On Thursday, May 13, which was supposed to mark the anniversary of the abolition of slavery in Brazil, thousands of Black Brazilians took to the streets to demonstrate their displeasure regarding the recent spate of racism and police violence in the country. The protest was also against what they termed the “false” anniversary of the abolition of slavery. Since 1888 when the Brazilian monarch’s daughter, Princess Isabel, signed the law freeing slaves, it has been marked. 

Black Brazilians, however, celebrate their own abolishment of slavery on November 20, which marks the killing of Zumbi, a historical figure of resistance against slavery and the last leader of Palmares (a runaway slave community). 

The protest took place in the two largest cities in Brazil: Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. 

About a thousand people protested through downtown Rio de Janeiro in the cool of the evening bearing candles and signs saying, “Don’t kill me, kill racism.” Others accused the country’s far-right President of complicity.

President Bolsonaro supports hardline policies to combat crime, including endorsing raids in areas where most of the residents are poor and Black. He also supports legislation that protected murderous police officers. 

Some signs brought back the massacre of 28 people by the police in the slum of Jacarezinho favela just outside of Rio de Janeiro the previous week. The police claimed they were on an operation that targeted drug traffickers. Human rights activists have called out the police for extrajudicial killings, saying many of the deceased were not even under investigation.

Also, around 7,000 protesters were seen marching against racism and police oppression in Avenida Paulista in São Paulo. They had their hands painted in red and daubed a Brazilian flag as a symbol of lethal violence. Signs read: “Black people want to live.”

“We are marking the date of the false abolition of slavery, and the tragedy in Jacarezinho where police ambushed 28 people to kill them in cold blood,” One of the protesters, João de Oliveira began. “President Bolsonaro and his vice president even applauded the slaughter. He committed genocide. We are here to protest.”

According to an NGO, Brazilian Forum on Public Safety, even though about 57% of the Brazilian population is Black or mixed race, they still account for two-thirds of the victims of lethal violence. A Black person is three times more likely to be murdered by the police than a white person. 

The protest also touched on how the implications of the Covid-19 pandemic have been more severe for Blacks in the South American country. They demanded the speeding up of the vaccination campaign. Demonstrators marched through the city with messages saying: “Who do the police protect?” and “No bullet, no hunger, no Covid”. 

Racism has been denied at the highest places in Brazil for the longest. But that changed last year when two white security guards brutally killed a Black man outside a supermarket. 

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