Why are Brazilians indifferent to the death of blacks, unlike in the US?

Protesters in Rio de Janeiro in February 2013 and in New York December 2014
Protesters in Rio de Janeiro in February 2013 and in New York December 2014 protest police violence

Note from BW of Brazil: The title of this article has been a question that has been asked for some time since the murders of unarmed black men in New York and Ferguson, lack of police accountability and subsequent protests. Denise Ferreira da Silva, for example, asks, ‘Why is no one counting the thousands of deaths of black youth in Brazil resulting from police actions?’ while PRI suggests that ‘police violence in the US could help spark racial justice in Brazil’. And it‘s not like there isn’t a need for racial justice. Parents of victims in heavily Afro-Brazilian state of Bahia can attest to this

The title is for the most part a fair question, but still a little misleading. In reality, protests over black deaths DO take place throughout Brazil, the difference that I perceive is that protesters in the US often keep protests going for longer periods of time, often enduring weeks of organized resistance while protesters in Brazil take to the streets for a day or two and then the energy seems to dry up. In August, for example, thousands across Brazil took to the streets in a day of activism against police violence in Brazil that, considering the numbers, is far more lethal than in the US. But again, one day of action and then the streets were empty again. 

Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri occupy streets in protest to the murder of Mike Brown
Protesters in Ferguson, Missouri occupy streets in protest to the murder of Mike Brown

The media has exposed Brazilians have to scenes from Ferguson and New York over the past several weeks so surely the question of the different reactions have crossed people’s minds. A black friend of mine in São Paulo basically summed it up this way: police have been killing Afro-Brazilians for decades and as such, when another brown-skinned victim (usually male) is added to already alarming statistics, there’s almost a numbing, “there goes another one” sort of feeling. So the questions remain, 1) what will it take to sustain street protests in Brazil? and 2) when will the media bring attention to the fact that the situation in Brazil is much worse than that in the US?

Why are Brazilians indifferent to the death of blacks, unlike in the US?

Courtesy of the PSOL site:

Sign: "93% of youth killed in (state of ) Espírito Santo are black"
Sign: “93% of youth killed in (state of ) Espírito Santo are black”

The small town of Ferguson, with about 21,000 inhabitants in the suburb of St. Louis, state of Missouri, in the US, became a big stage of the racial struggle since the death of the young black man Michael Brown, 18, on August 9th. He was struck down by six bullets fired by white police officer Darren Wilson, 28, in broad daylight.

The case has sparked outrage, shock and popular mobilization. Outrage over Brown’s death took the streets of Ferguson and then expanded to another 170 cities in 37 states in the United States and has had  major international repercussions.

When it seemed that things would calm down, in the last week the case gained new contours with the court decision not to indict the white policeman who killed an unarmed black youth, reactivating popular protests.

This scenario is revealing how much the center of capitalism is unable to resolve their problems, still having racism as a great engine of the deep inequalities of the country where the black population is subjected to higher rates of unemployment, police violence, incarceration, etc.

So it makes perfect sense these popular mobilizations that refer to the so-called civil rights movement that, between 1955 and 1968, guaranteed achievements for the US black population and deserves all of our solidarity and support.

What does this have to do with Brazil?

Recent data evidenced by the Mapa da Violência (Map of Violence) shows that Brazil, in absolute numbers, it is the country with the highest murder rate in the world. Only in 2012 there were 56,000 people, among them 30,000 young people between 15 and 29 years of age, and of these, 77% were young black men.

What is curious in our country is that these deaths don’t move (anyone), they are naturalized and most of all have institutional mechanisms that legitimize them as “autos de resistência” (acts of resistance) or “resistência seguida de morte” (resistance followed by death), where law enforcement officials claim to be in confrontation with the murdered people and investigations are not carried forward.

A fruit of pressure of the social movements, especially the Movimento Negro (black movement), is to be voted on in the Congresso Nacional o Projeto de Lei (National Congress Bill) 4471/2012 that establishes more rigorous investigations of the crimes committed by state agents and buries the acts of resistance. Its approval depends largely on popular pressure, considering the conservative composition of the Brazilian Parliament.

How can this situation be changed given black death doesn’t move (people)?

The denouncement of the extermination of black youths practiced by the police is not new. In 1978 one of the fuses of the mobilizations that brought about the Movimento Negro Unificado Contra a Discriminação Racial (MNUCDR or Unified Black Movement Against Racial Discrimination), on the steps of the Teatro Municipal, was the death of Robson Silveira da Luz in a police station in Guaianazes, in the east zone of São Paulo.

In the 90s, a period of the deepening of neo-liberalism, rising unemployment, increases in the so-called belts of misery, produced an increase in violence in the peripheral areas, practiced by the police very well reported by the Hip Hop movement and its Rap music.

