In the next few weeks, Aug. 5-21, the city of Rio de Janeiro is going to host the 31st Olympic Games. Like a mother preparing her home for 500,000 tourists, Rio has swept the city's poverty under the rug by increasing police and army presence in favelas. As a result, part of the local population isn’t that anxious about the games. Militarized police presence and violence are only some of the issues that have affected the Afro-Brazilian population living in Rio since the possibility of sports mega events such as the World Cup in 2014, and now the Olympic Games, became a reality in Brazil.
"Urban segregation in Rio de Janeiro was aggravated with the preparation to receive the sports mega events," anthropologist Luciane O. Rocha, a researcher at the Nucleo de Estudos da Cidadania Conflito e Violência Urbana of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, told The Root. "While the investments in housing and the majority of the spatial structure for the games were constructed in privileged areas, to the poorest areas were destined only violent actions from the policy and the army."
Since 2014, the black population of Rio has complained that the government has been increasing police presence in favela communities, which aggravates an already problematic issue of violence between the poor and the police. Also, in 2014, Rio de Janeiro’s former governor Sergio Cabral requested the presence of military forces in the state to help pacify favela communities. More than 20,000 military officers are reported to be part of the security force for the Olympics. But it isn't just the increased police presence that has many concerned; racial profiling of poor black youths inside the public transportation has also increased, and some have reportedly been denied access to wealthy neighborhoods close to beach areas.
In August 2015, Secretariat of Security José Mariano Beltrame decided to control gang-related robberies in beach areas by requesting that the military police approach poor black youths and demand to see their documents, even removing them from buses while they were trying to go to the beach.
“The media put the population against the youth that only wanted go to the beach, when we had almost 90-degree [days]," actor and journalist Ernesto Xavier said. "They were arresting the minors and left them [the] whole day in a police station with no food or water, releasing them only at the end of the day.”
As tension grew between the poor and the police, the number of black deaths increased. In 2015 more than 480 black men were killed by the police in Rio. One of the victims of the over-policing of favelas was 30-year-old Vitor Santiago. On Feb. 11, 2015, Santiago and some friends were returning to the Complexo da Maré, a group of favela communities in Rio's north side, after watching a soccer team play when the army, which was patrolling the area, reportedly opened fire on the car they were riding in. The car was hit with 762 bullets.
Santiago would suffer a punctured lung and have his leg amputated. The damage done to his bone marrow after the shooting rendered Santiago a paraplegic.
"I have a lot of needs; I can’t work anymore because someone needs to take care of my son," Santiago's mother, Irone Santiago, said. "Everything the government promised to me didn’t work. I don’t have home care, the diapers that my son is using were a donation from people in the community. I’m still waiting on a neurosurgeon to evaluate my son."
Irone Santiago claims that the government called the shooting a "mistake" and notes that she has yet to receive any financial support from the state, the federal government or the army.
For many black residents like VItor Santiago, Brazil's Olympic legacy will be more about violence and exclusion, since the games don't feel welcoming to those who live in the poor parts of the city.
"Olympics for whom?" Irone Santiago asks. "These games are made with the blood of our sons."
Daniela Gomes, who is from Sao Paulo, is a Ph.D. candidate in African and African Diaspora studies at the University of Texas at Austin and a journalist. Gomes is also an activist in the Afro-Brazilian movement and has been using her work to connect people in the African Diaspora.