A dialogue between the past and the present

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Tanya Gladney entered our classroom with a big smile on her face advising all the WPI students that she had asthma and would probably cough a lot during her lecture. I was anxious about our first class regarding Policing and Race Relations, because we face the same social and race issues in Brazil, especially in my hometown Rio de Janeiro.

Tanya is a black woman, who used to be a law enforcement agent and now is a teacher in the University of St. Thomas. While she was explaining about History in Policing Communities of Color and the Historical Trauma Theory, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much the United States and Brazil have in common.

American police forces originated as slave patrols, an organization of white men who enforced discipline and a subordination to rules of conduct to black slaves in the 18th century. They were also responsible for capturing those who escaped. It was an early form of law enforcement. In Brazil, they were called capitao-do-mato, which means captain of the bush. Every time there were runaway slaves, a capitao-do-mato was called to find them. Can you see the similarities between slave patrols and capitao-do-mato?

Social and racial comparisons between Brazil and United States are very opportune considering that both countries were developed as slavocracies in the Americas. In 1888, Brazil abolished slavery. It was the last country to pass through this process in the Western World and we are definitely not proud of that. And I assume that most of Americans are not proud of Jim Crow Laws either, which enforced racial segregation in the United States until 1965. We can see the wounds and scars that slavery left in the black communities in the United States and Brazil even today. We also have our Trayvon Martin, our Michael Brown, our Oscar Grant, our Eric Garner, our Freddie Gray, especially in the poorest communities of Rio de Janeiro. Sometimes we don’t even have the opportunity to know their names, they are just part of statistics. A black man in Brazil has a three times greater chance of being killed by a police officer than a white one. And, as we saw in Tanya’s class, “negative experiences have greater cognitive and emotional salience and longevity than do positives one” (Baumeister et al. 2001; Rosin and Royzman 2001). We can always call upon the past to explain the present, can’t we?

Although there are no Jim Crow laws anymore in the United States, white supremacists still are present in American society. Dylan Roof and the Charleston church shooting is an example of that. The fact that people like Roof express hate in itself is not a crime. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guarantees that, as we have learned in our first week in St. Thomas University. However, they cross the line when they commit acts of violence and they are increasingly doing that. They find on-line communities where they can share their racial ideas to a receptive public.

To fight racial discrimination and racial profiling in our new era of social media, a movement has been created called Black Lives Matter. Can it be the next civil rights movement with the importance of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X struggle? Only time can tell. But, at least, they are struggling. Just like us in Brazil.