The following article contains descriptions of severe abuse. I do not take the decision to publish this information lightly. The woman who shared her story want’s to denounce the system and believes that exposing this reality is the best way to ensure this abuse ends once and for all. On the other hand, I understand that this information can be emotionally unhealthy for some of our readers, so please consider this trigger warning before continuing, or consider skipping the signaled paragraph.
“if Rights were ensured to everyone, the Government would have to become something else entirely. It would have to cease to be.”
Sunday afternoon, 6 people, some of which had never met each other before, are at the beach drinking beer, playing Frescobol and talking. One of the women starts talking about how annoying it is when her neighbors blast music, and how the Law that forbids this behavior should be enough to have these people behave respectfully. A whiter tattooed woman disagrees, saying that the Law isn’t necessary in these situations and does more damage than good. She recites Anarchist slogans comfortably: “The Law does not protect people, it oppresses the vast majority, and is imposed unequally on the population. The Law is only there to protect the interests of the Elite!”. Then a young factory worker, with militant communist affiliations and a cigarette, responds by saying that some laws are important to protect the rights of workers like him.
Then Nina speaks. The more words come out, the more intense her trembling becomes, and the bigger the tears rolling down her face.
The following paragraph bears a Trigger Warning: sexual abuse.
Nina is a mother of three, but her petite young body does not show it. She was 2 months pregnant when she was arrested and raped by police officers. She gave birth in prison and witnessed the abuse of many other women. Every night they worried about who would be next. Some cases were even worse than hers, such as the woman violated with a broom handle who came back bleeding. Even after reporting the incident to the judge and being sent to the doctor for tests, her abusers remain unpunished.
“I feel dirty, like I’m garbage” she said while hugging herself. There are not enough blankets, hugs, and words like “No, they are garbage. They are filthy garbage, not you” to make this trembling go away. She knows all of their names and is not afraid to report it, even if it means putting her life at risk.
She had tuberculosis, and ate horribly: Frozen meat, spoiled food, and lack of water. Officers claimed their budget was 2 thousand Reais per inmate, and Nina affirms that there is absolutely no way this money was actually getting to them. Reporting corruption is important, but it’s also important to stress that focusing on improving the system is pointless. There is no use in asking to be protected by a system that is created and sustained by people whose interests depend on keeping women like her dehumanized and with the lowest level of self-esteem.
When her daughter was molested, she took the law into her own hands, because she knew that the judicial system is not there to protect her rights. It is there to criminalize dissent likely to undermine the Government’s ability to function. Operating outside of the law is the way to combat the injustices perpetrated by the rule of law, to undermine the government’s ability to function (in the interests of the few), and to seize control of our own lives.
There is no better way to sustain rule of law, and the government’s ability to function, than to convince poor people they don’t deserve rights, that they don’t deserve protection. That’s because if rights were ensured to everyone, the Government would have to become something else entirely. It would have to cease to be.
For example, the right wing founder of the NGO Turning Point USA said: “You really think Rosa Parks was a hero? I guess you forgot that she is famous for breaking the law.” You would think that this proud white U.S. American reveres the constitution to such an extent that he believes there is no excuse to break the law, even when for a righteous cause. That’s not the case, because even he broke the law when his NGO endorsed republican politicians and shared personal information of its members with conservative campaigners.
What is the fundamental difference between Rosa Parks breaking the law, and this generic conservative white guy breaking the law? One broke the law in an attempt to undermine the government’s ability to function, and the other broke the law to protect the government’s ability to function. Institutional racism is an indispensable tool to make government function feasible. How? Borders, economic exploitation of “Developing” non-white countries, the for-profit prison system, the unpunished liquidation of the marginalized contingent of the population, and so on. This is the distinction between crimes you can get away with, and crimes you cannot.
The crime women are most arrested for is drug trafficking. First of all, in Brazil, the line between a user and a trafficker is determined by judges, not by quantity. They claim that otherwise dealers will use this “ceiling” to skirt the law. In practice, this is used to criminalize people who they don’t believe can afford to use without selling: a criminalization of poverty. Our previous Minister of Justice has even admitted that distinguishing between a potential criminal and an innocent citizen is done by “looking at the person’s eyes“, which basically means a wide range of potential for discrimination based on race, class and gender.
Second of all, let’s ask ourselves why trafficking drugs is illegal in the first place. Drug trafficking is considered a danger to public health, like toxic chemicals in food, cosmetics, or air and water pollution. While some industries destroy the planet and our bodies with impunity, “drug” users and low level distributors are doing time in double digits (in a judicial system that not for a moment questions what really leads to addiction).
Volkswagen can cheat on their emission tests and get away with it with a relative slap on the wrist. Why? Because their crime was an attempt to sustain the fragile capitalist economy, which is crucial in keeping the government’s engine running smoothly. A Volkswagen executive has spent less time behind bars than a protester arrested for carrying two bottles of cleaning products (Schmidt got 40 months of supervised release while Rafael Braga got a proper 5 years, and a month in solitary confinement). Drug trafficking, much like protesting, is not there to benefit the government. It is an industry that sustains the sovereignty of the community the government treats as excess contingent.
The sovereignty of the ghetto is a massive threat to the status quo- to the state. Organized crime might be big enough to negotiate with the state, but the massive numbers of people doing time are those who benefit the least from being on either side of the negotiating table.
Nina’s battered self esteem is in the best interest of the government, because were she to have the will and resources to build sovereignty, she would use it to make the system that sought to destroy her and her family obsolete. Does anyone really think that if she suggests ways for the system to improve and says “please” that anyone will comply? Expecting her to beg is only a perpetuation of the abuse. We must cheer her courage to rise and resist, and never again demand obedience.
is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.