A Good Black is Dead black: Racism at State Capital City Hall
Note from BW of Brazil: I must say that this situation is twisted. When you read the entire story, there are some points that sound absolutely legitimate, while others seem a little blurry. Before I read the statement issued by the manager of the woman at the center of this controversy, I thought I was clear on everything that went down, but after reading the manager’s statement, I had a few questions of my own. I will weigh in on this story at the end of this post, so before I can go any further with my views, let’s first get to the story as it was reported.
Manager denounces racism at PBH after hearing ‘a good black is a dead black’ and ‘the place of a black woman is cleaning floors’
By Cristiana Andrade
“It was a year and seven months of veiled racism, subliminal messages up to the most direct possible. Since I joined, and I think I was invited by PBH [Belo Horizonte City Hall] for my work with black activism, I have suffered several microaggressions. But as I was looking for success for public policies for the youth of BH, I was leaving it aside and moving on. But now it’s not possible anymore.”
The statement given to the BHAZ website in the early afternoon of Thursday (July 1st) is from journalist and publicist Etiene Martins, 35, manager of Violence Prevention of the Municipal Secretariat of Security and Prevention of Belo Horizonte (SMSP), who reported episodes of racism and omission she experienced within the municipal administration on Wednesday night.
Posted on her private Facebook account, she exposes situations experienced by an employee within the working environment of the Belo Horizonte City Hall (PBH). Two of the situations are portrayed in messages from two of Etiene’s superiors – one from Municipal Secretary of Safety and Prevention Genilson Zeferino (read below on the print screen of his message to her, via cell phone), and another from her immediate boss, Márcia Cristina Alves, director of Crime Prevention.
‘A good black is dead black’
According to Etiene Martins, in November 2018, after her management held a seminar on crime and violence against adolescents and youth at the Teatro Francisco Nunes (theater), she was approached by a guard who was part of the BH Municipal Guard. He was watching the event and said, “Preto bom é preto morto”, meaning ‘a good black is dead black’.
Frightened by the stance of the guard, who also acts as a driver of her manager, Etiene soon caught his eye and asked him to apologize. “He said: ‘It’s a joke,’ but didn’t apologize.
Translation of WhatsApp message above
“Etiene: I need to speak to you urgently. I’m asking you beforehand not to make any legal or police measures based on what you’ve experienced today. The mayor has already informed me and warned me to solve the “problem” without making our weaknesses public. I ask you not to give it any publicity yet. This request does not seek to silence you or underestimate what happened.”
‘Without making our weaknesses public’
“Immediately, I went to the secretary [Genilson Zeferino] to tell him what had happened, but the event was full and there were a lot of people wanting to talk to him. He just said, “Calm down, calm down, let’s talk.” Upon returning from lunch, I received a message from him asking me not to go to the police or make the case public at that time. That the mayor had already been notified of the fact,” she says.
With Secretary Zeferino’s assurance that the case had been reported to Mayor Alexandre Kalil, Etiene waited a few days. “As I was no longer contacted, I decided to send an email to my immediate boss, Márcia Cristina Alves, Director of Crime Prevention at SMSP, asking for guidance on what to do and she directed me to go to the Office of Internal Affairs. I contacted Secretary Zeferino again via e-mail, and he directed me to do the same. He even told me that if I took the idea further, the work environment would become unsustainable and that he was even about to step down from the position he holds and as the municipal guard acted as the driver of the deputy secretary, who would take the position in his place, probably as soon as he left, I would be dismissed,” she says.
Martins says that the entire internal procedure was followed and she didn’t make the case public. “It was a conflict for me to deal daily with the guard who told me that ‘a good black is dead black’, specifically the only black manager in the secretary’s office! We were in the elevator, in the corridor, and since he was a driver of my manager, I started to do external work on my own, without using the transportation. The man is two meters (6’7”) tall and is armed. I was afraid,” she reported.
Internal Affairs saw it as an ‘inappropriate comment’
Six months after the complaint to the Office of Internal Affairs, Etiene Martins said that she had received a positioning of the agency with the following verdict: “They concluded that the guard’s comment was not intentional, but an inappropriate comment in the workplace. I felt wronged and the next day I filed a report with the Civil Police, taking the inquiry to the Office of Internal Affairs in which one of the statements that the guard admitted to was that he said ‘a good black is dead black’. He also said that ‘it was not out of malice, it was of pure soul and a joke,” she said.
