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the police killed João Pedro Matos Pinto, a 14-year-old black boy, and one of many Brazilian George Floyds, by Leonardo Sakamoto


A man rests by the road in a Carapicuiba City favela by Luiz Gonzaga De Souza/Pixabay

João Pedro Matos Pinto was a 14-year-old black boy. On 18 May, he was playing with his cousins when the police invaded his house in São Gonçalo, Rio de Janeiro state. He died from a rifle shot that went through his body from stomach to shoulder. The police said they were chasing suspects, but his family say the story is false. Community leaders counted 72 bullet holes in the house. João’s father said he only got good marks at school.

João Pedro is one of the many Brazilian George Floyds.

Black people are 55 per cent of the country’s population, but more than 75 per cent of people killed by police between 2017 and 2018 were black (from the 2019 Yearbook of the Brazilian Public Safety Forum). White people are about 44 per cent of the population but less than a quarter of people killed by police are white. In Rio de Janeiro, black 21-year-olds are 147 per cent more likely to be killed by police than the rest of the population.

Also, most Brazilians killed by Covid-19 are black. A survey by Época magazine shows that 61 per cent of the 54,488 victims who had died of the disease by the end of June were black.

The problem is not genetic. It is because of not enough basic sanitation, food insecurity and difficulty in getting medical care. Poverty is not colour-blind. The pandemic is like police violence – it kills more black and poor people in cities like Rio de Janeiro.

There are no direct government orders to shoot black and poor people. But police are trained to defend the houses and life of rich people who live in the beautiful parts of big Brazilian cities, and to conrol the others. Rio de Janeiro Governor Wilson Witzel and President Jair Bolsonaro openly say that police should not be punished for killing people in police operations. So they shoot first and ask questions later.

Before the pandemic, Brazil’s black and poor population were already being killed by drug traffickers and the paramilitary, and by police and military. Covid-19 made things worse. And this was helped by Bolsonaro saying it was not dangerous, and doing little about it.

Achille Mbembe, Cameroonian philosopher, calls this ‘necropolitics’ – where a government believes it can decide who lives and who dies. In Brazil, the government believes this; and makes those decisions.

Two days after João Pedro’s death, an 18-year-old black man called João Vitor was killed by police in Rio’s City of God – famous from the movie.

He was killed when volunteers were giving out food to help the suffering from Covid-19. The police say the dead young man was a criminal. But he will never be able to tell his side of the story.

After these cases, Brazil’s Supreme Court stopped police operations in favelas during the pandemic. But videos show that police are still attacking poor black people. There is a long way to go in the fight against the structural racism – this is very deep in Brazil.


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)