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.  

A suspect is handcuffed by military police during a joint operation including the CORE police special forces near the Complexo do Alemao pacified community, or “favela,” on May 13, 2014, in Rio de Janeiro. Mario Tama/Getty Images

Whether it’s a mural in Salvador, Brazil’s Barra neighborhood with the message “– copa + educacao” (less cup, more education); street art in Sao Paulo that reads “A Copa Pra Quem” (The Cup for Who?); or a message on Rio de Janeiro’s main highway, scrawled in black spray paint, that says simply, “Foder-se FIFA” (F–k off, FIFA), Brazilians are making their feelings about the 2014 World Cup known in as many public spaces as possible.

Many are angry at FIFA, the international soccer governing body. Others are angry at sanitation workers, police, teachers and bus and metro drivers who have been intermittently on strike for the past year. But much of the anger has been directed at Brazil’s government.

“Maybe around 70 percent of [Brazilians] don’t care about World Cup anymore,” says Rafa Hossri, a 27-year-old who has lived and worked in Rio de Janeiro’s Vidigal shantytown, known as a favela. “Our governments are doing bad things for people so I’m not sure if people are taking the team seriously anymore. Brazil bought this World Cup. Mafia and money talks.”

It didn’t start out this way. Most Brazilians welcomed the news when it was announced in 2007 that the country would host the World Cup this year. But when the government began forcing people out of their homes to make way for infrastructure demands, like road and parking lot construction and railway expansion, people began to protest.

The Brazilian government reports that 19,200 families have been removed since 2009. Some have cited figures closer to 40,000 or 100,000. Others have gone as high as 250,000.

Black Brazilians have been especially wary of their country’s actions.

In Rio de Janeiro, favelas are home to about 22 percent of the population, or nearly 1.4 million people, most of whom are black. After relocating many residents and arresting and detaining others, Brazilian authorities sent Pacifying Police Units (UPP) to occupy the shantytowns with semi-automatic weapons and armored vehicles.

“The police are trained to use violence against anyone that is suspicious or live in favelas,” says Vinicius Basillo, who lives in Rocinha, one of Rio’s 763 favelas. “They say they are here to bring peace, but there is no peace. The police in Rio, they are very violent, they are trained to war, not to [save lives] or neutralize.”

Rocinha is the site of almost daily shootings, residents say, because the gangsters who have not been arrested have been concentrated mainly in the center of the favela, creating a hotbed of rival gang activity and shoot-outs.

To Basillo, the police mistreatment has largely come along racial lines.