In Brazil a black man is killed every 23 minutes
What if I told you there is a city, a world famous city, with a police force that kills more people in a month than Minnesota police has killed in 20 years? What if I told you there is a country, not some backwater state, but a major economic and cultural player, where a black man dies at the hands of the police every 23 minutes?
The city is Rio de Janeiro, and the country is Brazil.
As demonstrators around the world take to the streets to protest the killing of George Floyd, the international battle cry of black people worldwide is trending again: black lives matter. Of course they do. But some black lives seem to matter more than others. Even within the fight for racial and social justice there are some glaring inequalities.
If I asked you about a Brazilian boy named João Pedro, would you know who he was? What about a little girl named Ágatha Felix, ever heard of her? I could tell you about their lives, their dreams, aspirations; I could tell you little Ágatha, 8, took ballet and English classes, I could tell you João Pedro, 14, loved playing football and to fly his kite. Nothing remarkable about that, children’s lives are not supposed to be remarkable, they are just supposed to be normal. João Pedro was murdered by police officers while playing at home on May 19, his house shot at more than 70 times. Little Ágatha was hit by a police bullet while returning home with her mother in September last year. I could write a full page with just the names of lives cut short, murdered by those who were supposed to protect and serve. All of them black, mostly men, mostly poor.
In New York a few years ago, a friend took me to an exhibit in Harlem which consisted of a series of painted portraits of incarcerated black men. There was a group of us, and at the end the museum guide asked us what we made of the work. I said something along the lines of “it seems to me that to apply punishment is a strong part of American culture. You guys equate pain with justice.” This black American lady, somewhat offended, interjected: “Well, at least our prisons are not as bad as some in Peru or other South American countries.”