Pagina Principal

English Report

In 2001, for each 100 victims of homicide who were white, 170 people with black and brown skin died. If Blacks and whites had the same homicide rate, 5, 674 Blacks would not have been killed in a single year in Brazil. The homicide rates of people with black skin and people with brown skin are different. People with black skin in 2000 had a homicide rate of 24% higher than people with brown skin, indicating that the color of skin or race influenced the risk of being killed to the extent that the darker the skin, the greater are the chances of dying.

The Color of Justice

Jurema Werneck*

The Black presence in the Americas - and in Brazil specifically - is the result of the extreme violence of the transatlantic traffic and system of slavery. The right to live in cities and rural areas has been a gradual conquest of the Black population in Brazil. Thus, intrinsic to public security is the fight against inequalities and the elaboration of a system to prevent violence against Black people.

A person's right to security is affected by the degree to which he or she is vulnerable to violence, as well as by the inequality that marks social relations in Brazil. According to a research by Silvia Ramos:

Some sectors of the population are particularly vulnerable to violence, either because criminal aggression can assume specific configurations when directed to them or because they are victims of a particular type of crime. This can occur when the victim is homosexual, Black, adolescent, aged, or identified as any social group particularly vulnerable to police violence. 2

Contradicting ideas about Brazil and the Brazilian population as a very cordial people, we live in a country of extreme violence. In a work dedicated to the analysis of racial violence embedded in police action3, Ignácio Cano cites 19974 United Nations statistics that place Brazil among the three countries with the greatest homicide rates among 36 related countries, lower only than South Africa and Jamaica.
The rate of homicides in Brazil in 1999 was of the order of 26.18 homicides per 100,000 people. In addition to the Federal District (33.4), nine states in different regions are higher than the average: Roraima (57.69), Pernambuco (55.53), Rio de Janeiro (52.54), Espírito Santo (51.87), São Paulo (44.00), Amapá (43.66), Mato Grosso (34.60), Distrito Federal (33.40), Rondônia (33,31) and Mato Grosso do Sul (28.18).

Rare are the studies that inquire about the different races embodied in these indicators. According to Ignácio Cano,5, racial discrimination can occur in different moments of the interaction between individuals and the system of public security, namely:
· Police harassing citizens - police can harass more members of certain racial groups;
· The police decision to make an accusation - members of vulnerable groups have a greater chance of being taken to the police station to have a complaint filed against them than others, while members of racially dominant groups may only be reprimanded or induced to pay a bribe;
· The decision to open an inquiry - crimes of racially discriminated groups against racially dominant groups can turn into inquiries more often than the contrary;
· The decision to file charges - commonly the decision to file charges or not against certain individuals is influenced by the race of the accuser;
· The wait for a trial - members of racially vulnerable groups can be more frequently stopped from testifying or have a greater change of being denied the right to be free on bail while awaiting trial;
· Sentencing - the judges may make decisions influenced by their racial preconceptions, with consequently a greater number of condemnations or tough penalties for members of groups that suffer racial discrimination;
· Treatment in prison - prisoners who belong to racially discriminated groups can have worse treatment in prisons than members of dominant groups sentenced for the same type of crime;
· Prison benefits or reduction of sentence - it can be more difficult for members of racially discriminated groups to obtain these benefits.

To this can be added a daily ration of human rights violations of those living in Black communities and of Blacks in all regions. The violations are exemplified by the violent incursions of the police in these communities, with invasions of residences and aggression, and shooting without any care for the community.

Opinion surveys carried out by Datafolha/Ilanud in the years from 1995 to 1997 about the relations of the population with the police, according to racial groups, exemplifies this scenario. If on the one hand, everyone interviewed had fear of criminals, a group also responded that they feared the police. It is interesting to note that these fears changed inversely according to racial characteristics. That is to say that fear of the police increased according to how dark the skin of the interviewee was.

The growth in fear of the police among Blacks (black and brown-skinned people) is striking, since those whose skin is darker have more fear of the police than of criminals. For whites, the police - who still provoke some fear - present themselves in a relatively less threatening way than for afro-descendants.

