On Monday, March 21, the Rio de Janeiro Youth Forum launched a new app, Nós por Nós (Us for Us), specifically designed for favela residents to denounce police abuses in real time. After social mapping ten different favelas in 2014, the Youth Forum concluded that an application may help combat police brutality and provide justice to those that have fallen victim of abuse. The application has received support from organizations such as Amnesty International, iBase, the Network of Communities Against Violence, and the Moleque Project. Given the prominence of police brutality in Rio’s favelas, the Ford Foundation’s Brazilian Human Rights Fund funded the NGO Global Justice to donate to the Youth Forum in order to make this application a reality. The app is currently available for Android and will soon be made accessible for IOS users.
The name of the app comes from a popular expression of solidarity in Portuguese, akin to “For us, by us,” and Jhenifer Raul of the Youth Forum kicked off the app launch by singing “Quilombo, favela, rua” by Mano Teko: “Today the quilombo comes to say, the favela comes to say, the streets come to say that it’s Us for Us.”
For app users, security may be a major concern. For example, after the release of the video showing police in Providência tampering with evidence after fatally shooting 17 year-old Eduardo Felipe Santos Victor, the woman who recorded the video has been reportedly threatened by the Military Police. Users of Nós por Nós will have the option to remain anonymous when they send videos, photos or texts whereby the information will be coded and sent to the Youth Forum. The idea is for a small group of the Youth Forum to then pass the material along to the appropriate public institution, like the human rights branches of both the Public Prosecutor’s office or the Public Defender’s office, which will process the footage or information and provide support to or act on behalf of those involved in the incident. The app specifically bypasses the police due to the lack of trust between favela residents and officers.
The fight against police violence is global. The Youth Forum was in part advised by Witness, a New York-based NGO that has been training activists to use video to document human rights abuses since the early 1990s. Witness recommends that users record directly through the app to ensure the incident is saved to the cloud in the advent of a police officer seizing or destroying a phone. Witness has also worked with Youth Forum member Raull Santiago in bringing CameraV, a similar app for recording abuses, to Rio’s favelas. Social media has been a powerful force globally, and particularly in Brazil, in combating state sanctioned violence.
But ultimately, the fight against police violence needs to take place at the local level and much of the launch event on Monday was dedicated to thanking and congratulating the various organizations that have supported the Youth Forum in the development of the application and in its fight against the genocide of poor, predominately black, favela residents.
Despite the seriousness of the matter, the launch of the application was received with great joy and pride. Those in attendance were confident that Nós por Nós would be a powerful tool that allows favela residents, who have often been neglected and abused by the state, to take matters into their own hands and stand up for their rights.
For one member of the Network of Communities Against Violence for the State of Rio de Janeiro, which received an award for its support for the app, the app has tremendous potential in correcting systemic violence against poor, black favela residents: “We are victims of this state because we’ve had our loved ones, like our sons, killed. We are victims of this racist, genocidal state because we live in it. Why are we victims? It is clear. It is because we are black men and women, because we live in favelas. For this reason, according to this state, we must die, we must have our rights violated. So this award is a great recognition: it’s a recognition of resistance, it’s a recognition of our struggle, that we are alive and we will continue fighting.”
The event was at its most solemn and powerful when those in attendance raised their fists and chanted the names of people who had been killed by police violence: “Claudia [Ferreira], Here!” Claudia was killed and dragged along the ground behind a police vehicle two years ago.
When asked by RioOnWatch whether he thinks Nós por Nós will be widely used, Cosme Fellipsem, Providência resident and member of the Youth Forum, responded, “it’s not a matter of quantity, but quality. If we manage to help one family that’s enough.”