She reveals that the day after she made the police report, her immediate boss, Márcia Cristina Alves sent her an e-mail with a clear racist tone in which she wrote: “After your argument today, you make me realize that to represent SMSP it’s necessary to have a white manager like Sebastião and a black woman’s place is cleaning the floor.”
In the photo below, the journalist and employee posted a photo montage in which she appears with Márcia Cristina Alves and the message reproduction sent by the superior.
Translation of above message
“After your argument today, you make me realize that to represent SMSP it’s necessary to have a white manager like Sebastião and a black woman’s place is cleaning the floor.”
“The fact that Office of Internal Affairs didn’t punish the municipal guard gave her the courage to do the same. I, already tired of all this, focused on work and turned a blind eye, but there comes a time when we can’t take it and along with my resignation, I sent this e-mail. The secretary assured me that he would investigate, called a technician from Prodabel to check the accuracy of the email, which found that the message had actually been sent from the IP of my boss’s computer. I was moved to another sector and the secretary [Genilson Zeferino] told me to be calm and that the process was with the Office of Internal Affairs and there would be an accountability.”
On the 28th, when she went to the Office of Internal Affairs again to check on the progress of the process, Etiene Martins officialized a new complaint and, according to her, was answered by the rapporteur responsible for the process in the reception corridor, in front of other employees and visitors. “I felt embarrassed among so many people. He told me that I would be called to testify and nothing happened.”
New Testimonial on August 20
Appointed SMSP’s Violence Prevention Manager of Belo Horizonte in October 2017, Etiene Martins has been a communications and health specialist and activist of the black movement in the capital since her youth. Former coordinator of Social Equality of Sabará City Hall, in Greater BH, she always shed light on the racial issue in her works.
After her post was published on the night of Wednesday (31), Etiene Martins says she was sought by the PBH Board on Thursday morning to schedule a statement. Sought by the BHAZ website for the positioning of the municipal administration on the case, the Municipal Secretariat of Security and Prevention reported that it is rigorously investigating the allegations of racism made by the employee (read full note below).
“After all this, they came to me to schedule it for August 20. Today, I still haven’t left the house, and I think it’s already done. I’m considering whether I’ll redirect the letter with my resignation. The good thing is, my friends and family are supporting me and giving me the support I need now. I regret that the Belo Horizonte Municipal Guard’s corporatism didn’t allow the case to be judged fairly. ”
Asked if she would do anything different, she said: “I was wrong at the first moment, when the case occurred, of not making it public. I was suffering alone and we accept these aggressions on a daily basis. I always thought about holding on a little longer, because it is an important policy for BH’s youth, but it didn’t work anymore.”
Note from the Municipal Security and Prevention Department of Belo Horizonte in full:
“The Municipal Secretariat of Security and Prevention is rigorously investigating allegations of racism made by the employee. We clarify that the episode involving the Municipal Guard agent occurred during an event promoted by the department, which brought together representatives of movements in defense of racial equality in order to build policies aimed at reducing the high rate of homicides against young black people, a theme that is the target of special attention at SMSP.
At the time, the procedures for the internal investigation of the complaint were immediately initiated, within the scope of the Secretariat itself, by the Municipal Guard. A thorough investigation of the facts led to the conclusion by filing the case against the municipal guard.
With respect to the accusation made against the Director of Prevention, the detailed investigation of the content of the complaint continues its process in the Municipality’s Correction Subcontrol. The analysis of the veracity of messages sent by institutional emails, disseminated on social networks by the employee, is underway with the same rigor.”
Note from Márcia Cristina Alves in full:
“1 – I vehemently affirm that this e-mail was not written by me and I even recorded a police report on it more than a month ago.
2 – The e-mail address to which the complaint refers is from May 22, 2019 and came to my notice on June 28, more than one month after its submission. During this entire period I was never notified of its existence or did anyone else become aware of this e-mail.
3 – Immediately becoming aware of this e-mail, I contacted the municipal authorities to request that the source be ascertained and as I vehemently affirmed, I had never written this e-mail.
4 – I registered an incident report at the cyber crime station, with material proof that on the day and time of the e-mail being sent, I was at a bank, 3 miles from my workplace, making a face-to-face transaction including using my fingerprints and filming of my presence at the bank, and the vouchers with the times of all transactions, in the presence of the bank manager, remaining at this location for a period of 01 hour from 12:20 to 13:15.
