Killing of two girls stokes outrage over Brazil's horrific toll of black lives

Tom Phillips in Duque de Caxias

Mon 7 Dec 2020 18.43 GMT

Shooting of cousins aged just four and seven, allegedly by police, heightens calls for national reckoning over ‘genocide’.

Ana Lúcia Silva Moreira, 38, mother of Emily Victoria Silva dos Santos, four, and aunt of Rebeca Beatriz Rodrigues dos Santos, seven holds photos of the two girls during a protest in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro state. Photograph: Bruna Prado/AP

The shooting of two young black girls – who had between them enjoyed fewer than 11 years of life – has sparked outrage in Brazil and intensified the debate over police violence and structural racism in a country still grappling with the legacy of slavery.

Emily Victoria Moreira dos Santos and Rebeca Beatriz Rodrigues Santos, cousins aged four and seven, were killed on Friday night as they played outside their grandmother’s home in Barro Vermelho, a redbrick favela on Rio’s rundown northern fringe.

Their deaths took the number of children killed in Rio this year to eight, nearly all of them black, like most Brazilian murder victims.

“I feel crushed, but I’m going to find the strength to fight – for Emily, for Rebeca, and for all the other girls, because black lives matter,” vowed Emily’s mother, Ana Lúcia Silva Moreira, who believes police were responsible for the shooting. “I wasn’t raising my daughter so she could become part of a statistic.”

Witnesses claimed they had seen a police officer shoot into the community at about 8.30 pm that night, although Rio’s military police has denied its agents opened fire.

“It’s because they’re cowards,” the victim’s uncle, André da Silva Moreira, fumed as he and his sister relived the crime on Monday morning in a plaza near their home in the city of Duque de Caxias.

Children holding dolls covered with fake blood stand next to a sign that reads in Portuguese ‘Stop killing our children’. Photograph: Bruna Prado/AP

“And because we’re black too,” Ana Lúcia, a 38-year-old street hawker, cut in.

“You know what rights we have in this country?” asked André, 45. “The right to become a slab of meat in the hands of our governors.”

The shootings, part of a remorseless wave of infant deaths in a city awash with high-caliber rifles, sparked an immediate outcry.

Former president Dilma Rousseff slammed the “veritable carnage” being unleashed on Rio’s poorest communities by the police’s “utter lack of control”. The black philosopher Djamila Ribeiro declared: “This is a genocidal country.”

One of the most moving protests came from Thiago Amparo, a black public intellectual. “There comes a point where tears can no longer express our pain,” he wrote in the Folha de São Paulo, demanding: “Who will answer for the genocide that is underway?”

On Sunday scores of mourners and activists gathered in Duque de Caxias carrying dolls smothered with fake blood and banners reading: “Stop Killing Us” and “Vidas Negras Importam” (Black Lives Matter).

Rio’s acting governor, Cláudio Castro, promised a “rigorous” inquiry into the deaths and said he favored a security policy that was based on intelligence and sought to protect lives.

Cecília Olliveira, a public security specialist and journalist, said the killings captured perfectly the futility and racial bias of Brazil’s unceasing “war on drugs” which claims thousands of mostly black lives each year.

“What happened to these two children, in a predominantly black and poor neighborhood far from the center of Rio, is the synthesis of what Brazil chose as its public security policy: the extermination of invisible and quote-unquote ‘undesirable’ people,” Olliveira said.

Statistics make clear the bloodshed’s racial skew.