This is our latest article about Covid-19 and its impacts on the favelas. It is also part of a series created in partnership with the Center for Critical Studies in Language, Education, and Society (NECLES), at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF), to produce articles to be used as teaching resources in public schools in the city of Niterói, Rio de Janeiro’s sister city across Guanabara Bay.
In Niterói, in the Greater Rio area, for almost two months now, residents of the Viradouro complex of favelas, formed by Largo da Garganta and the favelas of Africano, União, Papagaio, Viradouro, and Cruz, have lived with the routine of a police occupation. Launched on August 19, the occupation is being carried out despite the ADPF das Favelas, a Brazilian Supreme Court decision that bans police operations during the Covid-19 pandemic, except in “absolutely exceptional” cases.
Responding to the legal requirements, according to the State Military Police Secretariat, the police operation in Complexo do Viradouro was reported to the Rio de Janeiro State Public Prosecutor’s Office. However, there is no information so far as to whether the public prosecutor has any knowledge of what the police occupation consists of, nor what justifies the “exceptionality” claimed by the State.
What is public knowledge is that the police occupation—which is installing armored police cabins to monitor a region at the edge of a municipal construction site—has brought residents of Complexo do Viradouro, in addition to neighboring communities Morro do Zulu and Atalaia, fear and militarization, with police abuses and human rights violations.
In this report, Eloanah Gentil, a resident of Morro da União, narrates the resistance movement organized by residents, most of them black, from the Viradouro Complex, home to more than 6,000 people.
My favela was invaded by the police, through the Coordination of Special Operations and Resources (CORE), the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro (PMERJ), the Special Operations Battalion (BOPE, akin to SWAT in the United States), the Canine Action Battalion (BAC), and the Shock Police Battalion (BPChq). The reason was a war between giants: the parallel power [organized crime] and the mayor of Niterói, Rodrigo Neves. They fell out, and now, somehow, we got the leftovers. Between the city’s mayor and the parallel power here we are, the residents of Complexo do Viradouro.
After three days of police violence and abuse of power towards residents, including abusive invasions of residents’ homes, the Complexo do Viradouro Residents’ Association decided to hold a demonstration. I went down the favela to participate. Despite all of the police coercion, I was motivated. However, something leapt out in that context: only the dark-skinned black women who live on the hillside or its peak had come down. The few men present had status, they were on the board of the Resident’s Association, and had no strategy for action or protection. They had no Plan B, nor were they open to ideas or suggestions. The other man present was my brother, Gugu (Alessandro Conceição), who is an activist.
There were many black women, dark-skinned—some leaders from the top of their favelas, almost all heads of families—who are the ones who keep the Complexo moving, taking care of it. On second thought, it is nothing new or absurd that men occupy positions of status, even in this moment of female protagonism. What is absurd is that women are protagonists and leaders and, purposefully, do not formally occupy that place. Anyway, in that very adverse situation, the union of women was already born to fight against the abuse of police power. Having said that, the demonstration did not happen. Euphoric, with our cry of peace muffled, we went home very frustrated. The agreement, between the men, was to return the next day, at 10am on a rainy Saturday, even with all the women saying it wasn’t going to happen. In a nutshell: it didn’t happen.
The days went by and the police violence and abuse of power only increased and, even though I was unmotivated, still very restless and suffocated, I talked straight to my brother Gugu and told him what we would do within our means. And there, it was the junction of straight talk with academic-“isms.” First we changed the name of the event, from “demonstration” to “protest.” I gathered the women from the favela, we talked, and we decided to hold a peaceful protest, with sheets that said #LarDeMoradoraRespeite (#RespectFemaleResidentHomes). We glued some pamphlets on our doors and gates with contact information for whistleblowing channels.
We took two days for production and organization, and I also activated networks such as the Center for the Theater of the Oppressed, Black Lives Matter-Niterói and the Union of Socialist Youth. The protest happened, it was very powerful, and I was there with the women from the favelas speaking ‘favelês’ [language and dialect from the favelas], while also using those “isms” with NGOs, the press, in audiovisual materials, to make myself understood [by them]. It may seem silly, but language is super important to be able to achieve something in the favela.
We changed the name “demonstration” to “protest” because the word demonstration has a negative meaning in favelas, both because of evangelicals and of the image portrayed by the media. Then we had to talk straight about the consequences that our action could have. Firstly, women demanded their names be protected, and lastly, they asked that there be no political intervention, but rather “us for us” (a gente pela gente). Thus the name of the protest was born, and on August 26, the peaceful protest “A Gente Pela Gente” was held at Morro da União.
The mobilization grew, and we advanced from virtual language to face-to-face: the Viradouro Cultural Artistic Occupation (OCA) emerged, a counter-occupation to demystify the fallacy that there are only criminals in the favelas; we work with the Residents’ Association, the Favela and Art Connection Institute, the samba school Folia do Viradouro and the local barbershops; in addition to mapping and getting in touch with the Complex’s artistic talents. Wow! Laborious, challenging, but we were motivated by the desire for respect and dignity, to be citizens within our own favela, within our homes. And on September 5, the first edition of the OCA was held.
We managed to hold four editions of OCA, all collectively, with increased partnerships and a lot of solidarity from the residents, children and adolescents of the Complex. We are even able to name those women, residents of the Complex, who are most involved in the occupation: Eloanah Gentil, Priscila Rezende, Fabiana Silva, Larissa Santos, Natasch Silva, and Aline Christine Santos.
These women revolutionized this moment of arbitrariness. Today, where there is a banner or a sheet with the phrase #RespectFemaleResidentHomes, the police do not enter, and, if they do, they enter with respect. As Lélia Gonzalez taught us: “A Black person must have a first and last name, otherwise whites will find a nickname… according to their taste.”
Our action in and for the favela will continue, we will always take the way of culture and of orality. We already have an activity scheduled for the month of October and another for Black November. All of this was only possible because we are seeds of previous leaders, such as Isa da Silva, Efigênia da Silva, Dona Marlene, Aunt Lia, and many others.
Born and raised in Morro da União, in Complexo do Viradouro, Niterói, I take my muzzle off to speak. With the Women’s Theater of the Oppressed, I use a collective loudspeaker to say that we will no longer accept the abuse of power and the extermination of the black people.
The favela is ours! Respect it!
Eloanah Gentil is a resident of Morro da União, in Complexo do Viradouro. She is a mother, a black favela woman, a cultural producer trained at IFRJ, a board member of the Center for the Theater of the Oppressed (CTO/ RJ), a multiplier of The Magdalena International Women’s Theater of The Oppressed Network, an anti-racist “artivist,” a versatile member of The Madalena Anastácia Collective, and an undergraduate student in administration at Estácio de Sá University.