Activists in Rio de Janeiro report challenges of anti-racist mobilizations during the Covid-19 pandemic

Members of the Favelas Na Luta front in Rio de Janeiro, share frontline experiences against state violence and the effects of Covid-19

Ativistas relatam desafios das mobilizações antirracistas na pandemia

Note from BW of Brazil: Funny how demonstrations and protests over racial issues seemed to take some of the focus away from the Covid-19 pandemic, but, as I don’t always accept things as simply coincidence, I always tend to see these things from a slightly different angle. I mean, if you really look at everything, you would have reason to see everything as a sort of well-planned soap opera or film. First, the world gets hit with the so-called coronavirus in which everyone in the world is instructed to stay home unless it is absolutely necessary to leave your house. Then, several months into the pandemic and directions to maintain social distance, we get news of the murder of a black man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, by police forces.

The ensuing massive protests, in not only the United States, but several countries across the world, including in Brazil that has its own problem with the violence and genocidal actions of the police against its black population, took tens of thousands of people to the streets. While the crowds have drawn people of all races out of their homes, we must take note that it is on the black population, both in the United States and Brazil, that the virus is having its most devastating effects. One has to wonder if there’s something more to this.

Reports have pointed out that, as black populations tend to have less access to health care, be in precarious financial situations, not have the option to work from home and also need to use crowded forms of public transportation to get to their jobs, these are some of the reasons that Covid-19 has exposed clear racial inequalities. They all sound like reasonable explanations, but I still tend to think there’s something else going on here. Popular rapper Emicida has questioned taken to the streets at this time as well. And for good reason. 

Whatever the case may be, some very courageous activists have been taking to the streets to expose the racist system but also to bring very much needed items of necessity to those who are in need. You would think that trying to do the right thing would earn these people applause and accolades, and I’m sure there are indeed many who appreciate their efforts, but the fact is, pandemic or not, the state doesn’t let up on those of darker skin tones. Again, it’s Brazil. What else should we expect?

Ativistas relatam desafios das mobilizações antirracistas na pandemia
Members of the Favelas Na Luta front in Rio de Janeiro, share frontline experiences against state violence and the effects of Covid-19

Activists report challenges of anti-racist mobilizations during the pandemic

By Edda Ribeiro

“We are taking action to prevent people from starving. We are not only denouncing the police action, we are facing it.” The comment is by activist Buba Aguiar, one of the organizers of the “Vidas Negras Importam” (Black Lives Matter) march in Rio de Janeiro. As of this weekend, the city still has no confirmed act. Leaders, however, tell the Alma Preta website the challenges of organizing the peripheries during the pandemic and the security measures adopted in the acts to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

In three months, activists from the Favelas na Luta front collected 550 basic baskets, 300 kits of children’s snacks, cleaning products, stacks of water, toys and more than 1,000 protective masks, delivered in five communities. In the face of police operations, in addition to the murder of young people like João Pedro Matos, 14, in Complexo do Salgueiro, other actions became priorities.

Activists list a number of reasons that, in the face of the pandemic, reinforce the need to take to the streets. One is the effects of Covid-19 in the favela slums. “While there is a policy of death directed by the federal government, with the absence of social and health policies to contain the impacts of the pandemic, every day we see the curve of deaths and contamination increasing. This is aggravated because this curve grows with bodies that live in slums, areas far from downtown,” says Marcelle Decothe, a member of the Rio de Janeiro Youth Forum.

Deaths from police operations stand out among the reasons for the mobilizations. “In Acari alone, we have already counted more than five deaths, in addition to two people being shot. We are still finishing collecting data and information about our dead, and since the State doesn’t do this, we ourselves need to do it. We haven’t yet been able to account for the depth of the damage,” says Buba.

Also a contributor to the Marielle Franco Institute, Marcelle reiterates that the mobilization and organization of favelas is not just the result of the pressure caused by the pandemic. “Our reality has always been full of violence, and we believe that collective struggle is always the answer to change and transformation. In this moment of global pandemic, something that we have never experienced in life, racial and social inequalities were wide open and amplified, so our network of solidarity and collective construction had to be strengthened also in the absence of perspective that our people are in”, she explains.

Police approach

On Sunday (7), activist Buba Aguiar left home with protective equipment in her backpack to participate in the anti-racist act, which brought together more than 4,000 people in downtown Rio de Janeiro. “Each organization and collective took items such as masks, gloves and alcohol gel to distribute. In general, many people brought their own kit. We advise people not to take off their masks to speak, not to touch each other’s hands. The health issue was a major concern, we don’t stop thinking about the care of the people who chosen to be there with us. What we didn’t know beforehand was the ‘rules’ of apprehension,” she says.

Demonstrators who were organizing the concentration of the act, in front of the Zumbi dos Palmares monument, reported police approaches on social networks. Like Buba, Marcelle was also searched the moment she arrived. “The policemen did use gloves during the approach. I asked them to use alcohol gel on their hands before touching my backpack and protective gear. Everyone who arrived was searched and people were detained for carrying alcohol in gel over 50ml. We were treated as suspects from the start,” recalls Marcelle.

Days before the demonstration, supporters worried about the crowd and requests for guidance on how to organize protests filled Buba Aguiar’s message box. “Organizing a demonstration is not the first step. The mobilization strategy comes first. Going to the street is just one of the stages. Mainly because of the agenda, you have to be very careful, considering the moment we are living in”, she explains.

“We are a network of slum and periphery collectives that have been operating in our territories for many years. What some people don’t understand is that we have mobilized acts for a long time, because every body that falls in the favela, we mobilize to scream. The difference is that today we have the media guiding anti-racism in hegemonic vehicles and consequently trying to co-opt this agenda,”adds the activist.

Among messages and calls for the June 7 protest not to take place, one of the pressures that stood out was generated on social networks after the publication of a video by rapper Emicida. For Buba, the path was to continue the dialogue and reinforce security measures, a point reinforced by the artist. “They guided us in the best possible ways. We pondered, talked about the possibility of not participating in the act. We couldn’t cancel it, it would happen regardless of whether we go or not. We started, we needed to define our struggle, life and deaths as well. If we hadn’t gone, the act would have taken place in a much less secure manner, in terms of health and the police threat at the scene. In view of the video, we called [rapper Emicida] for a chat, not least because there was no disagreement,” she explains.

According to Buba Aguiar, the organizers of the “Vidas Negras Importam” act chose not to call the public for protests on Sunday (14) in order to monitor whether there was contamination by Covid-19 in previous acts. After investigation, activists must organize new anti-racist demonstrations.

Source: Alma Preta

About Marques Travae 3477 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

1 Comment

  1. For context, the Ahmad Arbury case is what sparked the flame and George Floyds blatant murder was the 5 alarm fire in the states. Arbury was murdered in Jan or Feb but the perps were not arrested until months later. What sparked our flame was that the video of his murder, which was shot by one of the now charged people, was released as that person tried to seperate himself from his co defendants. Then along comes the brutal murder of George Floyd. People were already, though not as large and not televised, protesting the Ahmaud Arbury case. Then to see George Floyd was like dousing the flame with 100 gallons of gas. Same here in Rio……

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