Over the past few months, I've witnessed thousands of fellow New Yorkers hit the streets to protest in favor of civil rights, and through social media I've seen friends around the country speak out against racial injustice. The cases of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice have brought issues to the fore that have galvanized young people all over the United States. These three cases have come to represent the many young black men who die violently each year. In the United States, young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts, and the overall homicide rate for black male teenagers is more than 20 times higher than that of white male teens.
It's a similar story in Brazil, but one that people don't often talk about. In Brazil, 30,000 people ages 15 to 29 are murdered each year, or around 82 young people killed every day. Of those victims, 77 percent are black. On average, police kill more than five people daily. And overall, only 5 to 8 percent of homicides go to trial.
In spite of these overwhelming numbers, Brazil hasn't had a big case to widely stir people to action--yet.
With this in mind, I asked Alexandre Ciconello, a human rights adviser at Amnesty International Brazil, about his organization's mission to raise awareness about this issue and how Brazil's struggle with black deaths parallels the same problem in United States. Ciconello monitors issues of public security, violence, and the judicial system.
What's the purpose of Amnesty's campaign Jovem Negro Vivo, or Black Youth Alive, launched in November?
Black Youth Alive is an Amnesty International campaign that seeks to put an end to the high number of homicides and of black youth in particular. Through communication, social media, and activism, we hope to put a stop to people's indifference in relation to the high rates of youth homicides, especially black youth in Brazil, so people mobilize and speak out in favor of youth staying alive.
This initiative is relevant given the rise in murders in Brazil. Plus, there's been a trend in recent years in which the number of homicides among the black population has risen, while the murder rate fell among the white population. The main group of victims are black youth, many of them residents of favelas or city outskirts. The majority of victims' profiles (male, young, black), compounded with racism, contribute to the fact that society doesn't mobilize to address this problem and to demand an end to these deaths.
The campaign includes publicizing a number of statistics. Which fact surprised you the most?
The fact that surprised me the most was that Brazil more homicides than any country in the world. There were 56,000 murders in 2012. Of those, 30,000 victims were youth, and 77 percent of youth victims were black. Never has there been so much murder in Brazil, and it's shocking to see the selectivity of victims' profiles.
In the United States, there are protests going on about black youth killed by police. Do you see similarities between the #BlackLivesMatter movement in the United States and Amnesty's campaign?
Michael Brown's murder in August took place in a poor, black suburb. The same thing happens every day in Brazil. Black youth are the most affected by violence and we know that a part of these murders are the result of police action. Both in the United States and Brazil, there's a legacy of social exclusion and discrimination associated with black youth, which should be widely discussed and repudiated. The difference is that in the United States, the death of this young man by police stirred people and caused outrage, while in Brazil these stories rarely reach the back pages of newspapers and society deals with this as if violent death was the inevitable fate of these young people.
In Brazil, there have been local protests against people killed by police (like Amarildo, for example). In Brazil, could national protests take place as a result of a case like this?
That's our hope, but before that we need to break this pact of silence that exists in relation to these deaths, with rare exceptions. Society's indifference toward so many lives lost is one of our greatest disgraces. All of these deaths represent a tragedy and an irreversible loss. Society has a strategic role to ensure that this reality changes.