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Cinelândia Hosts Discussion on State Violence and Legacies from the 2013 Brazil-Wide Protests

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On June 15, in downtown Rio, the Cinelândia square hosted a discussion titled ‘State Violence and Legacies of 2013‘ in front of Rio de Janeiro’s City Council building. The event was organized by the groups Junho+5 and Popular Education in Cinelândia, and featured a multimedia presentation denouncing police abuses during the 2013 protests and a group discussion for members of the public to express their opinions.

One important aspect of the event was the absence of political party representatives. The speakers criticized similar events organized by political parties, whether Left or Right, for not opening space for dialogue with the general population. The movement’s objective for being in the streets is to represent the plurality of opinions of all those present.

The videos that were presented showed several scenes from the protests, focusing on the reaction of police to the demonstrators. In many scenes, police used rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the protesters, injuring many. Other videos depicted extreme police abuses such as the disappearance of Amarildo and the arrest of Rafael Braga, two black citizens treated unjustly by the police in 2013.

The question “Where is Amarildo?”—the protest call that became famous and which was projected on the screen during the event—reflects the police violence that exists in today’s world. Amarildo was a brick mason who became known throughout Brazil and the world after his disappearance on July 14, 2013, when he was taken from his home in Rocinha to a Pacifying Police Unit (UPP) base, tortured and assassinated. Meanwhile, Rafael Braga is the only person who was arrested as a result of the 2013 protests. He was arrested by police for carrying a bottle of Pinho Sol, a popular disinfectant, which police said could have been used as an explosive. Braga was found guilty of carrying an “explosive or incendiary device, without authorization or not in accordance with legal or regulatory determination,” and was condemned to five years and ten months in prison. The cases of Amarildo and Rafael Braga demonstrate how the police and judiciary can be unfair and biased, and each case serves as yet another clear indicator of racism in Brazilian society.

After the multimedia presentation, the discussion was opened by Thainã de Medeiros. A resident of Complexo do Alemão, Medeiros explained the importance of filming and photographing moments of police interaction with the public. “When we accompanied police operations, we would produce evidence and contain the abuses carried out by the police.” He also mentioned the murder of the young boy Eduardo Jesus, who was shot in the head while playing with a cellphone in the doorway of his home on an Alemão hill. The tragedy incited feelings of hatred and indignation among many in the favela who urgently wanted to protest the boy’s death. However, caution was needed to ensure the police did not treat them like criminals in an eventual demonstration. They therefore chose to use a religious discourse to unite the population in a peaceful protest in which they all walked the streets of the community holding candles.

According to Medeiros, all of these cases reflect the difference between being black or white as a protester. Being black, Rafael Braga is the only 2013 demonstrator still in jail. For Medeiros, residents of Alemão had to be very careful in organizing a legitimate protest against the killing of a child at the hands of police. The difference in how police treat a black demonstrator or white demonstrator reveals how the law is not applied equally to everyone as the Constitution calls for.

Rosani, another speaker at the event, changed the tone of the discussion by raising a positive legacy of the 2013 demonstrations: the fact that some people began to understand the strength of protest and how important it is to see the people taking to the streets. “A part of the population woke up.” But, she added, unfortunately many of the people’s demands in 2013 have gone unaddressed. For example, the demonstrations began as a protest against an increase in bus fares from R$2.70 to R$2.90. At the time, the maxim “it’s not just about the 20 cents” won out and fares did not increase. That is, until the cries died down. Today the fare price has gone up to R$3.95. Rosani also stressed that high transportation costs hamper protests themselves since a large part of the population cannot easily traverse the city in order to protest in Centro.

According to the speaker, another positive legacy was people’s increased engagement with politics. Before 2013, little was discussed about the matter and a great political apathy plagued Brazil. Since the demonstrations, however, it has been common to overhear heated discussions about candidates, elections, or other political topics in bars or at family dinners. “Discussing in bars, on the bus, in line at the bank, in line at the supermarket. The population has learned how to discuss politics,” Rosani stated.

Other speakers, who did not identify themselves, commented more on the key moments of police violence in 2013. A girl living in Alemão recalled a scene in which an armored truck arrived at a protest and protesters climbed on top of the vehicle without fear, which she saw as a major breakthrough because, in her community, those vehicles are symbols of death.

The event not only revived the participants’ memories about the State’s cowardice towards demonstrators in 2013, but also showed the importance of those protests for the social and political consciousness of the population.