Note from BW of Brazil: Although one could argue that racism has existed in Brazil since its very founding, there are several stumbling blocks in addressing this social ill. One is the long believed and widespread idea that Brazil is a “racial democracy”. Two, even when Brazilians are willing to admit the existence of racism throughout the country, these same people never admit to being racist themselves. Three, victimized persons sometimes don’t recognize racism for what it is due to a belief in the “racial democracy”. Four, although victimized, many victims never pursue any sort of action against their aggressor, preferring to suffer in silence. Five, when a victim does gather the courage to call out their offender in a court of law, the judging of what distinguishes racism from a racial injury/slur often determines whether an aggressor goes to jail or simply get s a slap on the wrist and walks away free. There are many in Brazil who believe that racism isn’t problem in Brazil because there’s a law against racism. But the fact is, the existence of a law against racism doesn’t mean an aggressor automatically faces a severe penalty if caught discriminating against or insulting someone on the grounds of race. As the following article shows, accusing someone of racism is one thing; but managing to secure a prosecution is not as easy as one may believe.
Racists are not going to jail
Attacks are usually classified as an injúria racial (racial slur), which allows bail
by Raissa Lopes
Recently, racism has become one of the most commented upon topics in the national media. The impact is due to prejudiced acts committed against futebol players on the field, as in the case of a banana thrown by a fan at the athlete Daniel Alves during the game between Barcelona and Villarreal, two teams in the Spanish league.
If the case had happened in Brazil and Daniel decided to initiate a criminal case against his attacker, he wouldn’t be able to convict him of the crime of racism. This is because the Constitution classifies the situation experienced by the player as injúria racial, or racial injury (slur), which means “offending a person directly with usage of elements related to race, color, ethnicity, religion or origin”, typified in Article 140 of the Penal Code. Racism involves exercising discriminatory conduct directed at a particular group or community.
Rafael Santos, lawyer and professor of FEAD-MG (Faculdade de Estudos Administrativos de Minas Gerais or Faculty of Administrative Studies of Minas Gerais), explains that the law criminalizing racism in Brazil has 22 articles. They comprise, for example, the criminalization of actions directed towards one person, such as directly or indirectly preventing access of someone properly qualified for any position of administration or refusing to answer or serve a citizen in shops because of their ethnicity. “But any question related to the subject not being one of these 22 items could not be considered racism by the courts of the country,” he says.
Caught in the act, but released on bail
The waitress Veridiane Vidal was one of the many Brazilians who experienced the impasse of the law. Black, she was called “macaca”, meaning monkey, by her former boss, Lincon Vasconcelos, when she demanded that he had over her workers’ documents so that she could put in for unemployment insurance. “Some time ago he stalled in giving me my worker’s card. When I insisted, he told me to leave the bar and said that it was no place for a ‘favelada (slum dweller)’, of a ‘macaca’,” she says.
Shaken, the young woman immediately contacted the Polícia Militar (PM or Military Police). “It was the part that hurt me the most. The PMs, instead helping me, were the whole time repeating ‘are you sure that you’re going to open an investigation against him? You’re not going to get it.’ From this came all of my outrage, thinking of how slow the system is, and the Ministério Público (MP or Public Prosecutor) acts in these cases, with an even viler posture,” she laments. After the occurrence, Veridiane and the accused went to the police station to provide information, which it was labeled a blatant racial slur. Lincon was arrested and released on bail.
For lawyer Rafael Santos, this is also a point of conflict between the laws of racism and racial slurs. “The crime of a slur may prescribe, if the victim doesn’t express a desire to prosecute the perpetrator in six months, and is likely to bail. Racism is imprescriptible and non-bailable, which means that the MP could sue the one who committed the injury even if the victim does not want to press charges,” he says. The penalties for the two crimes are alike. By committing racial slur, a person is subject to imprisonment of 1-3 years. Racism can vary from 1 to 3, 2 to 5 and 3 to 5.
Racism vs. racial slur
According to Douglas Belchior, author of the Carta Capital magazine blog Negro Belchior, racism as a non-bailable crime by the 1988 Constitution was a legal and symbolic victory for the black movement in the country, but that does not lessen the impacts on the lives of African descendants. “The idea of racial democracy won in the mentality of Brazilians. The fact that whites and blacks live together and there were no officially forbidden spaces for blacks contribute to racism not being seen,” he argues. For him, characterizing racism as a slur is related to the constructed idea that Brazil is not a racist country. “As if the plurality and rights provided by the Constitution really were worth (something) in real life and institutions were not prejudiced. But the rule of law calls for evidence and how do we prove it?” questions the militant.
This is also Veridiane’s view: “It’s humiliating to be insulted, kicked out, and this only means a slur. It is ridiculous to note that, for racism to happen effectively for the law, apartheid must take place.”
Asked if there is any alternative so that a slur is also recognized by the law as racism, lawyer Rafael Santos considers: “They could include another new penal type in the law that criminalizes racism and frames what currently configures a slur. It’s not impossible,” he says. “But the question remains: will we be able to end racism by throwing people in jail? The racist will be punished, but does that mean he will stop feeding prejudiced ideas? It is a historical, cultural, issue that also needs to be addressed in other ways,” he says.
The state of Minas Gerais has no specialized police on racism. There is only the Núcleo de Atendimento às Vítimas de Crimes Raciais e Intolerância (NAVCRADI or Center for Attention to Victims of Racial Crimes and Intolerance), located in Belo Horizonte and founded on November 28, 2013.
Last year, Minas Gerais received 167 registries of crimes resulting from prejudice of race or color. The capital city of Belo Horizonte registered 24 cases. From January to April 2014, the state accounted for 66, with 9 occurrences in the capital city.
Source: Brasil de Fato