In Brazil: ‘White People Running Are Athletes; Black People Running Are Thieves’

As the country prepares for the World Cup to begin later this week, black Brazilians allege violent treatment by police, and everyone complains about infrastructure shutdowns.  

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“The cops love to look tough and they don’t like black people that are dressed like gangsters,” he says. “[For them] white people running [are] athletic; black people running [are] thie[ves].”

Brazil’s multiple police forces, which have now grown to include federal, civil and military police, as well as the army, air force and navy, aren’t just in the favelas. They have become a constant presence in almost every public space, even in small cities. The country is set to spend the equivalent of $85 million on security forces for the World Cup, including adding 9,000 newly trained officers. This has already led to multiple violent clashes with citizens protesting government and police actions.

Amnesty International reports that hundreds of protesters have been beaten and injured while taking part in public protests in Rio and Sao Paulo over the past year, “largely at the hands of military police.” Most incidents have involved police use of “less lethal” weapons including tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades and plastic or rubber bullets, but during at least one protest, in Rio de Janeiro last year, organizers say there were credible indications that police used actual firearms to disperse protesters.

But there are those who say that preparations for the World Cup have done more to help than hurt Brazil’s impoverished populations. Luiz Ricardo Duarte, who lives in Rio’s Providencia favela, says that “real Brazilians” can see the positive impact that the World Cup preparations are having.

“The [government is] trying to connect the favelas to the urban space, with cable cars or new roads. Here, for example, we didn’t have roads or steps. Now they are building them,” he says. “And there have been social projects, lots of social projects for favela people. If you ask any poor people, for example, they can see a difference.”

Duarte noted education programs that offer scholarships to college, health initiatives and training programs specifically geared toward young people in favelas that were small or nearly impossible to run before the UPP moved out some drug traffickers.

“I think it’s a very good moment for the country and I really hope [the World Cup] push[es] Brazil to a good direction,” he says. “It’s like the Brazilian way. It’s not perfectly done, but they’re doing something. And it’s better to do something than to not do anything like the governments before.”

Dion Rabouin is a freelance writer currently based in Rio de Janeiro. Follow him on Twitter.