Brazilian Police ban black teens from entering famous beaches
Last weekend the military police of Rio de Janeiro prevented 160 young people from the north suburbs of the city to enter the famous beaches of Ipanema and Copacabana.
Young, black and poor children, traveling with nothing on several bus lines to the south privileged carioca beaches ended up on the floor of a police van without having committed any crime.
The police action intended to contain a new wave of robberies, a practice that is repeated regularly on the beaches of Rio since the early 90s, but the strategy has sparked another scandal of what is called institutional racism from the Brazilian police.
The chief judge at the Juvenile Court, Pedro Henrique Alves, and other organizations composed of public defenders [lawyers], considered the action as “illegal”.
“The police can only arrest a teenager if found committing a crime or if you have a warrant,” said Public Advocate Eufrasia das Virgens Souza, who has opened a case against the State for moral damages.
While one part of society had hands on the head, the governor of Rio, Fernando Pezão defended the officers: “The police intelligence has mapped the movement of children from the moment they boarded the buses.
“How many assaults have these youngsters committed? I’m not saying they are all robbers, but many of them had already been detained for more than five, eight, ten or 15 times.”
The arrastões as they are called, are assault events ran by armed gangs of teenagers in Brazil. They are characterised by the rampant robberies in crowded public places which are common in Rio and other parts of the country, even in places where there are no famous tourist attractions. In Rio, these crimes are more significant because the city is preparing to host the 2016 Olympics.
The thieves, some of whom are just children take advantage of the huge group of friends and acquaintances with whom they go to the beach to run through the sand in search of unsuspecting swimmers.
The children and teens usually exchange the loot and in many cases start fake mass fights to take advantage of the tumult to obliterate everything they can.
Police with batons enter the sandy beaches and strike the criminals. The images of these interventions are impressive and illustrate a violent game of cat and mouse, with hammocks flying through the air, in the midst of thousands of terrified bathers.
The Secretary of Public Security, José Mariano Beltrame, who advocates a fairly progressive discourse in a country that still maintains a military police, gives the episode a social dimension.
“The police are doing prevention work, but we must tell people the situation of vulnerability in which these young people were. There is no mention of racism, we do not mean that these guys were going to commit a crime. The point is that the freedom to come and go requires responsibility.
They were on the bus without paying the ticket. One leaves home that is kilometers away without eating and without money. How do you intend to return?” said Beltrame. “What is at stake is the vulnerability of these people”, he added.
Security specialists and the Public Advocates wonder, then, why the control is not in the hands of social workers instead of the gunmen.
“It is an absurd, disastrous and outrageous action, an expression of racism in Brazil, very common in the police, that has the tacit consent of society”, writes the anthropologist Luiz Eduardo Soares, coordinator of security and justice in Rio in 1999 and National Secretary of Public Security in 2003.
Soares remembers how Cariocas lived in democratized beaches at the beginning of the 80s, a place hitherto reserved mainly to the elite and the residents of the slums of the south.
“It was the governor Leonel Brisola who promoted and facilitated youth access to the most distant suburbs beaches. That strategy began to democratize the beaches and provoked the racist contempt of the middle class that politically punished the governor.
“Today the reaction may not be the same as in the 80s, there are laws against racism. So it is surprising to see that the same attitude is still present, “says Soares.
“Young blacks are always treated as suspicious, which helps us to understand, and this is much more serious than any theft on the beach, the more than 10,600 deaths caused by the police, most young, black, poor in vulnerable areas.”