Note from BW of Brazil: Beaches such as Ipanema and Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro are known worldwide for their beauty, view, sun and over atmosphere. But if you don’t live in Rio (or Brazil, in general) you’ve probably never heard of the “arrastão”, a scene of confusion that takes place on the beach when a group suddenly appears, snatches the valuables or personal items of beach-goers and then makes a run for it. Usually police join in the confusion grabbing suspects, putting people in headlocks, swinging batons, etc. Hardly a scene one wants to experience in an area that supposed be enjoyed for rest, relaxation, sun and waves. Let’s be clear here: stealing items of a beach is a definite no-no, but there are simply too many questions and complications of a social/racial nature involving the issue of the “arrastão” to end the discussion with such a statement (for a little more background on this issue, please see the previous article on the topic here). A recent piece by the US-based National Public Radio (NPR) didn’t come close to addressing any of these issues (please see a previous article on this topic also). As such, check the piece below.
The arrastão and the return of ‘apartheid’
by Sylvia Debossan Moretzsohn* of Observatório da Imprensa
Rio authorities promise to search buses that run from the North Zone, check documents, send unaccompanied children under 10 years of age to the Conselho Tutelar (Child Protection) Council. But who would the “suspects” be?
Summer sun, crowded beaches. Suddenly, the “arrastão” (translated as “dragnet”): running, panic and beatings
Police, almost all black, beating boys in shorts, also almost all black.
The holiday of the Day of Black Consciousness, on Wednesday (November 20), could not have produced more iconic scenes. It was on Arpoador beach on the weekend that a similar occurrence would be registered. What do the authorities in Rio do? They promise to search buses that run from the North Zone, check the documents of “suspects”, refer to the Conselho Tutela minors under the age of 10 who are unaccompanied, and strengthen policing on the beachfront.
Arrastão: confusion in Rio de Janeiro
What does the newspaper do? It reproduces the role of promises without questioning their meaning and their chances of effectiveness. Just ask who would be “suspect”, although no one has to be very smart to have an idea. Or imagine how the Conselhos Tutelares would work, suddenly crowded with children. But most important, of course, is the placid acceptance of the establishment of this form of apartheid through restrictions on the right to come and go; and forgetting that history repeats itself, over twenty years later.
The necessity of looking back
In 1992, on the eve of the municipal elections in which a conservative (César Maia) would oppose a “black woman favelada (slum resident)” (Benedita da Silva) a PT (Partido dos Trabalhadores/Workers Party) candidate, a wave of arrastões made headlines and offered fertile ground for the overflow of all repressed prejudice against the poor and blacks (1). One of the measures, then, was precisely to control the access of subúrbio (outskirts, poor areas) residents to the beaches, with blockages in Leopoldina and in the Central and bus endpoints from Olaria, Penha, Jacaré and São Cristóvão. “Whoever doesn’t have documents, a shirt or money for round-trip tickets can not board the bus from the Zona Norte (North Zone) and from downtown to Zona Sul (South Zone), on weekends and sunny holidays,” O Globo reported on October 22, 1992.
Author of a doctoral thesis on racism in the Brazilian press, the researcher Dalmir Francisco was one of those that analyzed coverage of that famous arrastão “wave”. In a paper presented ten years ago (“Arrastão mediático e racismo no Rio de Janeiro” or “Media arrastão and racism in Rio de Janeiro”) demonstrated the consequences of those measures: the imposition of a “pass” for poor blacks, mestiços (mixed race) e brancos (whites), determining that the citizens of Zona Norte could only have access to Zona Sul if they are properly dressed and carrying money and documents; the creation of an area to be protected: the Zona Sul, “which was isolated”, and the creation of a territory that would be a source of insecurity for Zona Sul: Zona Norte, “which was besieged.”
Dalmir talked about apartheid by the “discrimination of a geographically and territorially located nonwhite group” and “the explicit intention of limiting the right to come and go, preventing or hindering, through procedures of humiliating repression of individuals going from one geographical and territorial space (Zona Norte) to another territorial and geographical space (beaches of Zona Sul).”
