As more and more Brazilians took to the streets in massive protests across the country — some of which resulted in violence — international media outlets started taking notice. Although coverage was scarce at first, it has since increased. (See my previous PolicyMic article for more on the poor media coverage at the beginning of the protests).
Throughout the week, CNN and MSNBC displayed Brazil-related links at the bottom of their homepages, if at all. I was certain that on Friday, June 21, news of millions of people who had taken to the streets the previous day would be at the fore.
I was wrong. Even that morning, CNN’s main headline (in huge bold letters) concerned the last 60 days of Michael Jackson’s life. Their “CNN World” page had a large image of “Solstice celebrations worldwide,” with a small link about the protests in Brazil off to the side.
Not even the violent end to the night in Rio was enough to draw attention to the protests. That Friday, the MSNBC home page had only a tiny link to a story about the death of a teen at Thursday’s protest. Next to it, the truly relevant story of the day was given some well-deserved attention (with an image and everything): the “new stroller-skateboard combo” that targets urban parents. Similarly, their world news page had only a small link.
The New York Times redeemed itself, providing better and more accurate coverage as the protests continued, including a couple of front-page stories in their print edition. Too bad the days of print newspapers, especially among our generation are pretty numbered. Their online edition did not share the emphasis: a focus to the protests that Friday morning soon gave way to a piece entitled “When a Founder is the face of the brand.”
I wonder why coverage was still nowhere close to what we saw with the Arab Spring, or the recent protests in Turkey, despite the millions of people in the streets of dozens of cities, in a country as huge as Brazil. (It also happens to have the world’s sixth largest economy, overtaking Britain.)
Is it because South America is considered less turbulent than the Arab world? Or because we don’t get into major armed conflicts over oil with Brazil or its neighbors? Or because Brazil is not a particularly bellicose country, and does not have nuclear weapons? Or because Brazil is neither Arab nor Muslim, in a post-9/11 world? Or because the nature of the protests is different, in that Brazil has a democratic government (though it can be argued that the government is actually a thinly veiled dictatorship), and the protests don't seek to change the governmental system, or oust an autocrat, but to improve public services, oust a handful of extremely corrupt politicians, and reform the existing system but keep it democratic? Or is it just not that interesting to talk about Brazil, unless it’s about soccer or naked women at Carnaval parades? Maybe I am failing to see an obvious single reason, so if you think of it, please leave a comment below. Or maybe, sadly, Stephen Colbert explained it all too well.
In its sparse coverage, the NBC talked about "days of violent protests" and failed to highlight the mostly pacific protests across Brazil. Yes, there was vandalism by a minority that Thursday night. And yes, unfortunately, the incidence of vandalism in the protests grew as the protests themselves grew (as is usually the case in protests worldwide). But the destruction was done by a small minority of people, some of whom were vandals taking advantage of the situation to destroy public and private property, and loot shops and car dealerships. The vast majority of protests have been peaceful, and, in fact, there have been many instances of protesters trying to stop vandalism, or cleaning up graffiti done to public buildings and monuments.
Facebook was full of people begging others to stop the violence, asking protesters to help identify vandals and looters, and sharing photos and videos of inspiringly peaceful protests where demonstrators often chanted “No violence!” only to be attacked by police (like some of the ones I shared in the previous PolicyMic article – more further down).
Where the NBC video only shows the vandalism performed by a handful of people, the videos below show a different perspective on the protests that took place on the same night, June 20, both in Rio and at other protests throughout the country. They are mostly amateur videos shot by protesters themselves.
There have even been reports of police throwing gas bombs in front of Rio's Souza Aguiar Hospital that night; the effects were felt all the way to the seventh floor.
While the videos above show a number of police officers behaving in cowardly ways – including removing their ID badges to avoid future punishment – towards peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders, it is worth noting that the problem of police brutality is a complex one, and sometimes not individual police officers’ fault, alone.
The police in Brazil, unfortunately, are often ill-prepared to handle situations like this. Police officers, for the most part, are very poorly paid, and training is often inadequate. A majority of officers come from low-income and low-education backgrounds, and also struggle with poor transportation, health, and educational systems. One would imagine that they would rather not be in the position to quiet those who are fighting for basic rights they themselves lack, and the services they also desperately need. Although there are people from all ages and backgrounds in the protests, a number of them are young adults, largely students from the middle class who are seen as “playboys” in their socioeconomically conscious and, often, discriminatory society. Sadly, many officers from underprivileged background, in a position of authority, abuse their powers and take out their frustrations on those they see as “playboys.”
Because of widespread corruption, and a history of military oppression and torture during the dictatorship, some protesters feel they are seeing history repeat itself. In other cases, protesters are frustrated because, in the end, they are fighting for a better Brazil for the police officers, too. In either case, the protesters end up railing at officers, which, in turn, incites retaliation, as in the video below.
Ultimately, commands come from higher-ups – many of whom are corrupt, ill-prepared, or even oppressive – who give officers orders to disperse the assemblies, often with force. They send in military police riot troops to enforce their orders, and even the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais, which is the special forces, or elite squad, of the police (the ones that go into favelas heavily armed, and are trained to kill – probably not the best to try and keep the peace at protests).
Unfortunately, in many situations like these, all sides are at some fault, and there is no easy solution. When you combine social tensions between police and thousands of protesters, widespread discontent and frustration with the government as a whole (police included), and an inadequately prepared police force commanded by even worse-prepared or just plainly corrupt and oppressive politicians, violence is bound to happen. But it would be nice to see both sides of the story.