How Many Murders by the Police are Enough?

On September 18, a military police officer at Lapa, east zone of Sao Paulo, Brazil, killed street vendor Carlos Augusto Muniz Braga. Footage of the tragedy surfaced and was viralized, showing the moment the police officer shoots point blank at the victim. Carlos moved away but fell down shortly afterwards.

What was his crime? Witnesses say another street vendor had had all his merchandise — DVDs — confiscated by the police and, in reacting indignantly, was taken down to the ground by two cops after a physical altercation. A small crowd gathered and protested against the police action: “Don’t beat him!” “There are a bunch of thieves around and you want to beat a worker up?” One of the cops drew his loaded gun and pointed it at the unarmed citizens. Carlos was among them. When the cop tried to use pepper spray, Carlos tried to stop him and was shot in the head.

Carlos is survived by his wife, Claudia Silva Lopes, and three children — the youngest a 4-year old and the oldest 12. Claudia reports nonchalantly that she has been subjected to police violence even when she was pregnant, denouncing how common police abuses are in the lives of street vendors in Brazil.

The street vendor is harassed and prosecuted for taking free trade everywhere. Countless customers find, every day, through their work and investment, an alternative to satisfy their demands for goods and services. It’s a face-to-face economy, where demand is met with flexibility and adaptability. Everyone’s lives get better with this network of exchanges that, annually, moves hundreds of billions of dollars.

So that actually takes place, a large portion of street workers lives is spent finding with ways to route around the state, avoiding its repressive apparatus, or at least trying to salvage some of their investment and the fruits of their labor. Police generally represses street vendors and workers using several justifications: Lack of permits, discretionary permit repealing, intellectual “property” protection or non-payment of taxes.

Which just goes to show how the state is an institution opposed the worker and the poor.

In a country where the government prides itself on having a detailed legislation to “protect” laborers, the fact is that informal workers are very vulnerable to being bullied by the state, which confiscates their products and physically aggresses against them — in some cases, using lethal force, as in Carlos Augusto’s case. Permits for commercial activities in the streets are also very unreliable, and municipal authorities can and often do suspend their licenses.

In Brazil, taxes are supposedly used to fund education, health care and welfare, but the brunt of the tax burden not only is footed by the poor rather than the rich, but by women and black people rather than white men. Informal trade relieves the poor and minority groups from part of that weight. Government can’t stand that.

Here, workers such as Carlos are often persecuted while megacorps like FIFA enrich themselves via state action, as I’ve written during the World Cup.

All these injustices notwithstanding, it’s likely that Carlos’s death would’ve been reported as a “resistance file,” and it wouldn’t have been investigated if no one had taped what happened. Resistance files are no more than licenses to kill that create a presumption that the police version is true. If it weren’t for the crowd and the video, Carlos would’ve become a new “resisting” victim, and his death chalked up to normal police activity against criminal behavior.

Carlos Augusto’s death can’t be forgotten. None of the abuses perpetrated by the state should be. We owe it ot him not only to judge the police officer who shot him, but to abolish this unjust and unfair system that treats free trade and workers as criminal cases.

Translated into English by Erick Vasconcelos.

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