Lingering Trauma in Brazil: Police Violence Against Black Women

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Black women disproportionately experience the trauma of police aggression in Brazil. Understanding how requires complicating and expanding our definitions of state violence.

On March 16, 2014, military police shot and severely wounded 38-year-old Cláudia da Silva Ferreira in the suburban community of Madureira in Rio de Janeiro. She was leaving her house to buy groceries at a local market in her neighborhood when she got caught in the crossfire of a gun battle between police and alleged drug dealers. The police waited until the battle was over and put the unconscious Silva Ferreira in the hatchback trunk of the police car to take her to the hospital. They refused to let any of her family members ride with her. On the way to the hospital, she fell out of the trunk but stayed pinned to the car, held by a piece of her clothing. The police officers, who either didn’t notice or didn’t care, proceeded to drag her for approximately 250 meters until they reached a red light where they stuffed her limp body back inside the car. Silva Ferreira was pronounced dead on arrival at the Carlos Chagas State Hospital.

Almost four years to the day later, on the night of March 14, Rio de Janeiro councilwoman Marielle Franco was riding home with her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes and her assistant, when an unidentified car pulled up beside her and shot repeatedly into her car. The assassin(s) shot her four times in the head, killing her, and also shot her driver, killing him as well. Her assistant escaped with injuries. Soon thereafter, it came out that the bullets that the killers used to kill Franco and Gomes were from a lot of ammunition that the Federal Police had purchased in Brasília in 2006, that an alleged death squad used to massacre 17 people in metropolitan São Paulo in 2015.

Police violence is a phenomenon that gravely affects Black men, but it also disproportionately targets Black women. Black women are also shot, tortured, and killed by the police in addition to facing sexual assault and terror due to both physical threats and the lingering, deadly effects of police terror. Following the work of Andreia Beatriz dos Santos, co-coordinator of the React or Die! Campaign Against the Genocide of Black People and co-founder of the Winnie Mandela School in Salvador, Bahia, I call this process sequelae, which draws from the medical definition of the term sequela, meaning “a condition that is the consequence of a previous disease,” as I have written in recent articles. I use the term to describe the lingering, deadly aftereffects of police terror on the bodies of the living in the aftermath of police killings.

Like Cláudia Ferreira’s death four years before, Marielle Franco’s death was yet another disturbing reminder of the complex ways that Black women experience police violence in the Americas.Like Cláudia Ferreira’s death four years before, Marielle Franco’s death was yet another disturbing reminder of the complex ways that Black women experience police violence in the Americas. But in order to come to grips with the full spectrum of the gendered realities of anti-Black policing in the Americas, we must pay closer attention to the violence Black women experience at the hands of on duty and off duty police officers and complicate and expand our definitions of police violence to include the mundane and the lingering impact of trauma in addition to the spectacular. Examining these recent examples through a gendered perspective provides insight into the multiple ways that Black women experience police violence in Brazil.

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