The author notes that, at the end of the following week of these measures, “the beaches of Zona Sul were empty, heavily policed and at no risk to a arrastão. The apartheid was efficient: “youth of humble appearance, walking on foot, by bus, no shirt and no money, who wanted to enter the territories of Leme, Copacabana, Arpoador, Ipanema and Leblon were barred.” Residents of favela slums of Cantagalo, Pavão, Pavãozinho and Chapéu Mangueira, which lie between Ipanema and Copacabana, “also decided not to come down.”
O Globo commemorated: “Domingo seguro revive magia de Ipanema (Secure Sunday revives magic of Ipanema).” In the text, the celebration of the return to an idyllic and idealized past, free of conflicts: “Just like old times; a day of light, a sun party and even the boats gliding in the soft blue of the sea. The glorious Sunday in Ipanema remembered the time that visiting it even rendered music.”
The delayed “war”
Another aspect mentioned in the reports of the time: the creation of militias formed by frequenters of gyms and martial arts fighters to combat the arrastões. Precisely as it is now, as noted Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, who distinguished herself for her in defense of street children in the episode of the Candelaria massacre in 1993. On her Facebook wall last week, she says she was walking along Copacabana when she witnessed the scene:
“At the height of Constante Ramos (street in Copacabana), a group of saradões (buffed guys) were exercising. Five other boys were walking down the boardwalk in a group. They were challenged by the saradões, who said: ‘come to do an arrastão, come on. All the groups of Zona Sul are ready to catch every one of you.’ And as the saradões approached the group they ran toward Copacabana Avenue. I couldn’t stand it and went to talk to the boys from Zona Sul. They told me they made a commitment in the gyms via Facebook and electronic media, to unite against the arrastões on the beaches. They were prepared for this weekend. It will be a war and police will not have to give account.”
Police attended in mass, but the rainy weekend kept the (sun) bathers away. The war was postponed.
Note from BW of Brazil: So there are a number of issues to address here before anyone can jump to any conclusions. As mentioned in the intro, any type of robbery cannot be condoned, that goes without saying. But one must also consider a few things that aren’t being said.
1. In a city of vast social inequalities such as Rio or any other major Brazilian city, what is really being done to address the poverty from which many of these kids come from? Do you think you could live on R$500 (US$250) per month? Just to get an idea, as the Brazilian consumer market is dominated by US items, the prices of general products are exuberant. An average pair of Nikes can cost R$500.
2. As reports have shown, most residents of the favelas are regular, hard-working people just trying to get by. With that in mind, how can authorities distinguish young people who simply want to enjoy a day at the beach from those who are indeed coming to cause trouble? Should all brown-skinned people have to pay the cost because of the few that wreak havoc?
3. As with favela invasions by Military Police in which innocent people are often murdered in a “war on drugs”, there are sure to be many incidents in which the wrong person is taken into custody. As reported in a recent arrastão (report and video courtesy of R7):
“A group of teens promoted an arrastão in the late afternoon on Sunday (November 23) on Ipanema beach on the south side of the Rio. There was a lot of confusion and minors were arrested by military police on the boardwalk. Sun bathers gathered around the suspects and made several charges of theft. Some more exalted, tried assaulting teens. A man tried to throw a beach chair at one of the boys, but was restrained by police. The teens were taken to a police station in the region, but as no one came to press charges and as nothing was found on them, the group was released.”
Note from BW of Brazil: So here we have a situation of vast social inequalities with clear distinctions by race/color. A society in which the “haves” don’t like the “have nots” and fight against policies to make the system more just and then a mentality that associates criminality with anyone that looks like one of “them”. Ahh, Brazil….The place where people truly believe “we’re all equal” in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. Keep this in mind if you ever visit one of Rio’s beaches and your skin happens to be a little on the darker side of the color spectrum.
* – Sylvia Debossan Moretzsohn is a journalist, professor at the Federal Fluminense University, author of Repórter no volante: O papel dos motoristas de jornal na produção da notícia (Editora Três Estrelas, 2013) and Pensando contra os fatos. Jornalismo e cotidiano: do senso comum ao senso crítico (Editora Revan, 2007)
Source: R7, Ad Vivo,
1992 Commercial of debate between Benedita da Silva and César Maia
1. Some political analysts argued that the “summer arrastão” led to da Silva’s defeat because the population believed that she had no pulse to control the riots produced by funkeiros or funk gangs. Another theory postulated that “arrastão” had been planted on the beach to undermine the PT candidate’s election.