The war on drugs is an instrument of racism, which incites violence and hinders democratic development in Brazil. Watch our new short documentary to find out how a black civil society organization in Brazil, Iniciativa Negra, takes up the fight against this war on people.
The Black Initiative for a New Drug Policy (INNPD, Iniciativa Negra Por Uma Nova Política sobre Drogas) is a black civil society organisation in Brazil which addresses the importance of drug policies on the lives of black people. The majority of the population of Brazil is black (around 53%), but coming from a racist historical process of enslavement, they were never allowed the same level of political-economic and social equality as the white population. The War on Drugs became the tool used to keep it that way. As Nathália Oliveira, co-founder of Iniciativa Negra puts it:
“Today, the War on Drugs feeds the racist system that maintains the privileges of the white population, of whiteness, over the black population in Brazil, therefore keeping power concentrated in the hands of this whiteness, preventing the mobility of the black population to access and share these spaces of power.“
But how does the war on drugs work as a feedback loop of racism and as a tool of oppression of the black population?
By mobilising state resources to fight a bloody war on drugs instead of investing in health care and social support systems.
By waging a war on drugs in the communities of black and brown people, even though drugs are present in white neighbourhoods as well.
By the wholesale arrest and imprisonment of small scale drug traffickers who are young, black, unarmed people, with limited formal schooling. By entering the prison system they lose their chance for a peaceful future and serve as a never ending supply for drug gangs. In 2016, Brazil had the third largest prison population in the world: it surpassed the 700,000 mark, of which 64% identified themselves as black.
By opting to militarise the drug war to such an extreme that the army regularly invades favelas with tanks, snipers, and helicopters. There are 60,000 homicide deaths in Brazil a year, many of these committed by state forces. In the first quarter of 2019, the police killed an average of seven people a day in Rio De Janeiro, the second most populous city in Brazil. State security forces were responsible for 38 percent of the violent deaths in the city. In 2016, 77 percent of homicide victims were black and brown people. Nationally, young black men are nearly three times more likely to be killed than their white peers, and in largely black states like Bahia, young black men are over 15 times more likely to be murdered than white teenagers. The drug war justifies this violence and murder of black people and makes it acceptable to the population, if they are labelled as drug users or traffickers.
By flooding the country with weapons, in the name of self defense. President Bolsonaro loosened the gun regulations, and made the purchase of weapons easier than ever. Access to weapons is deregulated, and hunters’ clubs are being created, ideologically formed by the extreme right. These weapons then end up on the streets and fuel violence.
As Eduardo Ribeiro from Iniciativa Negra explains in the film:
“The State’s option for war as the main source of violence is what must always be defined here. We need to remember that it’s prohibition that creates drug trafficking. It’s not the drug that determines the violent model, it’s not the drug that determines the circulation of weapons, but the option of the State to ban the drug in certain territories, or to persecute certain people and make that trade violent.“
The Iniciativa Negra offers solutions, and a way forward:
To tell the truth, remember, and give justice to the victims of the war on drugs.
To provide means of reparations, compensations to the direct victims and the entire community that was affected by the death of its people and by violent operations.
And thirdly, to establish models of regulated access to substances, in a way that promotes the participation of the entire population, not only rich, white businessmen.
“Without ending the War on Drugs, we will not be able to reach a civilizing pact that involves the black population and the white population in the same economic, political, and social development project.” Says Oliveira.
“The black population is the majority of the Brazilian population, so when we are talking about making a policy to protect the lives of the black population, we are not talking about making a sectoral policy, or for a minority, we are talking about what Brazil wants to be from now on, what Brazil thinks about democracy, what it thinks about the future.” Says Ribeiro.
This short film is part of a series launched by Drugreporter and INPUD, the International Network of People who Use Drugs. The aim of the series is to raise attention to key regional or national drug policy and human rights issues, challenges or achievements of organisations of people who use drugs and their allies. In previous episodes, we introduced Metzineres, a consumption room and safe haven for womxn who use drugs who are also surviving violence in Barcelona. The next episode focused on why crack consumption rooms are needed in Paris. The long format documentary, “The Wall of Shame” explores the history of crack in Paris, and amplifies the voices of experts and residents who call for a better solution: safe crack consumption rooms. The third piece is about the “Narcofeminism Storyshare Model” from the USA. The womxn in the film are sharing their stories about pregnancy, parenting, and drug use to each other, and then reflecting on them. These stories represent truth and courage and act as a testament to the power of the Narco Feminism storyshare model.
István Gábor Takács
Concept and coordination: Dudu Ribeiro | Iniciativa Negra
Transcription: Karol Duarte
Translation: Matheus Tornaghi Monteiro
Interview footage and sound: Jailton Suzart, Danilo Umbelino | Studio Nagô
Directed and edited by: István Gábor Takács | Rights Reporter Foundation | Drugreporter
Some of the footage in this video is from news programmes and has been used entirely for commentary purposes, and the copyright remains with the original owner.