren. The difference is that in Brazil, the military dictatorship had already ended five years prior, while many of the police practices that had been used had not. Among them, the practice of police acting vigilante-style through extermination groups like the Running Horses (Cavalos Corredores), active in the 1990s and also responsible for other assassinations, like the Candelária Massacre.

The Mothers of Acari movement has an unprecedented importance in the fight against police violence—fruit of the military dictatorship—but principally against Brazilian structural racism that produces the genocide of the nation’s black people, especially those who live in the country’s favelas and urban peripheries.

Three decades after the crime, only two of the mothers are still alive, weary of the struggle, but not of the search for responses. They work to preserve their health and no longer participate in demonstrations. “They are sick. They have physical and psychological scars from this pain. Every day is difficult, but this date is a mark. It increases the pain. Now, it is our turn to carry this legacy forward and fight for justice,” said Aguiar. One of the Mothers of Acari was so sought after by the media this last week that, according to the activist, she needed to disconnect her phone.

No Justice, No Peace!

The protest gathered in front of the Acari Hospital with an enormous banner, memorializing the 30th anniversary of the Acari Massacre. Families who are victims of violence, whose children were assassinated by the Rio de Janeiro Military Police over three decades, together with favela activists, walked down the main access road to the community, in the direction of the streets and alleys of Acari, crying “Without justice, there is no peace!” until they reached the Cultural Center of the Fala Akari Collective.

“The protest is to mark that 100 years could go by, and we will not forget. We will keep demanding answers, even as the legal proceedings expire in the justice system. In our memory, they will never expire. Our protest is to mark 30 years since the massacre [to the broader] society, but also for those inside the community. This is the importance of the Fala Akari Collective and the Favelas in Struggle Movement,” emphasized Aguiar.

The protesters also carried signs with the names of the eleven victims of the massacre. The design of both the main banner at the protest and the signs alluded to the movement to answer for another murder: “Who ordered Marielle Franco’s murder? And why?”. Raised in the favelas of Complexo da Maré, councilwoman Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, himself a resident of Complexo do Alemão, were executed on March 14, 2018. On Monday, July 27, she would have turned 41. Signs that use the same design as street signs have become a symbolic reminder of the genocide of the black population of favelas and urban peripheries.

The signs with the names of the eleven youth of the Acari Massacre will go to a permanent exhibit in the Cultural Space of the Fala Akari Collective, where a memorial for the eleven young people and an homage to the Mothers of Acari will be constructed. Their family members received roses and together sang the funk song by Mano Teki that, according to them, has become a symbol of their struggle: “Today the quilombo came to say, the favela came to say, it’s us for us!” 


Pioneers of the movement against police violence in Brazil, the Mothers of Acari not only demand a response from society, but also denounce such crimes inside and outside Brazil. It is a struggle that even today inspires other movements and organizations of families who are victims of state violence. 

The eleven Mothers of Acari are the seeds of this type of movement in Brazil. They are the precursors of movements of families who are victims of state violence such as the Mothers of May, The Network of Mothers and Family Members of the Baixada Fluminense, Mothers in Mourning of the East Zone (São Paulo), Mothers of Cúrio, Mothers of Manguinhos, Mothers of May of the Cerrado, Mothers of Xingu, Mogian Mothers, The Network of Communities and Movements Against Violence, the Association of Mothers and Family Members of Victims of State Violence of Espirito Santo, among others, in a country with so many massacres committed by public security agents.

Nine of the Mothers of Acari died searching for justice, very sick with the scars of trauma, not only from the death of their children, but from the death of one of the mothers. Mother of Luiz Henrique and leader of the movement, Edméia Euzébio, and Sheila Conceição, her sister-in-law, suffered an ambush and were assassinated in the parking lot of the Praça XI subway station in 1993, after visiting a detainee in the Hélio Gomes Prison. On this day, they had discovered a clue about the crime.

“The Mothers of Acari are a force and an inspiration for all of us who, like them, lost our children. They are the pioneers of our struggle. We are here to bring strength and to say that, like them, we not only are not going to allow our children to be forgotten, but we will also follow their examples of transforming mourning into struggle. You know… this word… makes it so I have strength and I remain on my feet,” said Rosilene Costa, 56.

Today’s Voices Are Present

Maicon Faria da Silva was killed by a stray bullet in Acari. He became one of the statistics in Brazil’s count of homicides due to intervention by state agents. In practice, police do not respond to charges in these cases due to the argument of legitimate defense, or circumstances of risk (these deaths were formerly called “acts of resistance,” as Maicon’s death was labeled, due to their supposed occurrence after a person resisted arrest and police acted in self-defense). He was only two-years-old, and he was killed while he was playing with a water gun. His father has fought for justice for 25 years. 

“I am here at this protest marking the 30th anniversary of the Acari Massacre in memory of the eleven young people from Acari, for the Mothers of Acari, but also because I am the voice of my son and all who are victims of the state. We are the living denunciation, in present bodies, of the genocidal and terrorist state, that, in the daily life of the favela, does not give education, sanitation, or health, but it takes lives,” said Maicon’s father, José Luis Faria da Silva.

He added, “The most difficult thing is to fight for justice for our children. Because we are poor and from the favela, [we need] to constantly prove that we are people, that we are not criminals, show our resumes in order to be respected. I am illiterate, I don’t know how to talk right, but I follow in my goal to be the voice of my son and clear his name. And the fault is not only with the police who kill. It is also with the Public Prosecutor’s Office who does not arrest [them].” Since 2010, in all of the demonstrations, he carries a sculpture made by the artist Vandinho, which represents the image of his son.

Oliveira, resident of Manguinhos, is the voice of her son Johnatha, 19, assassinated in 2014. “My son was killed by a police officer who already responded to charges of triple homicide and two attempted homicides. This same police officer had already been imprisoned for one year before assassinating my son, but after, he was freed. I was obligated to fight, because when they assassinate our children, it’s not only the bodies that they kill, but the dignity of the victims and our maternity. All that is left is to search for truth, memory, justice.”

Rosilene Costa is the mother of Maria Eduarda Costa, a young girl of 13 when she was killed in a public school in 2017. “My daughter was in the right place at the right time. The police arrived and even though they saw a school in front of them, they shot! Three years have passed, I lost my eyesight and became blind in one eye, I don’t see, but I’m not afraid, because I came to tell the truth.” Bianca Costa, another living voice of Maria Eduarda, her middle sister, said, “We cannot become victims of stray bullets just because we are black. Maria Eduarda will not be forgotten. The family was shattered.”

She has recurring panic attacks, especially when there are police operations in the community where she lives. “I feel fear all of the time. We do not have security. The shooting begins—where to go? To the bathroom? Behind the bed? The shot enters, breaks through the wall, kills us. My sister is dead as proof. The police cannot act like that just because we live in a favela,” she protested.

Bruna da Silva is the voice of Marcus Vinícius, a young boy of 14 years, executed with a shot in the back, in Complexo da Maré, in 2018. “My son was walking to school. I am here to say that he and the eleven young people of Acari will not be forgotten, independent of the years that pass. We are tired of this genocide. Our children are killed by those who should protect them. I came to the street to try to change this country, for a better Brazil in which all lives matter: including black lives and favela lives.”

Every 23 minutes, a young black person is assassinated in Brazil. The numbers are from the Violence Map, a report by the Latin American School of Social Sciences (Flacso). In Rio de Janeiro, even during the pandemic, between January and April of this year, police operations and deaths increased

Watch Rosilene Costa’s remarks at the protest in the favela of Acari:

Photo by photographer Pedro Prado contributed by Buba Aguiar.

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