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Brazilian Cameraman's Death Fuels Push for Stricter Protest Laws

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Cinematographer Santiago Ilídio Andrade is struck during a protest in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Agência Brasil

[All links lead to Portuguese-language pages except when otherwise noted.]

The death of cameraman Santiago Ilídio Andrade, who was covering a demonstration in the center of Rio de Janeiro against an increase in public transportation prices, has sparked public outcry in Brazil. Andrade was hit in the head by a firework and suffered brain death on February 10, 2014.

The Brazilian Press Association (Associação Brasileira de Imprensa) published a note inviting Brazilian society “to a broad debate about [...] the urgent necessity of regulation by law that increases and reinforces the security of press professionals in the practice of their profession,” while the Jornal Nacional, the newscast with the largest audience on Brazilian television, broadcast an editorial on their national network demanding that “the guilty parties be identified, and expressly punished.”

Since then, the death of the cameraman has served as a mobilizing cause for various debates, including the safety of journalists in demonstrations, the judiciary nature of crimes committed against journalists, and ways of restricting violence committed by demonstrators in the country given that the population has taken to the streets [en] since last June demanding changes in public policy.

 After the death of a colleague, cinematographers and photographers protest at Brazil's National Congress, in Brasília-DF. Photo: Luis Macedo/House of the Deputies

After the death of a colleague, cinematographers and photographers protest at Brazil's National Congress in Brasília-DF. Photo: Luis Macedo/House of the Deputies

For sociologist and professor at University of the State of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ) Luiz Eduardo Soares, Armade's death demonstrates a strategic error on the part of protesters that resort to violence. He wrote on Facebook:

A morte do cinegrafista da Band é uma tragédia e um ponto de inflexão no processo político em curso. Pela tragédia, me solidarizo com a dor de familiares e amigos. Quanto à política, esse episódio dramático é a gota d'água, ou a gota de sangue que muda a qualidade dos debates e das identidades em conflito.

Quebrar vitrines é prática equivocada, contraproducente e ingênua, mas compreensível como explosão indignada, ante tanta iniquidade e a rotineira violência estatal, naturalizadas pela mídia e por parte da sociedade. Mas tudo se complica quando atos agressivos deixam de corresponder à explosão circunstancial de emoções, cuja motivação é legítima. Tudo se transforma quando atos agressivos já não são momentâneos e se convertem em tática, autonomizando-se, tornando-se uma espécie de ritual repetitivo, performance previsível, dramaturgia redundante.

Os atos agressivos passam a ser a celebração narcísica da própria força, uma teatralização paradoxalmente impotente do ódio. As cenas se sucedem de modo a espelhar a brutalidade policial, realimentando o circuito destrutivo e autodestrutivo da violência, cujo simbolismo afirma o avesso da solidariedade, da fraternidade e dos valores gregários – corroídos pelos mecanismo vigentes de exploração capitalista.

Ou seja, a ritualização da agressividade, por parte de manifestantes, ecoa, reflete e reproduz o que pretende combater. Atos guerreiros instauram nas ruas uma linguagem monossilábica e fetichista que é a réplica grotesca do espírito do capitalismo. O vocabulário de atos agressivos é exíguo e o repertório de imagens, muito pobre – mero decalque do imaginário conservador do entretenimento midiático.

The death of the Band [nickname of the Brazilian television network Rede Bandeirantes] cinematographer is a tragedy and a point of inflection in the current political process. With respect to the tragedy, I sympathize with the pain of his family and friends. As far as the politics go, this dramatic episode is a drop of water, or a drop of blood, that changes the quality of the debates and the identities in conflict.

Breaking display windows is wrong, a counterproductive and naive practice, but understandable as an indignant outburst before so much iniquity and routine state violence, naturalized and accepted by the media and by society at large. But everything gets more complicated when aggressive acts are no longer momentous and become tactical, autonomizing and becoming a type of repetitive ritual, predictable performance, or redundant dramatization.

The aggressive acts have come to be a narcissistic celebration in their own rite, a theatricality paradoxically impotent to hate. The scenes take place in a way that mirrors police brutality, feeding the destructive circuit and violent self-destruction, whose symbolism is averse to solidarity, fraternity, and gregarious values- corroded by the current mechanism of capitalist exploitation.

In other words, the ritualization of aggression on the part of protesters echoes, reflects and reproduces what it intends to combat. Guerrilla acts establish a monosyllabic and fetishistic language on the streets that is a grotesque replica of the spirit of capitalism. The vocabulary of aggressive acts is limited and the repertory of images, very poor – a mere decal of the conservative, media-trained imagination.