5 – I highlight that by the standard of email as well as the Google history, the referred email was accessed at 12:30 pm from a computer, not a mobile phone. In any case, inside the agency it’s not possible to use the cell phone and as I said earlier, the images and vouchers of the Bank attest that I wasn’t at the computer at that time.
6 – Besides all these material proofs, I have very important proof of my character and ethics of 27 years of work as a public servant in the defense and promotion of the rights of children, adolescents and young people, proven by the numerous actions, projects, functions and even publications about the Genocide of Black Youth in the city of Belo Horizonte. When I assumed positions in public policy coordinating Programs and Projects I always publicly defended the rights to life, liberty and justice. Throughout my professional career I have shared experiences with the most vulnerable communities, the most fragile people, and dedicated my entire career to these people.
7 – This fraud must be investigated and those who committed it held accountable.
8 – This critical moment in which we see social networks being used to destroy people, disqualify projects of interest to those who need them most, attacking people without any reasonableness criteria, (it can be seen from the content of the email published with my name that no person would write something of this nature knowing all its consequences).
9 – I reaffirm that the discussion about racial issues is fundamental, especially in this moment of crisis of representation. We have focused a lot on this in the production of SMSP data, particularly in favor of this slant in the IVJ (Youth Vulnerability Index), which is our main indicator for the implementation of PBH Crime Prevention policies. For us the fight against racism is a permanent action that becomes fundamental for the social transformations and breaking of the historical silences that we want.
In order to defend myself against an attack that I consider to be serious, IT IS NECESSARY FOR ME TO DEFEND THE RIGHT OF REPLY, MY PUBLIC COMMITMENT AND MY FIGHT FOR YEARS FOR THIS CITY AND IN THIS COUNTRY”.
Note from BW of Brazil: So, as I suggested at the intro, this is a hot mess. Let me first point out to readers that the woman at the center of this whole thing is Etiene Martins, an activist who has been featured in numerous previous posts on this blog. Her actions over the years have made her a well-known and respected figure in black social circles in the state of Minas Gerais. In terms of this case I will say that, after reading most of the article, I was pretty convinced that everything that was reported seemed to be pretty accurately reported. The municipal guard that Martins accused of making the repugnant, but unfortunately common Brazilian phrase that “a good black is a dead black” actually admitted to making the statement. At that point, I thought it was pretty much a wrap, but then a few other things caught my attention.
Number one, it is notable how even prominent black Brazilians in influential positions at times seem to prefer that racist incidents simply go away rather than making an issue about it. You get the feeling that one of Martins’ superiors, Genilson Zeferino, even being black, seemed to care more about what his actions could mean in the future if he were to take a strong stance on this issue. It speaks to the evident lack of power that black Brazilians have in Brazilian society. In other words, don’t make a big deal out of this, play your role, keep your mouth shut and perhaps by not stepping “out of your place”, you won’t be penalized in the future. That’s how it came across to me. But then there was the other issue…
Martins’ other superior, Márcia Cristina Alves, vehemently denied sending her a message saying that a black woman’s place was cleaning floors. It is a well-known fact that Brazilian society continues to believe that this is the role of black women but that’s not the main point for me here. I was a little surprised that a woman would send an e-mail with such a blatantly racist phrase which could lead to some negative ramifications for someone in her position. It made of all of the times I’ve worked with white people, some of whom I could detect didn’t care for black people or others who seemed to not have any problem with black folks. In both cases, I’ve seen where people in both descriptions expose their racist views so I’m not really surprised in either case.
Looking at the photo of Alves with Martins, I concluded that she fit into the latter description. But then after reading her denial of the accusation, I feel as if there are other facts that need to come out before I can make a true assessment of this specific issue of the case. If Alves denies she sent such a message, and she can prove it, I will need to hold off on any judgment of her at this point. This is not to say that Martins made a false claim, as it appears that she DID present a legitimate e-mail and it was proven to have come from Alves’ e-mail account. On the other hand, if Alves can prove she didn’t send the e-mail, the question becomes, who did?
Hearing a phrase such as “a good black is a dead black” coming from a municipal guard, which is a government public security agent and that can work in tandem with Military Police, once again shows how security forces in Brazil sees its black population. And considering the murderous relationship between security forces such as the Military Police and black Brazilians, I don’t take such a phrase as a joke. I take it as an
unspoken official unofficial policy. I will be keeping my eye on this case for further details.