Thus this data offers indicators that can be used to define the reasons by which the Black population has greater fear of the police, according to the data cited above.

There are two factors that can be highlighted: one is the difference in quality of police activity, translated into deaths of people, inside and outside the low-income communities (favelas); the other is the difference of this activity according to racial characteristics of the population. Inside the favelas, communities that are essentially Black, the police have a more deadly conduct, killing more, whites as well as Blacks. On the other hand, Blacks (represented by the author as black- and brown-skinned people) - are killed by the police with a greater intensity than whites inside the same communities.

The perverse face of racial inequality can be verified in another way in the data collected by Gláucio Ary Dillon Soares (Iuperj/Cesec). This data is part of the study "The color of death", presented in the Violence and Racism seminar, which occurred in the Candido Mendes University, in September 2002. The work is part of the project Não Matarás (You will not kill).

From this data, the author brings us the following information8:
· On the basis of the rate per 100,000 people, in 2001, for each 100 victims of homicide who were white, 170 people with black and brown skin died;
· If Blacks and whites had the same homicide rate, 5,647 Blacks would not have been killed in Brazil in just one year;
· The homicide rate of Blacks and people with brown skin are statistically different. People with black skin in 2000 had a homicide rate 24% higher than people with brown skin, indicating that the color of skin or race influenced the risk of being killed to the extent that the darker the skin, the greater the chances of dying.

Research developed by Sérgio Adorno in São Paulo, in 1995, helps us translate the scope of racial discrimination in reference to access to justice. According to the author, racial inequality can be seen in the following factors:
a) Black defendants tend to be the most persecuted by police monitoring.
b) Black defendants experience greater obstacles to accessing the criminal justice system, and greater difficulties taking advantage of the right to a full defense ensured by constitutional norms.
c) In the proceedings, Black defendants tend to merit a more rigorous penal treatment, represented by the greater probability of being punished, compared to whites who have been charged with a crime.9

The data collected by the researcher shows comparative differences between Blacks and whites who have committed the same type of crime and who belong to the same social class.

These are some of the various times at which inequality becomes clear, demonstrating how racism impregnates the justice system. When one seeks to analyze the difference in gender, the data available becomes much more restricted, especially when the racial perspective is added to the studies. Work developed in Rio de Janeiro by Bárbara Soares and Iara Ilgenfritz,10 one of the few studies that traces some of this information, analyzes women imprisoned in Rio de Janeiro in the period 1999-2000. The majority of the women prisoners in Rio de Janeiro were Black.

The authors add that "combining information related to color and the age of the prisoners, it can be observed that the non-white women are younger than the white women[...]",11 which means that Black people are imprisoned and sentenced at younger ages. The disproportionate number of Black women relative to white women can also be verified when we consider the proportion of the different racial groups in the feminine population of Rio de Janeiro, in which, according to data from the Demographic Census, white women are the majority.

* Jurema Werneck is a doctor and General Coordinator of Criola. Article published in the magazine Democracia Viva (Ibase).

1. This article is a summary of chapter 10 of the book "Desigualdade racial em números", v. 2. Rio de Janeiro: Criola, p. 65-75.
2. RAMOS, Sílvia. Minoria e prevenção da violência, p. 1.
3. CANO, Ignácio. Racial Bias in lethal police action in Brazil, p. 3.
4. Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice Division. United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation. United Nations Office in Vienna.
5. CANO, op. cit., p. 4-5.
6. SOARES, Gláucio Ary Dillon. A cor da morte. Presentation given at the seminar on Violence and Racism, Universidade Candido Mendes, September 2002.
7. ADORNO, Sérgio. Violência e racismo: discriminação no acesso à justiça penal. In: SCHWARCZ, Lilia M.; QUEIROZ, Renato da Silva. Raça e diversidade. São Paulo: Estação
Ciência/Edusp, 1996.
8. SOARES, Bárbara Musumeci; ILGENFRITZ, Iara. Prisioneiras - Vida e violência atrás das grades. Rio de Janeiro: Garamond, 2002, p. 93.
9. Op. cit., p. 95.