The Blackwell Companion to Religion and Violence

By Andrew R. Murphy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 43
Liberation Theology and the
Spiral of Violence

Thia Cooper


Introduction

There was a pretty little black boy. … Someone had thrown meat into the garbage, and he
was picking out the pieces. He told me: “Take some Carolina. It’s still fit to eat.” … I tried
to convince him not to eat that meat, or the hard bread gnawed by the rats. He told me no,
because it was two days since he had eaten. He made a fire and roasted the meat. His
hunger was so great that he couldn’t wait for the meat to cook. He heated it and ate. … I
left thinking: This can’t be real in a rich country like mine. … The next day I found that
little black boy dead. … He had blown up as if made out of rubber. … He had no documents.
He was buried like any other “Joe.” Nobody tried to find out his name. The marginal people
don’t have names. (de Jesus 1962: 41)

This is the first and most important aspect of violence for liberationists: poverty, in this case violent enough to cause death. In response to this first level of violence, a second level of violence often emerges: revolt.

In 2001, the police in Salvador, Brazil went on strike. In the tourist areas of Salvador, the streets quickly became deserted and in the evenings looting began. A refrigerator was abandoned halfway up the steep hill outside my room. Businesses shut down as private security forces joined the strike. After a few days, the federal government sent the military to patrol the streets of Salvador to keep the peace. However, in the slums, life continued as normal. In one neighborhood, Gamboa da Baixo, only a few weeks before, about 40 masked men in police uniforms had entered several houses and assaulted residents. Residents say that since police cannot directly fight against the neighborhood drug trade, they target the relatives of those involved in the trade instead. In this recent attack, three residents ended up in hospital.

Here we see the second and third levels of violence.1 The second level of violence is revolt: the looting, rioting, and the drug trade itself, a reaction against the destructive

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