This is a picture of a 13 year-old boy in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.
Last night my internet was down so I threw in an old DVD, “City of God.” On the bonus features of the DVD, there’s a documentary about gang warfare in Brazil called “Memoirs of a Personal War.” I had seen the documentary a long time ago, but I had forgotten it and last night it really made an impact on me. First I will say that it definitely made me feel aware of all the privilege I have as an American, and as someone who grew up in a household that was, for the most part, economically stable- but even living in the worse projects in the US is better than living in the slums of Brazil (favelas).
This documentary shows kids as young as 11 talking about committing horrible acts of murder and feeling no remorse. Drug dealing gangs are either shooting at each other, or the police. Life in the favela is equivalent to life in a military warzone. There is footage in this documentary of police shooting at these youth with high-powered weaponry and using tactics that are straight out of an army training course. While I was in college I was taught about an international movement that wanted to officially classify police violence in Brazil as genocide. In the documentary, even a police captain admitted that the system does not work and that the police are corrupt. When the police aren’t killing, they’re arresting people and taking them to prisons that make San Quentin look like a picnic. The documentary showed footage of the prisons and each cell is packed full with black and brown youth. Honestly I had an emotional response to seeing that and getting a reminder that the issues we face in the black and brown community in the US are the same ones being faced by our people all over the world. Unless you subscribe to the racist belief that African, Indigenous, and Latino people are naturally criminals and inherently geared towards evil, this should make you realize how intentional and deliberate all of this is. We still have yet to move on from slavery.
When you really think about it, the US and Brazil are actually not that different. Right now in Chicago there is an epidemic of street violence, particularly amongst black youth. It is not uncommon for there to be weekends where the number of homicides is almost in triple digits. Also, every 36 hours a black or brown person is murdered by police in the United States. Recently we’ve been seeing more and more cases where these murders have been recorded on film- yet they continue to happen. This is thrown in our faces for us all to see and yet the police and government keeps killing unchecked, as if they couldn’t care less about their misdeeds being exposed- they’re going to keep doing what they want and we are powerless to stop them. Even if they aren’t saying this directly, the message is very clear.
The biggest difference I see between the US and Brazil is that over here, the circumstances that I described above are marketed as entertainment. The American DVD “Hood 2 Hood” basically shows the same thing as the Brazilian documentary, yet it is sold to entertain while the latter is meant to educate. I still don’t see how watching young black men in miserable conditions and short life expectancies is entertaining. “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” is a video game where the main character is a gang member and the player earns points and advances for committing robberies and drive-by shootings against other black and brown people. Chief Keef is a celebrated rapper whose lyrics personify every issue I’m talking about. He’s been in the news for being connected to another teenage rapper’s death and shooting at police. The fault does not lie within Chief Keef but the people spending millions of dollars on marketing him and his pain as entertainment. I believe that this form of entertainment has desensitized us as a culture and helped make this type of poverty, violence, and misery acceptable. Don’t forget that most of this media is consumed by white people (they are the majority in this country, after all) who are far-removed from the places where this violence occurs, not just physically but culturally. However I am convinced that if we only saw this violence in our communities and on the news instead of MTV and WorldStar Hip-Hop, the people would be more motivated to make a change.
Just some food for thought. One day I would like to travel to Brazil and do some organizing and workshops with the youth there. Hopefully, if keep pushing my form of entertainment I’ll be able to get the resources to do that. But that Chief Keef is some heavy competition…
( Another interesting note is that the guns in this picture are made by Israeli and American companies. With all this recent talk about gun control, I’m surprised that the finger has not been pointed at the people MAKING the guns. Even though these weapons were obtained illegally, if you follow the paper trail far enough you’ll see that every single bullet fired in the slums is profit for these companies. )