“Good morning for who is a morning person!” this is how Ale use to wake me up, by WhatsApp “My friend, make me a black coffee, I am coming to your house right now”.
It is difficult to forget the contagious happiness of Ale. He was very dear to all that knew him. Humble, funny and with a big heart. He was the kind of person that did not care about material objects, fancy brands or ephemeral things. He knew that the most valuable thing in this world was contact with people, the companionship of friends and family.
Alexandre Santiago, 32 years old, was brutally murdered in March 2016 between the night of Friday (4) and Saturday morning (5) in Florianopolis, Brazil. His body was found in the vicinity of a rowing club at the head of the Colombo Salles Bridge, naked and with his legs and hands tied. There were many signs of violence. Police suspected that this was a homophobic crime.
Alexander lived in the English neighborhood, Northern Island, and worked a steady job for an airline. The forensic experts who collected his body found several punctures made with a knife or pocket knife and a broken skull, probably resulting from a beating.
While the events that preceded my friend’s murder did not involve a fight – of which there is CCTV proof – the brutality of his killing would be shocking under any circumstances. The police’s bogus claims of homelessness or involvement with drug trafficking aside, the manner in which a passive, loving man was killed in cold blood should hurt us all as human beings.
Ale was openly gay among his acquaintances, while discreet and not effeminate publicly. Nonetheless, being out of the closest at all in Brazil represents a serious risk to life.
“When the Sun illuminates your home”
I spent two days thinking about his death. From the first minute I woke up until bedtime. So I decided to write this post to raise awareness of this case and a disturbing amount of others like it that take place in Brazil.
Having previously thought of moving to Florianopolis myself, I was clearly naïve in thinking that the city is better than other areas at tackling violence. After these events, my desire to return to anywhere in Brazil has been cancelled out by fear.
I spent years trying to deal with an attack that I suffered in the stairwell between the Frei Caneca Street and Avanhandava Streets in São Paulo in mid 2012. It was a Saturday night, returning by Frei Caneca Street (one considered popular with the gay community), wearing black skinny pants and a tight black shirt when a boy placed me in a headlock and told me to “be quiet.”
He could have stolen my cellphone. But he just wanted to immobilize me.
When I looked to the left, there was a group of 5 guys on the grass outside the stairs, between about 18 and 22 years old. Then they started running towards me.
I knew that they would catch me, as another boy, also gay, was brutally beaten and thrown down the same stairs just days ago. My first reaction, after realizing that the guy holding me was unarmed, was to deliver a blow to his stomach and with all my strength, pull my body down the stairs to try to get out.
There was nobody around at the time of the attack, either up or down the street. I cried loudly to get attention anyway, all the while taking punches and kicks all over my body.
My luck was that upon escaping and arriving at Avanhandava street, where I lived at the time, a police car appeared just when the boys ran after me. It took me a split second to yell to the police and point to the boys, after which I immediately ran away in fear of my face being remembered and for revenge attacks to then be able to take place.
Upon arriving home, three friends visited me to give support. I was trying to pretend that everything was fine and to remain strong. But in fact, in the years following the attack, I lived with a fear of walking alone on the streets and would rather always be with someone, take the bus or ride a taxi, even if the journey was just 20 minutes walking distance from my home to Paulista Avenue.
The problem was when I tried to file a police report at the 4th Police Department of Consolação, the delegate implied that it was a street fight, disregarding the significance of the case. If I wanted to make a formal complaint, I was told that i should first go to the hospital to take Tort Corps (a forensic examination).
And so the feeling of insecurity in fact worsened after going to the police station to ask for help. It proved that the Military Police of São Paulo, homophobic and without empathy is completely unprepared to deal with these cases.
In other words, instead of recording at least basic details of an attack, the police neglect people in a traumatizing moment when they are alone, making it impossible to record such cases and to prevent future occurrences. This can be fatal, as it was with Alexandre.
Ale: “You are one of the best people in my life!
You are incredibly brave.”
Gus: “You’re beautiful! You also have a special place here, ok? Our daimoku (mediation) was essential today. Thank you for inspiring me :)”
Ale: “Really was!!!”
“It was my best daimoku ever!”
Gus: “haha the last ones was the best. Rest well and we will see each other soon :)”
The death of my friend just the weekend after this exchange made me reflect a lot. The feeling of insecurity returned to all aspects of my life; a paranoia about everything and everyone who knows about my sexual configuration. It made me worry for people like us, for young people and for children who are being bullied, as well as for the future of Brazil and the world itself as a whole. Even here in San Francisco, my current home and the gay capital of the world, unfortunately homophobic crimes still take place.
We need to say ENOUGH. Enough! People cannot be demeaned – as Alexandre was in this disgusting report suggesting that he was homeless and that this somewhat excused his murder – and the issue of hatred must be tackled in schools in order to prevent its root cause: prejudice.
We read reports of people who suffer from these attacks every day, yet we never have empathy enough to feel their and their loved ones’ pain. When death knocks on your door to take the people you love – destroying your dreams and hopes for the future – it is too late to show remorse for your past ignorance and intolerance. Regardless of a person being different from you, your family or those you chose to share your life with, they are an equal, cherished by others just the same, something that as a global society we must remember.
Ale: “Saturday Class”
Ale “Bud, i am missing spending the afternoons with you a lot. To drink a coffee. To meditate.”
I urge the media – unlike RBS in this abhorrent article – to pressure authorities to get more information about the case of Alexandre and the Civil Police pull up its sleeves and to perform thorough and professional investigations in the interests not only of the life of my friend, but all gays, lesbians, transvestites and transsexuals living in constant fear of being victimized.
Nothing, indeed nothing will ease the pain we are feeling now with the absence of Alexandre, yet justice and respect is the least he deserves.
*Translated by John Mumby