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What Can an Inflatable Pool Tell Us About Inequality in Rio?

Pool Party Protest at News Headquarters Repudiates Criminalization of Favelas

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On Saturday, February 3, while revelers took to the streets of Rio de Janeiro in the pre-Carnival atmosphere, a group met in front of the headquarters of newspaper Meia Hora and set up an inflatable swimming pool. The playful act was in repudiation of the newspaper’s front page cover on January 21, which featured an image of children playing in plastic pools with the headline, “Suspect Swimming Pools in Maré.” The event was organized by activists from various favelas who came together to denounce the criminalization of favelas.

“We cannot accept media like this that put us on the cover to criminalize our bodies,” explained Gizele Martins, a resident of Complexo da Maré and one of the organizers of the event. “We have to repudiate every cover, every racist article that commercial newspapers like this produce with our bodies. Yes, black, poor favela residents can have fun.”

Speaking at the opening of the event, Thainã Medeiros, a resident of Complexo do Alemão and member of media collective Coletivo Papo Reto, shared his indignation: “Meia Hora published an article criminalizing the presence of swimming pools in Maré, a reality that is common to all favelas. Favela residents have swimming pools, it’s not an expensive product to buy. It’s not absurd to have one.”

Meia Hora’s article alleged that the pools depicted in the photo had been bought by drug traffickers, an irresponsible assumption since the Civil Police say there is no investigation to determine the origin of the pools. The organizers of the event reported that the photo, estimated to have been taken in 2016, was shared first on the Facebook pages ‘Favela Nova Holanda’ and ‘Maré Vive,’ popular among Complexo da Maré residents. The article from Meia Hora is not signed by any journalist and the photo has no attribution.

Commenting on this subject in a Facebook post, a resident of Nova Holanda, a community within Maré, also expressed his outrage, though ending with a joke: “That second pool there belongs to our house and was not financed with R$1 of drug trafficking money, [they] have to get over their frustration that a poor person can have a swimming pool. We are going to have pools, and if they keep talking, I’ll buy a mini slide.”

Medeiros also stressed that the event, which required financial resources to hire a water truck and purchase swimming pools, was carried out with donations collected through a post on the event’s Facebook page.

After the opening speeches, the group chanted the classic ‘Rap da Felicidade‘ with its famous lyrics, “I just want to be happy, walk with tranquility in the favela where I was born,” by Cidinho and Doca, raising their fists in the air. “This is what a favela is, it’s power, it’s us coming together, surviving and resisting, no matter how hard they try to exterminate us,” said Marcelle Decothé of the Rio de Janeiro Youth Forum.

Passers-by encountered people having fun in inflatable pools, drinking beer, eating roast chicken, and listening to music. Amid the amusement, the audience discussed the effect of the mass media on the lives of favela residents. “I always say that commercial media has an owner, namely the rich. Its real purpose is to be racist, to criminalize, to turn the population against social movements, to turn the population against itself,” reflected Martins.

“The mainstream media today intensifies criminalization, intensifies extermination, intensifies this whole daily process that anyone living in the favela and periphery currently suffers. The mainstream media serves the State,” Decothé added. “We need to reflect on the kind of person that sees an image of a swimming pool in the favela and says that it was arranged by drug traffickers. What mentality, what reality, what experience does this person have?”

Martins, who is a journalist, contrasted the work of commercial media with journalism produced by favela residents. “Our communication is one of self-esteem, of reconstruction, and of building our history. So we have to strengthen communication in the favela, produce more community media platforms, and strengthen the ones that already exist.”

Decothé agreed: “I only believe in the communication that comes from within. Nothing about us without us.”

A fact that did not go unnoticed was the presence of the Military Police from the beginning of the protest. When the first demonstrators arrived, the police car was already standing by the entrance to the newspaper’s headquarters.

“Where the favela is, there is police,” observed Gizele.

The event came to an end with a symbolic act. The group dyed the pool water blood red and poured it out in front of the newspaper’s headquarters, highlighting the media’s responsibility for the extermination of favela residents.

Meanwhile, on social networks, Internet users created satirical front pages that showed the double standard with which the media approaches leisure in the favela versus on ‘the asphalt’ (formal city). Claiming that drug traffickers had financed leisure areas in the South Zone, the satirical covers featured headlines such as “Suspect Volleyball in Copacabana,” “Suspect Bikes in Lagoa,” and “Suspect Playground in Leblon.”

The criticism of the difference in treatment became even more relevant when, on February 5, two days after the pool protest, the cover of the O Globo newspaper published a photo of carnival revelers in an inflatable pool under the headline, “To cool off in the heat of carnival.” To aggravate the situation, one of the individuals portrayed was dressed as the singer Anitta in her ‘Vai Malandra’ music video.

Piscinaço dos pobres e dos ricos. Todo mundo usando suas piscinas pelas ruas. Mas eles podem no asfalto, favela não pode na favela. As capas mostram isso.

Posted by Gizele Martins on Monday, February 5, 2018

And on February 6, the day a police operation took place that left two dead in Complexo da Maré, several people shared a photo of a swimming pool that had been ripped by police officers. The page Maré Vive shared the image with the caption: “The police have just ripped a pool bought collectively by residents of Vila do João. And who will pay for the loss?… This is what the State puts in our hearts: hatred. This is the result of the article by Meia Hora!!!”

In addition to the pool protest and the virtual critiques, the organizers of the event stated that they intend to take formal measures to denounce Meia Hora’s irresponsible report. They are contemplating taking action with the Public Prosecutor’s Office and filing a complaint to the Journalist Ethics Committee.