On the other hand, while lamenting the tragic death of the news professional, many continue to question the behavior of the mainstream press and of the government with respect to other disobedience within the protests and out. Independent journalism group Mídia Ninja stated:

Essa tragédia não irá ocultar a culpa daqueles que fizeram da violência o falso mote da luta nas ruas. Não vamos esquecer o real motivo de centenas de milhares de pessoas saírem de casa, na iminência do aumento das passagens. 

O que não se fala é que não foi apenas Santiago que morreu. Ele não foi a primeira vítima da violência nos protestos no Brasil, nem a primeira morte do ato da última sexta feira. Poucos souberam do óbito do ambulante Tasman Amaral Accioly, um idoso, atropelado por um ônibus durante o caos instaurado pelas bombas da Polícia Militar em plena Central do Brasil, ou dos casos ocorridos em Belo Horizonte e Ribeirão Preto (SP) no ano passado. 

Invisíveis também são milhões de vítimas de um sistema que mata, impiedosamente, todos os dias.

This tragedy will not hide the excuses of those who started violence with the false motto of the fight on the streets. We will not forget the real motive of the hundreds of thousands of people who left the house because of the imminent rise of transportation fares.

What is not being said is that it was not just Santiago that died. He wasn't the first victim of violence in the protests in Brazil, nor the first death during the protest on that day. Few know of the death of street vendor Tasman Amaral Accioly, an elderly man run over by a bus during the chaos ignited by tear gas bombs thrown by the military police in Brazil's Central station, or of the cases that occurred in Belo Horizonte and Ribeirão Preto (SP) last year.

Invisible too are the millions of victims of a system that kills mercilessly every day.

One of the headlines publicized by the blog Anonymous Br4sil, that made a list of other deaths that occurred in protests.

The blog Anonymous Br4sil (www.anonymousbr4sil.net) also released headlines with a list of the deaths that occurred in protests.

The Center of Independent Media (CMI) published a list of people killed and injured in demonstrations in Brazil. The majority of the victims lost their lives or vision from rubber bullets or tear gas used by police forces, but cases have also been registered of falls and even collapses of aqueducts. 

New laws: against violence or against demonstrations?

Amongst the atmosphere of public clamor, political authorities are taking advantage of the controversy to lobby for “mão dura” (“iron-fist”) legislative changes that supposedly would put a stop to violence on the part of protesters. Senator Jorge Vianna (PT-AC) even gave a speech claiming that Bill 499/2013 (Projeto de Lei nº 499/2013), which defines crimes of terrorism in Brazil, should urgently be voted on.

For him, “It is a terrorist demonstration when a journalist can't work covering a protest, when a hooded man with a mask prevents the journalist from working. This is a terrorist action.”

Secretary for Public Security of Rio de Janeiro José Mariano Beltrame has submitted a bill to the Ministry of Justice that, amongst other measures, provides for the prohibition of using masks during protests.

“In the function of what we have today as law, we don't have the conditions to keep these people in prison and punish them because the crimes are of a lesser potential offense. We have arrested many people, there were almost 50 last Thursday, but all of them were released. We did this study to propose the legislative changes that will prevent this from happening,” he affirmed, concluding that “we have the World Cup at our door.”

Lawyer Pedro Abramovay reacted to the proposal as a typification of terrorism, and published a letter to Senator Vianna:

Após anos de discussão, de muito debate, de muito diálogo com experiências internacionais, estou completamente convencido de que esta legislação não trará nenhum benefício concreto para a população brasileira e pode gerar enormes prejuízos para a nossa democracia.

É necessário, em primeiro lugar, separar a ideia de condenação total do terrorismo da necessidade de se criar um tipo penal específico para ele. O terrorismo é a maior violência que se pode cometer contra a democracia. É a aposta na violência e no medo como forma de substituição do diálogo democrático. Por isso ele deve ser condenado e punido.

After years of discussion, much debate, lots of dialogue with international experiences, I am completely convinced that this legislation will not bring any concrete benefit to the Brazilian population and could generate enormous injury to our democracy.

It is necessary in the first place to separate the idea of total condemnation of terrorism borne out of the necessity to create a specific punishment for the offense. Terrorism is the greatest violence that could be committed against a democracy. It is the bet on violence and on fear as a form of substituting democratic dialogue. That's why it should be condemned and punished.

Even senators of the same party criticized the so-called Terrorism Bill:

A law that is too general, such as this terrorism law, could allow excesses of the state against its citizens. Brazil does not need another AI-5 [the Institutional Act Number Five, one of the major decrees issued by the military dictatorship in the years following the 1964 coup d'état in Brazil]

Correction:The survey of people killed and injured in protests in Brazil originated from the Center of Independent Media of Brazil (CMI) and not from the blog Anonymous Br4sil as indicated in the original version of this article in Portuguese, published on February 12, 2014.

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