In Brazil, when a young black man is murdered, one soon imagines that he was involved with something wrong. Ideas from past centuries, such as scientific racism that established a standard phenotype for criminals, are still widely used by police in our country establishing the young black as a standard suspect.

Reversing this situation is only possible with structural changes in the Brazilian State.

In this sense, important articulations occurred in the last period that have come forth with major political agendas, such as networks of relatives of victims of violence, the Comitê Contra o Genocídio de São Paulo (Committee Against Genocide of São Paulo), Campanha Reaja (React Campaign) in Bahia, Fonajunes in the state of Espírito Santo, the Marcha Contra o Genocídio (March Against Genocide) and more recently the Amnesty International campaign, among many other initiatives.

The strong polarization of the second round of the 2014 elections, the expansion of the conservative seats and signals to the right in next federal government point to a difficult scenario for progressive agendas, which will require a great capacity for action in struggle fronts and social mobilization to prevent setbacks and advance real achievements for the people.

May the streets of Ferguson inspire the black Brazilian people to stand up against racism in defense of a more just, humane, fraternal and egalitarian society.

Source: Diário do Centro do Mundo

About Marques Travae 3747 Articles
Marques Travae. For more on the creator and editor of BLACK WOMEN OF BRAZIL, see the interview here.


  1. I think that Black Brazilians are JUST stepping into their collective power, since they represent 51% of the population (and I suspect the number is higher). It would also be nice if some of the more prominent Brazilians – politicians, musicians, sports heroes, actors, etc. – would take a public stance on the issue. They only need to keep “waking up” to discover how much power they ALREADY have! I have been happy to see their pushback against a television show they do not agree with. I hope they will take this same energy into the realm of politics and social injustice!

  2. The Black Community especially in the Americas should unite but the problem is we don’t speak the same language. Far too many Blacks in Latin America are poor and don’t speak English. The same can be said of Blacks in America that only speak 8th grade English at best; only their excuse isn’t exclusively poverty.

    Anyway, the time to unite is now. Bi-Lingual Afro-Brazilians should be leading the charge to unite all groups.

    • There you go with your constant undermining of Black people and our efforts. I see Black people all over the US — even the ones who are not well educated because they go to poorly funded schools — uniting and standing up for their cause. You clearly hate (or at least, strongly dislike) your (Black) self. Oh LAWD I hope no one ever asks for your opinion if they are trying to move forward in life!

      I would also say that Black Brazilian empowerment within Brazil does not require them to unite with Blacks all over the world or for them to be bilingual for them to see success in their country (unless you are assuming Black American or Black English-speaking superiority over all other Blacks around the world).

    • Instead of coonishly regurgitating White Supremacist attitudes to other Black people, how about you remind them that:

      1. 2 Black students (THIS year) were admitted to 8 Ivy League universities after they received
      perfect SAT scores.
      2. The first live open heart surgery was completed by a black man.
      3. The first self made American female millionaire was a Black woman
      4. A Black man invented the gas mask and traffic light
      5. Black people (yes BLACK people) built the Sphynx and Pyramids of Egypt
      6. Black people living in the bush were performing cesarian sections long before
      it was discovered by white people
      7. A Black man was the first to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head
      8, A Black woman invented the portable fax, touch tone telephones,
      9. A Black man invented the cell phone
      10. 75% of African Americans have a higher than 8th grade education (though
      you will not see them if you only look at white supremacist news media)
      11. A Black man invented the elevator

      Black people will get nowhere if there are 2 many people like you who focus on the lack of perfection of Black people (a peculiar demand that seems to ONLY be applied to the Black race like no other).

  3. Im a black in America and in reading what you wrote about how blacks and more specifically black male youths are seen as the criminal phenotype, it sounds to me that Blacks in America and Afro-Brazilians have a very similar struggle. nothing is ever identical because of culture and everything else, but in America our protests are covered by our government as “violent riots” and so much backlash is pushed on us who take a stand with this kind of injustice because here as well, people don’t value black lives. Even some blacks here refuse to stand in solidarity with blacks fighting because we are brainwashed to always believe the black victim isn’t actually a victim and somehow, some way, brought the killing on himself. It also seemed to help keep the protests going when black people were getting support from other countries. We felt heard, and not so alone. So maybe Afro-brasilians don’t sustain for long because there is no real community support from other oppressed people outside of Brazil! Unless you do personal research, Afro-Brasilians are pretty muched erased from media. So I speculate that when the Afro Brazilian community is fighting for causes in Brasil, people don’t get the coverage they deserve, there isn’t a world wide eye tuning in and it goes unheard. And when ppl go unheard for so long, it’s hard not to feel like ‘what’s the point’. Idk social media has been INSTRUMENTAL in spreading the word about black movements in America, I can only imagine it would help anyone else as well….I hope my rambling was understood ..

  4. Bilingualism, and BLACK internationalism. These are the solutions to our problems

    Its surprising there are so many Afro Brazilians, but none of the pan African heavyweights ever went there….

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