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
The Color of Justice
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.
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:
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
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).
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
· Prison benefits or reduction of sentence - it can
be more difficult for members of racially discriminated groups
to obtain these benefits.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
· 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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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,
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
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.