Fear of police violence and unjust accusations higher among the black population of Rio: UN Brasil campaign Vidas Negras (Black Lives) warns of ‘racial filtering’

fear of police violence and unjust accusations is higher among the black population of rio
fear of police violence and unjust accusations is higher among the black population of rio

Fear of police violence and unjust accusations is higher among the black population of Rio

Note from BW of Brazil: It’s question on the minds of many black people, whether they live in Brazil or the US: Why does it seem that police are more brutal and suspicious when dealing with people of visible African descent? In reality, the police are just an example of an overall thought process in which people see black people as being more dangerous or prone to crime, which is why a black man and a white having a luxury vehicle will attract different reactions. It is why a black man and white man wearing the same clothes in a similar situation will be interpreted differently. Before even approaching the issue, Brazilians must first acknowledge the fact that this difference exists. Reports on policing tactics, particularly in a city as violent as Rio, simply affirm what we already know.

Fear of police violence and unjust accusations is higher among the black population of Rio

Different studies and recent research has pointed out that, in Brazil, the violence is distributed unequally. One of the main markers of this inequality is the racial profiling of victims: out of every ten people murdered, seven are black.

Since the end of 2017, the campaign Vidas Negras (Black Lives) of UN Brazil have promoted the theme of “filtragem racial” (racial filtering) submitting to police stops, investigation and sentencing of more people of certain racial group than others. Read the full story on the topic.

Moradores do Maré relatam abusos cometidos por militares
Complexo da Maré, in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Agência Brasil/Tomaz Silva

Different studies and recent research has pointed out that, in Brazil, the violence is distributed unequally. One of the main markers of this inequality is the racial profiling of victims: out of every ten people murdered, seven are black.

The police violence follows the trend: Of the 4,222 deaths due to police intervention in 2016, 72% were black. The feeling of insecurity has also affected the racial groups in different ways.

According to a survey done in the city of Rio de Janeiro by the Datafolha institute in partnership with the Brazilian Forum of Public Security (FBSP), fear of police violence, unfounded accusations or having a son arrested unjustly is higher among the black population and favelados (slum dwellers).

In accordance with Samira Bueno, one of the directors of the FBSP who participated in the preparation of the survey, this is a result of the Brazilian model of public security.

“These fears have to do with the interaction of the communities with the police. If you look at the profile of the victims of the deadly violence and expressive part of prisoners in Brazil it’s the same: young and black,” notes the researcher.

The most recent figures on the penitentiary system, indicate that 64% of people deprived of their liberty are black, while the proportion of blacks and whites in the general population is 54% and 45%, respectively.

A resident of a slum with a Unidade de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP or Pacifying Police Unit) in the southern zone of Rio, the student J., 28, says that recently he and four other young people were approached by officers of the local UPP when they left from the community toward the Aterro do Flamengo – known place of outdoor leisure activities in the city.

“We were two women and three men, all blacks. They came without reason, with a hard frisk, as if they were already sure that they would find drugs or something like that,” he says.

“In another time, in an approach within the favela, I witnessed a cop commenting that if we were not in the south zone, they could already have ‘disappeared someone’. This happened after a person who was being searched didn’t lower the head at the time,” he reports.

Fear of police violence and unjust accusations is higher among the black population of Rio (vidas negras)

Since the end of 2017, the campaign Vidas Negras of UN Brazil has ruled the theme of “racial filtering”  – submitting to police stop, investigation and sentencing more people of a certain racial group.

Different materials on the issue were released, among them, a video in which the world and Olympic  champion of Judo Rafaela Silva speaks of a situation of a stop that she herself went through in Rio.

“It wasn’t a blitz! At the time, the police had slowed down and went to the back of my taxi. One hit the glass of the window with his weapon on and said ‘roll it down’, the athlete said in an interview granted to the team of the campaign.

In accordance with Samira Bueno, this is a problem that concerns the whole of the criminal justice system, not only regarding the police. “The issue of institutional racism is complex. The policeman who practices it can also be black. They are dynamics that have a relationship with all the imaginary about what is the universe of crime and this imagination is not only the police.”

“People think that the criminal is first a man and, second, preto e pardo (black and brown). So, those with this profile may end up running the risk of being criminalized a priori. The police are a reflection of the criminal justice system, how it operates. It is a cycle that goes from the approach of criminalization”, she explains.

Data collected by the public defender for the state of Rio de Janeiro, show that, in the capital, the majority of people detained is black. Interviewing approximately 12 thousand prisoners brought to custody hearings (see note one) between 2015 and 2017, the research concluded that 75% of these defendants are black.

The director of Studies and Researches of Access to Justice of the Public Defensory of Rio, Carolina Haber, reveals that in the hearings of custody, whites are the largest part of the defendants to whom freedom is granted.

“Yes, there is a variation in accordance with the color of the skin. When we analyze the indices of release, in general, separated by semesters in which we monitored, we observed that in the first half 33% 38% blacks and whites were released, in the second, 32% and 39%, in the third, 47% and 54% and, in the fourth, 39% and 46%,” Vera points out.

Among the people who have suffered aggression or ill-treatment at the time of arrest (35% of the total), 80% are black. In all cases of maltreatment, seven out of every ten attacks were committed by public officials.

Thinking of a solution to some of the modalities of abusive conduct of public officials, in Rio, human rights activists have create the Defezap, a service that receives videos denouncing criminal actions of agents of public safety.

Its creators call it a “tool of self-defense against ‘abuses'”. Lana Souza, of the Defezap team, emphasizes that the cases pass through an investigation to determine whether if there was behavior witnessed – most of the times, by cell phone cameras – is in accordance with the procedures taught in the police academy.

“The main work is the identification of patterns of violations, which are repeated in different territories, on different days, which are committed by different agents,” she explains. “I don’t affirm that the majority of users is black. I say that in the majority of cases we found black people suffering human rights violations. This is because it’s not always that the one who sends the proof is the victim.”

Since May 2016, the service received approximately 250 videos and helped forward more than 100 investigations of violations committed by public officials.

Samira Bueno reminds us that discrimination on the part of public authority representatives of security is not admitted by them. “They will always respond that don’t make stops because of the color. There is one thing rationally explained by operators and this is one of the complexities.”

“In the mind of the police, the person has characteristics that make him suspicious. In the protocol, in theory, in what is taught, the approach has to be the same in all cases. The question is how to decrease the distance between what is learned and what is being done in the street,” she says.

The main international agreements on human rights ratified by Brazil anticipates the elimination of all forms of discrimination. Some of these treaties explicitly address racial discrimination.

Ana Cláudia Pereira, an official of Projeto em Gênero, Raça e Etnia do Fundo de População da ONU (UNFPA – Project on gender, race and ethnicity of the UN Population Fund), draws attention to the emphasis given by one of these international documents on combating racial filtering.

“The Declaration of the International Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Related Intolerance, endorsed by Brazil, encourages Member States to take effective measures to eliminate the phenomenon known as ‘racial filtering’, defined as the use, by agents of the State, of racial elements to submit people to probing activities or associating them to criminal activities,” she recalls.

SourceNações Unidos


  1. Custody hearings are hearings held right after someone is arrested, so they are brought before a judge, who must evaluate the legality of the arrest and the need to keep that person under investigation in jail during the proceedings, as well as to verify any complaint of abuse and torture during the police action. Source: CNJ Jus
About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.

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