Like in the US, Black women in Brazil face racist state violence

A light-skinned Afro-Brazilian woman with an afro raises her fist and has her mouth open, yelling. Around her are other black women holding signs and protesting.

(Image Credit: Black Women of Brazil)

On August 22nd, over 50,000 people hit the streets of Brazil to protest the killings of Black Brazilians as a result of the drug war. Similar to protests happening in Ferguson, the Second National March Against the Genocide of Black Peoples called out an epidemic of police violence that makes the US’s pale in comparison.

An Afro-Brazilian woman wearing a scarf around her hair, a beaded necklace and a white lacy shirt smiles at the camera.

Mãe Baiana, 53, President of the Ile Axé Oyá Bagan terreiro: “Our fight is the fight against intolerance and prejudice. Do they think that we’re still slaves? Because we take lashes every day.” (Image and text via Black Women of Brazil)

Brazil’s population is a third smaller than that of the US, but it has almost five times as many killings by police. And that number is only increasing: according to a study by the Latin American Study center, the number of white Brazilians killed by law enforcement has decreased, while Afro-Brazilian deaths have increased significantly. This change appears to coincide with Brazil’s preparation for the World Cup and the Olympic games which involved the “pacification” of urban ghettos known as favelas.

According to Johanas Mesquita, a 23-year-old resident of Pavão-Pavãozinho who spoke to the Associated Press during the protest, “Police violence is only replacing what the drug gangs carried out before.”

The violent policing of low-income communities of color speaks closely to what is happening in Ferguson, reminding us that though racism looks different throughout the Americas, the legacies of slavery and white supremacy continue to threaten Black and brown lives in similar ways. In Brazil, about 2,000 people are killed by law enforcement every year, most of them Black or dark-skinned, many of them women. And in the same way that state violence against young men has a color, in Brazil, six in ten women murdered are Black. Last month, Joana Darc Brito was shot in a favela in Rio de Janeiro and died en route to the hospital.  Maria de Fátima dos Santos and her daughter Alessandra de Jesus were executed in an ally. Claudia Silva Ferreira was shot by law enforcement back in March, and died after falling out of their car and being dragged for two blocks.

A young Afro-Brazilian woman glares at the camera through large glasses. She has big, curly hair and is wearing a necklace.

Marisandra Layla, 31, Social educator and member of the National Forum of Black Youth: “We are here to say that, in spite of everything, we, black women, are still alive!” (Image and text via Black Women of Brazil)

State violence may target black and brown men more than women, but women and LGBTQ folks’ lives are often the collateral damage of conflicts between men. Wondering why women victims of state violence do not get the same media attention as men, Verónica wrote last month:

“I want to mourn the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, and I want to question why the deaths of Renisha McBride and Islan Nettles and Kathryn Johnston haven’t gotten similar traction. Why the beating of Marlene Pinnock isn’t on all of our lips. Why the nation is not familiar with the names of Stephanie Maldonado, or of Ersula Ore. And how many women’s names do we not know because they don’t dare come forward?”

At the March Against the Genocide of Black Peoples, participants from key racial justice organizations, artists, musicians, and activists came together to show the world that #BlackLivesMatter. Let’s hope that this work can continue to emphasize that from the US to Brazil, Black women’s lives matter also.

(A huge hat tip to Black Women of Brazil for their reporting and photos.)


Juliana loves cross continental solidarity.

Bay Area, California

Juliana is a digital storyteller for social change. As a writer at Feministing since 2013, her work has focused on women's movements throughout the Americas for environmental justice, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice. In addition to her writing, Juliana is a Senior Campaigner at, where she works to close the gap between the powerful and everyone else by supporting people from across the country to launch, escalate and win their campaigns for justice.

Juliana is a Latina feminist writer and campaigner based in the Bay Area.

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