She was the Rule, Not an Exception

Claudia Silva Ferreira’s crime, last March 16, was living in the wrong place and having the wrong skin color. She went out to buy bread and ham, a cup of coffee in hand. We can never know how lethal a cup of coffee might be if held by a black, poor woman living on the periphery of a Brazilian city. Police shot the cleaning lady twice, leaving her body stretched on the ground, chest pierced.

She was taken to a police car to be driven to the hospital. The back seat was full of guns, so they couldn’t put a wounded person there — they must have their priorities straight. So Claudia was put in the trunk, which opened along the way and let her fall to the ground, stuck to the bumper by a piece of clothing, dragged by the car for 1,200 feet. The policemen finally noticed she had fallen and tucked her back in place. She died.

The Military Police denied what residents of Morro da Congonha, Madureira, Rio de Janeiro’s suburbs, saw. According to them, Claudia was found already shot. In the same operation, the police killed a supposed drug dealer, wounded and arrested another one, seizing four pistols, radios and drugs. It was probably worth it, since drugs destroy families.

If not for the drugs, the Military Police wouldn’t have been forced to climb the favela hill, wouldn’t have encountered a menacing and violent 38-year-old black woman holding a cup of coffee, wouldn’t have been obligated to shoot twice in her direction, entailing the bothersome task of taking her to the car and then to the hospital. And drugs keep tearing families apart. Claudia, for instance, raised 8 children, 4 of her own, 4 nieces and nephews. Her family now is defaced because of drugs.

And how can we demand that the military aid a dying woman? They are the military for a reason. They are called “soldiers” (specifically, the policemen involved here were two sub-lieutenants and a sergeant) and sent to war. The idea of protecting people is entirely alien to a military organization and the Military Police proves it every time it invades a favela and sees the residents not as people but as potential collateral damage.

Of those involved, sub-lieutenant Adir Serrano Machado is the most efficient. He has been involved in 57 actions involving some kind of resistance, leaving 63 dead. Sub-lieutenant Rodney Miguel Archanjo has been somewhat more circumspect, having been part of only 5 of those occurrences, with 6 dead. Sergeant Alex Sandro da Silva Alves, on the other hand, debuted on the Sunday in which Claudia was shot, his first resisted operation.

Given all of this, it’s clear that a demilitarization would weaken the police too much, making it impossible for them to fight crime. If we want someone to go up the favelas to confiscate weed and cocaine, we’ve got to have soldiers.

But is that really what we want?

It sounds good in political ads to say that police presence in the favelas has increased and that the battle against drugs has been intensified. But what this means is that hundreds of Claudia Silva Ferreiras are going to keep dying. Because the only way to keep an illusion of safe and drug-free cities is to shoot innocent people in the favelas.

To keep thinking that police brutality is an exception will take us nowhere. Brazilian police violence is institutionalized and necessary for the government’s goals. It is not possible to control the drug trade, or maintain the legitimacy of the state’s mission to “fight crime,” without the use of lethal force. With current drug policy, there’s no possibility of ending police violence — without it, the state would never be able to affirm its power.

For now, the Military Police could at least publish a pamphlet listing suspicious activities that honest citizens should avoid, such as being black and walking with coffee.

Translations for this article:

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory