Yesterday, I headed to a protest in Sao Paulo, organised by the group, “There Will Be No World Cup”. Ironically it was within close proximity to the stadium of the first match of the World Cup, which was definitely starting, whether the protesters liked it or not. At first there were a bunch of journalists with DIY armour, goggles and bullet proof vests. And of course, the police. Before the protesters showed up, it was just us journos watching the police ritualistically hit their riot shields with rubber truncheons and gesturing with their guns, loaded with rubber bullets.
When the protest began, it was a sort of Occupy style discussion area filled with drummers and speakers. After the match, Fred’s dive leading to Neymar’s penalty that sunk Croatia was the media's talking point, but on the street, a different set of injustices was on the agenda – at least before kick off. Land rights for indigenous people, the right to a home, government corruption and the rights for workers to get fair pay are all being argued about over here. The presence of FIFA, one of the world’s most corrupt organisations, is bringing all those issues to the fore and the attention of the world is giving people ample reason to raise their pissed off voices.
The demo had been going for a while when some people in black bloc gear began to set fire to street furniture in front of a distant armoured police line. Within minutes, the police fired a mass of rubber bullets and tear gas resulting in a blur of gas and smoke, forcing people to try and run away. One thing that has changed since the first protests in Brazil last year is that there a lot more people coming with cameras, documenting all the police brutality. It doesn't seem to have stopped the police getting violent as a first option.
As the police moved in, tightening the vice in an ever more intense hail of gas and rubber bullets, people ran into a nearby sports hall. The teargas hit my eyes and I started to shake. Inside the hall, people were pretty afraid, aware that if the police came in, or decide to gas the place, there would be no escape.
Later that day, people who hadn't been arrested were allowed to leave and were dispersed. Most people had had enough and slunk off home, but a few staged an impromptu protest outside a shopping centre. It’s was pretty small fry – just 20 or so people shouting outside a shopping centre. Before long, the police fill the air with tear gas and for the second time of the day I found myself struggling to breath as a crying, dribbling, snotty mess.
At a protest in a metro station across town, angry protesters shot a fire extinguisher at the police, who responded by wrestling them to the ground and arresting them. From the days events, it was clear the police are really fucking determined to keep Brazil’s angry people away from the stadiums, and nobody on a demonstration is safe from their indiscriminate tactics.
Ruth, Rafael and Felipe work with NINJA, a newly citizen journalism initiatiative based in Rio.