Police in Brazil have killed nearly as many people
in the past five years as U.S. police have killed during the past 30 years, according to statistics from the FBI and the Brazilian Public Safety Forum
. On average, Brazilian law enforcement killed six people per day
between 2009 and 2013, a study by the São Paulo-based research group found. And the victims of police violence in Brazil are overwhelmingly Black and poor.
Which is why, on Monday, more than 5,000 people took to the streets of Salvador da Bahia, the country's third-largest city and the heart of Afro-Brazilian culture, to protest the deaths of unarmed Black people at the hands of law officers. The movement, called Reaja ou Será Morto
— "React or Die"
— shares many of the messages of the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S.
But Naiara Leite, a human-rights attorney volunteering with Reaja ou Será Morto, told Refinery29 the problem of police violence is far more critical in Brazil.
"The statistics give you a dimension of how grave it is, but even those numbers are underestimated, because they don't include the deaths that occur from death squads, which are often composed of members of the police force," Leite says.
The Reaja ou Será Morto movement — also spelled Morta
(for women) or Mortx
(gender-neutral) — has existed in Salvador for 10 years, but taking to the streets to speak out about police violence is a new tactic.
"For a country that's very loud, Brazil is very silent on the subject of police violence," Jihan Hafiz, an independent journalist covering the march, told Refinery29. "There is a general feeling in this city that the authorities are against Black people. Racism here is very strong. So when they have a march that is calling out the police for violence in Black neighborhoods, that's dangerous. You can die here for speaking out against the police. All it takes is one wrong move to have the police start shooting. They are a 'shoot first, ask questions later'-type force."
Leite told Refinery29 that's a threat movement leaders know all too well.
"Reaja ou Será Morto leaders are receiving death threats on social media and on their personal phones. The police have come to their houses and tried to enter their houses without a legal order," Leite says.
Still, Reaja ou Será Morto says the time has come to end the silence — and women are leading the charge. Read their stories on Refinery29.
Jihan Hafiz contributed reporting from Salvador da Bahia.