On the evening of January 12, Brazilian police clashed with protesters seeking to fight rising rail and bus fares enacted by the government for the second time in a year. The protest in São Paulo – called to action by Movimento Passe Livre after the raises were implemented on January 9 – was intended to be peaceful, until the police, who had been present en masse as the gathering for the protest started, refused to let them go on their planned route.
As the protest tried to exit a city centre square, the police hit protesters with tear gas cannons. “We counted 49 bombs in 6 minutes in one single block where many of the protesters were kettled”, says Laura Viana, a member of Movimento Passe Livre. “What happened yesterday was a state-approved massacre with shabby, ‘law-like’ justifications, which is terrifying for anyone who is considering rallying against the cuts we are expecting.”
Police violence isn’t a new topic of discussion in Brazil. There are known accounts of police officers forcing school doors to stay open during peaceful school occupations late last year. Furthermore, in 2013, the police’s chaotic responses to the protests for fairer transport led to many student arrests. As well as that, the daily violence suffered by those in the peripheral neighborhoods of the big cities is largely ignored by the Brazilian media, but a known reality by those experiencing abuse on a daily basis.
“A six month pregnant woman broke a rib after being kicked by policemen while trying to escape the warzone”
“We expected repression and violence yesterday, but they managed to make something a lot more violent, something we couldn’t even imagine. Something we didn’t even see in 2013”, continues Viana. Other accounts include a six month pregnant woman broke a rib after being kicked by policemen while trying to escape the warzone. A 19-year old student might lose movement on his hand after a tear gas splinter was thrown directly on his hand. According to GAAP (Grupo de Apoio ao Protesto Popular), at least 24 people were gravely hurt and had to have medical assistance in the streets.
“There was no dialogue between police and protesters. When we were trying to get to the gathering in the square before the protest, a policeman just tried to stop me with his arm and said ‘turn around’”, says Demétrio, a student who managed to find a way out of the clash between police and protesters by narrowly avoiding teargas bombs and hiding in the doorway of a building with a friend. “When we got out of there after the bombs started, we noticed that every single street that could be an exit was closed off by policemen.”
BrasilPost reports that the appointed security of state, Alexandre de Moraes, largely complimented the action of the police. In a public declaration, Moraes stated: “The strategy utilised today by the police will be used in all manifestations. The constitution will not allow the state to deny a trajectory. A group of protestors can’t stop the city and affect thousands of people”. Amongst the critics are Amnesty International, an organisation that supports the freedom of protest.
With this threat of continuous violence, there’s a question of what happens next for the protesters. “Now? Now we continue on the streets”, says Laura Viana. “I think yesterday, as horrible as it was, gave us an even greater will to resist in everyone that was there, so the fight carries on even stronger, especially since we know that the state is scared. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t have created a war-like operation to deal with a protest. We continue fighting until the increase of price stops, with or without repression.”