From 1948 to 1999, about 13,000 people died in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they say.
By contrast, close to four times that number died due to violence in Brazil’s favelas from 1979 to 2000.
This data gives a smidgen of insight into the favelas’ intensely perilous world – an existence the authors flesh out by describing the nearly inexorable pull of “o trafficante,” or drug traffic, the murderous behavior of the police, and the official neglect by Brazil’s social and political elite of the favelas since their inception close to a century ago.
More than 2 million people, the majority of whom are black, live in the favelas, a collection of illegal residences that are often tolerated by the government.
At the same time, as in America, some of the most dire living circumstances can be the environment of the most dynamic art, cultural expression and movements for social change.
In their book, Neate and Platt trace the history and current actions of AfroReggae, a combination non-profit, nurturer and promoter of artistic talent and mediator of violent disputes in the favelas.
The music style arose after the 1993 Vigario Geral massacre of more than two dozen civilians by police. A fusion of African and reggae music, with local flavor thrown in for good measure, AfroReggae has been a way for people to depict and describe the experience of life in the favelas.
The non-profit emerged from this period after an initial period as a newspaper. While the group alters its approach depending on the conditions and needs of the favela’s residents, the goal of promoting peace, jobs and general social uplift has remained consistent.
Neate and Platt state plainly that they are not journalists, but rather are admirers of the organization’s work. The result is a favorable, if not uncritical, look at the organization and what it does. The book is a bit short on details about AfroReggae’s efficacy, and it is clear from the book that there are many people who join the group who would otherwise be involved in drug dealing and on their way to an early death.
“How It Works” is one of the book’s bleakest chapters.
It describes almost inevitable pull trafficking, violence and mayhem can have on the favela’s youth. The chapter tells the story of Jorge, a promising son of a single mother who must work multiple jobs to make ends meet. This leaves Jorge in the care of his grandmother, who soon starts to lose the boy to the streets. Through the course of the chapter the boy becomes drawn deeper and deeper into the drug trade, killing first a boy from a rival faction and then one he knows, all by age 15.
Another dark chapter talks about the rampant corruption among the police, many of whom make so little money they must accept bribes to survive and whose children hide their parents’ law enforcement work for fear of being targeted for reprisals.
The book is not all gloom and doom, though. AfroReggae includes chapters about survivors and about the group’s at times effective interventions into the rampant violence.
In the end, life in the favelas, and AfroReggae’s efforts to change it, continue unabated. The group has victories big and as agonizingly small as having just a few moments or hours of peace. Their triumphs underscore the scale of the obstacles the community confronts, the courage the group brings to meet them and the value of Neale and Platt’s book in bringing their story to the larger world.