Mothers victimized by state violence

De Dicionário de Favelas Marielle Franco

Authors: Network of Communities and Movements against Violence.

Translated by: Tatiane da Penha Schneider

Review: André Rezende Broseghini and Junia C. S. Mattos Zaidan


The actions of state violence constantly carried out against residents of peripheral areas and favelas are varied. They include the conditions of control over circulation (of people and/or goods), low investment in social equipment of all kinds, and precarious infrastructure for healthcare, transport, housing, and education. In this wide range of violence, however, the militarized actions, through armed raids at any time of the day and other practices with great lethality power, stand out. If the most recent official data on deaths released by police in Rio de Janeiro are already remarkable – 1,124 people lost their lives in 2017 in police actions, according to data from the Public Security Institute of Rio de Janeiro – surely they do not account for all sides of state violence which affect certain populations and territories. The predominantly male, young, and black profile of the victims leaves no doubt about who is being affected by these practices, to which are added incarceration policies.

The individualization of this violence in lethal victims does not allow us to see, however, some of its more dramatic and complex consequences. As is clear from the articulations of family members of victims of lethal State violence, each death affects a much larger network of people: children, parents, wives, partners, brothers and, above all, mothers. Added to the brutal loss of the family member is the burden of dealing with the various accusatory forms of classifying this death, such as a result of “confrontations” - in particular, of “drug trafficking confrontations”. Registered in many cases as “a consequence of resisting arrest” (or simply “autos de resistência” in Brazil), these deaths have their police and even judicial unfoldings practically sealed a priori.

The efforts of family members and social movements to contest the supposed actions that resulted in the deaths include distinct fronts, such as publicizing the illegitimacy or even illegality of the action; the search to build the materiality of the report; gathering evidence of all kinds; as well as the confrontation with various demoralization strategies. The questioning of these state practices have had the notable prominence of the victims’ mothers for several reasons. They are the ones who, not without struggle, produce the affective and political enunciation on the value of these lives that were reaped, and that are continually considered unimportant in the media, in state institutions, and even in common sense. Reinforcing the uniqueness of each of the deceased, who are their children, they bring their names, faces, and life stories to the public scene through public acts, filmed testimonies, books, portraits and t-shirts carried close to their bodies.

Furthermore, they demand that their suffering be recognized not only as a personal tragedy, but as part of a political context that denies part of the population the most elementary right to safety. Yet, their political, ethical and affective work has high personal and collective costs. In a condition often defined by themselves as permanent grief, they have to deal with the burden of diseases, the difficulty in maintaining their work or even life routine, and concerns about other children and grandchildren. There are also many other difficulties that arise from the conditions in which the loss of their children took place and from the lack of public recognition of the state violence that is at its base. In recent years, movements and articulations led mainly by these women, despite the participation of other family members and activists, have more explicitly brought to the public their place as victims of state violence. With this, they further highlight the fact that these killings cannot be understood from a perspective of "fighting crime", as ideologically reproduced in the universe of the so-called "war on drugs". Rather, they should be perceived as part of a policy that reiterates practices of structural inequality over entire populations.