Slavery and Jacarezinho

On May 6, 2021, 133 years after that May that freed enslaved black people, a troop of Rio de Janeiro's civilian police entered the Jacarezinho community and killed 25 people.

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The colonial system that was installed in the "new world" after the invasion of the Americas needed labor to get work done. That's how the rich countries of the time – England and Holland – started a hitherto unheard of trade: the trade of people. They took ships to the African continent, kidnapped people, and brought them to America to work as slaves. This infamy lasted for centuries.


In the case of Brazil, almost two million people were brought to work on the plantations of the sugar and coffee landowners. More than 200,000 died on the way. All these people were spread across the territory and, despite the brutal conditions of their existence, generated offspring. A census carried out in 1872 – 16 years before the abolition – shows that 58% of the Brazilian population declared themselves as black or brown-skinned, that is, blacks were a majority, as they had always been since they were brought from Africa. When abolition finally came, the country still had 723 thousand people in slavery.


It is good to remember that previously the Free Womb Law was adopted, which gave "freedom" to those born to people still enslaved, and the Sexagenarian Law, which freed the elderly. Nonetheless, both these laws were perverse because they threw babies into an even more wretched condition, since despite being "free" they had to either stay with their parents or be abandoned, and the old people were abandoned to their own fate once they were already consumed. Neither children nor old people were given any conditions to reproduce life.


Similarly, all these enslaved people found themselves free one morning in 1888 without any option for existence. They were not given the right to property, much less any public policy for starting life anew as a free human being. They no longer even had work since the waves of immigrants would now replace the blacks, and these were always the first choice of the landowners. This demonstrated the condition of the black person in those days of liberation. A new process of imprisonment began, this time as a reserve army for the nascent capitalism.


After 300 years of slavery, the blacks were left destitute. Without jobs and without options, they occupied peripheral lands and organized themselves as best they could. In general, the most they could get were sporadic odd jobs, and their living conditions were precarious. It is from this history of kidnapping, violence, and abandonment that the street child, the slum, and the beggar are born. Of course, many blacks managed to break away from this planned destruction, but the majority was thrown to the margins. 


The Jacarezinho Tragedy - Rio de Janeiro/2021


On May 6, 2021, 133 years after that May that freed enslaved black people, a troop of Rio de Janeiro's civilian police entered the Jacarezinho community and killed 25 people, without the right to a trial or defense. Young black people, as has been the case for decades in all regions of the country. The logic is to cut off the "evil" at its roots. The argument is simple: the policemen were there "cleaning" the area to ensure the safety of the "good citizens". According to the official version, the people killed were bandits, drug dealers, and deserved their fate: “cancelled CPF” (identity card), to use the language of these Bolsonarist times. It was not a confrontation, it was an execution.


Analysts knowledgeable of Rio's reality say that Jacarezinho is a district of Rio where the militias have not yet been allowed to enter. And that they are the ones who dominate almost 60% of the territory. This may be one of the reasons for this "incursion," since all institutional power in the state and the city is connected to the militias. Some say that so is the very clan that today governs the country. These are all issues that appear peripherally in the discussion. Usually when something like this happens it always brings up the faction wars, the power schemes of the criminal underworld and so on.


For the average reader/viewer, the focus is always on the dead man: he was a criminal. Even if he was not. If he was black and lived in the slums, he was a criminal. That is the understanding. And if the dead person is a child, people think: well, if he wasn't a criminal yet, he would be. Because in the national imaginary the black person is always linked to the bad side of force. This idea has been reinforced since the beginning of slavery, I suspect. I imagine the mill-owners warning their children: "don't go near black people, they are not people, they are evil things”. Later, when the blacks were free and went to the slums, they were still pointed out as the "evil ones", the "capoeiras", the "marginals". Today, still confined to the poorest districts, they continue to be the image of evil. It is a historical construction that serves the dominant class very well, that class that never left the big mansion.


It could be that some of the youths murdered in Jacarezinho were drug dealers. Maybe. Many of them are. Because there is often no other way out for the poor of this country. Being recruited by drug lords is common in the communities. It's very difficult to escape this fate because in general there is no work for young black men, and if there is, it's underemployment. With the drug trade they get in one day what they would earn in one month. What young person wouldn't make this calculation? Black, white, red, yellow or blue? After all, we all live in a capitalist world in which a person is measured by what he or she has. The question is? Are they guilty? And if so, should they be executed like this, without trial or the right to defense?


Not long ago, a presidential plane – yes, I said presidential –was caught with kilos and kilos of cocaine. Cocaine is a drug. Do you know what happened? Nothing happened. No break-in, no shooting. The military man – as the press call him, instead of a bandit or drug dealer – who was responsible for the case was quietly arrested, and I don't even know if he is still in custody. Another famous case is that of a plane full of cocaine that belonged to a congressman from Minas Gerais and that was seized inside the congressman's ranch. And even though it was the congressman's plane and the congressman's ranch, the congressman was not charged. It seems that only the pilot was left. That's the point!


The real dealers, the ones who matter, the ones who make the drug world go round, are not in the slums. They go to the salons and live on the asphalt. Their houses are not invaded and they are not murdered in front of their mothers, sisters or cousins. They are the ones in charge. Nothing touches them. The war is waged on the administrators and soldiers of the drug trade, to show that something is being done. And with much more violence, the war is waged on the little soldiers, because they have no power other than the gun they carry. They can be shot down like flies to be exhibited as trophies of a “security policy”. But others like them are soon ready to join the ranks of traffickers, because they can find no way out of the labyrinth where they were thrown centuries ago.


That is the game. That is the uncomfortable truth. "Every police car has a little bit of a slave ship," says the song by Rappa.


And, in this context, when people just stand up in defense of the dead, the pack comes screaming: “take them home, I hope they rape your mother.” Because these creatures, who cannot see the whole, are afraid of the drug dealers, the bandits, the "little black men". They cannot see that their fear must take another direction. The real causes of the drug tragedy are not the kids from the slums. They are just a link in the chain, the weakest link, by the way. The real trafficker – the drug owner – is protected and will remain so until one day this world changes by the force of our hands.


Today the families of Jacarezinho mourn their dead, and in a few hours, other families, from other hills, other communities, will also mourn. It has been like this, every day. Because they are heirs of those "disposable" people who committed the heresy of staying here, of not dying.


And so life goes on in this sad country, without ceasing.


The day will come, I hope, when the disinherited will rise up, organized and collectively, and drag the true manufacturers of death and terror out of their mansions.


(Translation: ALAI)
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