My presence in Brazil's Supreme Court Broke a Paradigm, Says Black Lawyer

Lawyer from the suburbs was mentioned in justice Rosa Weber's vote

Standing like a football team, 12 lawyers smile at the cameras right before the beginning of their highly anticipated October 17 Supreme Court trial. The trial will decide if defendants should be imprisoned after an appellate court decision.

Standing in the middle, one step ahead of her colleagues, is the tiny figure of Silvia Souza, 35. She is the only woman and the only black person in the group, which has drawn some of Brazil's most prominent legal minds.

"My presence in court was a paradigm break in some way, a break from white male hegemony," Souza said.

Lawyer Silvia Souza. (Foto: Eduardo Anizelli/ Folhapress, PODER) - Folhapress

As an attorney for Conectas, a human rights NGO, she and her colleagues were there representing entities that think the beginning of the sentence should start only after the res judicata, provided for in the Constitution.

Seven minutes into the case, Souza reveals to the STF that the issue is not just important for Lava Jato VIP prisoners, like former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (PT), but also for a massive number of invisible detainees.

"There is a misperception that this decision would only affect white-collar crimes. If we analyze the rate of prisoners for these crimes, it is much lower than, for example, for drug trafficking," she says.

Today's racism, she says, is manifested in a less explicit but still very present way.

"It's much harder for someone to talk to me these days: get out of here, you monkey. Today people downplay and reject my presence in some places, challenge what I'm talking about, or doubt that I'm representing an organization," she said.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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