‘We’re Young, Black & from the Favela–We Want to Live’

Youth Protest and Devise Solutions to Police Violence in Rio’s Favelas

Following the recent North Zone UPP police killings of 21 year-old Aliélson Nogueira in Jacarezinho on April 4th and 16 year-old Mateus Oliveira Casé in Manguinhos on March 20th, favela residents, NGOs, community organizations and activists are coming together in a series of events to protest the disproportionate assassination of young, black favela residents by agents of the state. Beyond expressing their anger and indignation, the network, that includes the Rio de Janeiro Youth Forum, Forum Social de Manguinhos, Rede Contra Violência, Observatório de Favelas, Ocupa Alemão, Favela Não Se Cale, Apafunk, Favela em Foco and Imagens do Povo, are developing a series of proposals and initiatives to guarantee greater transparency, accountability and collective action with the aim of ending the systematic violence by police against black favela youth.

Last Wednesday evening April 10th, representatives from these organizations and favela residents from different parts of the city took part in an event in Vila Turismo, Manguinhos – near where Mateus was killed – to articulate their anger over the recent killings and continued police oppression and violence, especially following the implementation of Pacifying Police Units (UPPs).

Raul Santiago, photographer, resident of Complexo do Alemão and member of the Ocupa Alemão movement, was one of those who took to the microphone, saying: “In the media it always happens that a case is presented as an isolated incident, but if we stop to think, how many isolated cases are happening?”

The police’s everyday animosity towards favela residents, aggressive stop-and-searches, verbal threats and assumptions of residents’ criminality were all denounced in a series of speeches by favela residents and activists, detailing the broader landscape of police violence towards favela youth. The importance of speaking out and collectively demanding that rights be guaranteed was reiterated throughout the evening; as funk MC Raphael Calazans put it: “Peace without a voice isn’t peace, it’s fear.”

Taking signs painted by children from the community during Wednesday’s event, like one saying “I’m young, black, from the favela. I want to live,” the network of residents, organizations and activists held a follow-up protest on Friday morning in front of the State Secretariat of Public Security’s office at downtown’s Central do Brasil. Protesters and passersby used the loudspeaker to denounce police violence and state oppression of Rio’s favela youth during rush hour at the city’s busiest transport hub. Monique Cruz from the Rio de Janeiro Youth Forum and Forum Social de Manguinhos said: “This act at Central do Brasil today is for the workers whose children are scared to walk around at night. It’s to call on the population and discuss with the State Secretariat of Security to transform this relationship.”

Rio de Janeiro’s military police have an abominable record of violence, often cited as the police force that kills the most in the world. In 2011, 524 people were registered as killed by military police in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Commenting on the release of this statistic last year, head of the State Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission, Marcelo Freixo affirmed that the victims of this violence in Rio, and elsewhere in Brazil, are young, poor, black, have a low level of education and are residents of the favela and urban periphery.

This view is echoed in a report by Redes da Maré, republished by Amnesty International last Friday: “The security and justice system in Brazil remains profoundly marked by a notion of social control basically geared towards the criminalization of poor and black populations, in particular young male and teenage residents in the favelas.”

The article goes on to criticize the UPPs in failing to address or change this, saying: “The police practices in ‘pacified’ favelas are not managing to overcome the original concept of ‘occupation.’ It is deeply marked by a conception of the city that doesn’t include the favela as part of a community of rights to be wholly shared by all the people living in it.”

Favela residents, community organizations and activists refuse to accept what according to André Luiz of Favela Não Se Cala is an “elitist, excluding project for the city,” and are actively working on proposals and initiatives to combat police violence against favela youth and ensure the basic provision of the right to live.

Following the morning’s protest, the network met on Friday evening at the Manguinhos Park Library to discuss such strategies. Ideas included a smartphone application that would allow residents to document police violations anonymously and thereby map such incidents; including social movements in the training of UPP officers and promoting open dialogue with police; and calling for justice through creative communication such as viral videos on specific cases, such as those of Aliélson and Matheus which spread the word through real-time images of these violations on social networks in record time, bringing exposure to the North Zone UPP killing streak of recent weeks. A central concern is ensuring communication channels that allow residents to denounce violations without creating exposure that threatens their safety.

Friday’s meeting, a dynamic exchange of ideas around the conception that systemic state violence against Rio’s black favela youth must end, is just the beginning. Tonight–Monday evening April 15th–favela youth will meet again to develop a vision for the city that includes and respects their right to live. On April 25th, a group of representatives will meet with State Secretary of Public Security, José Mariano Beltrame, who called the meeting following Friday’s protest.

Speaking on Wednesday, alongside youngsters painting messages in memory of their friend Mateus on signs to take to the protest, Raul of Ocupa Alemão put it simply: “We can’t let our young people continue dying… We mustn’t keep quiet. It’s all wrong. We have rights.”