Note from BBT: There is simply no way to get around the fact. In Brazil, if you’re classified as black or of African ancestry, your phenotype is enough to label you as ‘suspect’. Let’s be real about this. For the regularity of police stopping black people to persist after so many years, it has be because these are the orders they given. Several years ago, this was basically confirmed when a report in a newspaper detailed how a military police official had ordered police to stop black and brown people.
The order was quite clear as to the group it was referring to. Police were to focus “on the approaches and passersby in vehicles of suspicious attitude, especially individuals of brown and black color, aged apparently from 18-25 years, who are always in groups of 3 to 5 individuals in the practice of residential robbery in that locality.”
We’ve all heard of racial profiling techniques that been exposed by black Americans who have denounced the experiences of ‘’shopping while black’’. Incidents such as one reported from the Arden Fair mall in Sacramento, California, are clearly not isolated incidents as I’ve read about this sort of actions for years all across the United States.
Well, once again, Brazil has nothing to brag about. Black Brazilians are regularly harassed everywhere. In the mall. On airplanes. In clubs. You name it. And it doesn’t matter what profession they may have. Whether they are motoboys (package carriers who deliver by mopad), doctors or college students, the treatment is the same.
But I’m sure these are all just coincidences, just like the nearly 80% of victims of lethal police operations just happen to be black or brown.
Racial Profiling: Why are black men in vehicles suspicious?
By Marcela Lemos and Lola Ferreira
“At the beginning of the pandemic, five-days, I was stopped four times by the police. This year, there are two stops a week. They [military police or PMs] approach you, tell you to keep your hand on the motorcycle handlebars, search you, ask if you’re carrying drugs (…) I once asked the officer why he stopped me and he replied that I had a profile. What profile do I have? Being black?”
Motorcycle courier Alan Campos Oliveira, 28, denounces that police stops are motivated by skin color. The prejudice that rates black people as suspects goes beyond the institutional gaze. And the episodes are every day. On the 12th, surf instructor Matheus Ribeiro, 22, was wrongfully accused by a white couple of having stolen his own electric bike in the Leblon district of Rio de Janeiro.
Human rights activist and coordinator of the NGO Criola, Lucia Xavier, claims that the cases concern the so-called “perfilamento racial” or “racial profiling” — the act of suspecting a person because of characteristics such as skin color.
Lucia sees the problem institutionalized in different public spheres. The practice is fueled by structural racism—conducts that automatically place the other in an inferior position.
Racial profiling is based on racism and this is part of public manuals. It’s as if every black person was a drug user or favelado, meaning slum dweller, or was stealing. It doesn’t matter if he’s going to work. The racial issue in Brazil is present in the public structure: in security, justice, health. Everything works to criminalize black people”
Lucia Xavier, coordinator of the NGO Criola
Alan says that, in a police approach last year, he was grabbed by the neck and aggressively placed face-first into a wall. That’s because MPs suspected that he was armed, as he was carrying a device that measured his heart rate on his belt.
“The policeman said: ‘Are you crazy? You want me to guess what with this face here?’ But that’s the face I have,” he recalled in a conversation with UOL.
Actor Ricardo Fernandes was on a motorcycle in Lapa, in downtown Rio, when he had a gun pointed at him in an order to stop.
“I already go around with my a work card, now I’m carrying a passport thinking about the status it gives during the search. My mother always asks me if I have a document or if I can prove that what I’m carrying is mine. Black people have another survival format to preserve themselves.”
White skin is associated in the social imagination with competence, beauty, correctness, good people. It’s enough to have white skin for the subject’s speech to be immediately accepted and the black man to be turned into a suspect. And this has to do with our history of a slavery heritage.”
Cida Bento, PhD in Psychology from USP and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Labor Relations and Inequalities
Police trivializes search and law becomes ‘advice’
For this type of approach, the police must have a personal search warrant in possession, points out Hedio Silva Júnior, executive coordinator of Idafro (Institute for the Defense of the Rights of Afro-Brazilian Religions). Without a court order, only in exceptional cases, the lawyer points out.
“The rule is that the personal search was supported by a warrant, but there is an exception and what happens is that the police trivialized this search. The law is treated as mere advice even though the Supreme [Federal Court] has ruled that the search submits to unequivocal public embarrassment.”
Silva defends mechanisms for controlling police action. For him, the approaches must be inserted in a system with justification of the action in which the population could request access and the Public Ministry, to inspect.
Barriers to blame racism
Despite the emotional, psychological and financial damage, Alan didn’t register the case at the police station. For Lucia, young people like him don’t make police reports due to difficulties they encounter in characterizing racism.
She points out that most allegations motivated by racism turn into records of slander. The coordinator of Idafro says it’s possible to hold the perpetrator of discrimination accountable via the Civil Court even in the case of racism.
“Processes occur through evidence and, in the criminal area, the rite of producing evidence is more rigorous. So, it is recommended that a lawsuit be filed in the civil area as well. That way it is possible to give answers to the victim and punish the agent.”
From the blitz to the operating room: a doctor is the target of racism
At work, during leisure time and in everyday situations such as taking children to school, racism is revealed to the anesthesiologist Gilmar Francisco, 37.
“At the hospital they expect me to be everything but the doctor. There are people who say: ‘I don’t want to talk to you, I want to talk to the doctor’. I have had a colleague who mistook me with the stretcher carrier. I was once called to help intubate a patient. When I arrived in the operating room, the colleague said: ‘I asked you to call an anesthesiologist.’ I had to say: ‘I am the anesthesiologist’.”
Stopped twice in a police blitz, Francisco was forced to get out of the vehicle and answer questions about the college where he graduated.
“The car was stopped and the interrogation began. When I presented my CRM [professional registration], the policeman even asked me where I graduated and where my college was. Is this a question to ask in a blitz? I’m sure if I were white this wouldn’t happen,” said the doctor.