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‘What to Do—and How?’ Reflections on Everyday Violence by Alemão’s Raull Santiago

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This text was originally published by Raull Santiago on his Facebook profile.

There are a hundred thousand people in Complexo do Alemão who fall silent in the face of the everyday violence that our people experience. This happens precisely because these people are all too familiar with the level of violence inflicted by public authorities in these spaces, via the police—violence that oppresses, that bleeds, that kills people. This ultimate level of violence, the taking of a person’s life, arrives as the main public policy enacted toward us by the government. Every single day.

So people confine themselves to silence, forgetting that tomorrow, unfortunately, the next to be condemned by this collective silence could be someone close to you, a family member, someone in your own home—or you, yourself, in light of this reality.

If we say that we’re going to go down [the hill] and put up a fight, we are criminalized—and this, oftentimes, garners more attention than the killings committed by government agents here in the favela! This could result in more violent police repression, with people arrested and killed. The favela itself could even find itself questioning our course of action. It’s a truly sinister situation, really a double bind.

When you end up with increasing inequality and constant violence as the only public policies, the cruelty of the situation makes you believe that you should suffer the pain that you’ve been caused in silence. If your basic rights are not guaranteed—for example, an education that builds freedom and fosters critical consciousness—it is difficult to face the oppressor, and thus, the oppressed self-isolate and attempt to avoid getting involved in things that could soon thereafter arrive at their doorstep by force and cause pain.

If we were to hold a peaceful demonstration, there would be photos, hashtags, and even interviews about the incident. However, by the end of the day, something new will have already happened. The outcry lowers in tone and turns into individual weeping inside of the homes of those who have experienced a permanent loss effected in such a brutal way.

This isn’t to say that it’s not important—to the contrary, it is. But how do we take action as the years continue to go by and inequality only increases? How do we take action in a society in which democracy has never been more than a myth in its peripheries? How do we take action when fake news has become “truth” and extreme violence, the rule?

I DON’T KNOW, BUT…

WE HAVE TO!

To try, to experiment, to not let things pass, to not legitimize these acts, to not silence ourselves when there are those among us who no longer have the option to remain silent, having lost their voices in being deprived of the right to life in such a brutal way by the public policies of an unequal, racist, and violent country that are enacted against our people!

Those who have the privilege to walk, work, study, and go to and from their homes without the fear of being shot in the head—like what happened today* to the jiu-jitsu coach Jean, shot during a police operation in Complexo do Alemão—should know that remaining silent in the comfort of their privilege is not an option. Either you help give visibility to all of this, or you’re one of those who are maintaining our reality at this level of absurdity.

Those who don’t experience this reality but say that they are allies should show it in practice. Use your privilege to help explain the gravity of this situation, pressing for changes and demanding the preservation of life for people from these places called FAVELAS. Blame for what has been happening belongs to many people—and this needs to be said. The responsibility is yours—you, the reader of this text. When you think nothing of this incident, you killed a person today in Complexo do Alemão with the absence of your voice that, instead of crying out in protest, was reduced to silence.

There is no “war on drugs” when the idea of a “war” is only enacted in certain spaces and only involves specific people, belonging to the racial group that is most murdered in this country. In a place where we are killed every single day, they told you that these deaths were caused by “lost bullets”—and you accepted this response, without realizing that it reduces the significance of our lives when you’re reassured by empty excuses. Without realizing that there is a geography to the firing of these so-called “lost bullets,” determining the areas in which lives are expendable. You are one of the people who works to maintain things the way that they are.

Your privilege has afforded you this—a privilege hinged on the racist, unequal historical exploitation of a country that has been built on constant violence enacted against specific groups of people. This privilege has afforded you the “right” to live without the fear of being struck by a bullet on your way home, or while going the bakery or to teach a class—as was the case with the coach Jean.

Every day I wish that I could show you how incredible favelas are, how brilliant people are, how these lives that are built on individual resilience, which is then collectively strengthened, produce inspiration and faith. But today, I just want to light it all up in flames. Then comes the cry of a mother, weeping. The despair of a person retrieving a work permit or school ID to prove that the deceased didn’t deserve to die in the face of a society that views the favela through the lens of doubt all of the time. A family rushing to put together the money to bury their loved one because even in death, we enter into a dreadful cycle of dependence and a sense of inferiority.

We, in this society, are sick.

Sickness kills, or generates despair.

Despair results in direct action without reflection.

Out here we’re dying, despair is knocking. I hope that society changes, or get ready to receive our direct action.

I’m not going to speak of peace. It is something that I do not know.

I only pray to God that it’s not my own home, my own family. That tomorrow, it’s not me—with my name written in a post mourning the fatal violence that I experienced. That it’s not me crying, raising money, and gathering documents to prove that someone close to me who has been killed is the victim and not the culprit.


BLACK LIVES MATTER.

FAVELA LIVES MATTER.

Those who don’t experience our reality in the favela aren’t going to understand what this means. So let’s make everyone understand!

*This text was originally posted in Portuguese on the day of the occurrence, May 14.