Images of Brazilian trans woman Veronica Bolina's face, allegedly disfigured in a beating by military police, continue to circulate around the Internet, shedding light on police practices that local activists say are all too common.
The gruesome photos reportedly taken in the all-male prison where Bolina was detained have often been shared side-by-side with images of Bolina before she was brutalized. The pictures depict her eyes and mouth unrecognizably swollen and her long hair shorn; one shows her shirt stripped off as she sits with hands and legs shackled, while another shows her face down in ripped pants with a gun-toting guard standing above her, as other prisoners line up with their faces towards a wall.
Bolina's ordeal began April 10 in Sao Paulo, when she was arrested in her home for allegedly attemping to kill a 73-year-old neighbor and resisting arrest, among other charges, reports Brazil's Globo. The 25-year-old model was then placed in an all-male military prison. Police claim that on April 12, the day of her beating, Bolina had been attacked by a cellmate for masturbating, and when guards attempted to "contain" the situation, Bolina attacked them, biting one on the ear.
A taped confession from Bolina about the event corroborates these details, but when speaking to her public defenders in the days afterwards, Bolina claimed that the recording, which allegedly includes her directly saying she was not tortured by police, was coerced from her by a promise of a reduced prison sentence. Her public defender then released images of her badly bruised face and back to the media.
Brazilian LGBT advocates responded immediately in anger to Bolina's treatment after the photos of her injured face began circulating online, creating the hashtag #SomosTodosVeronica ("We Are All Veronica"), which has since gone viral. An eponymous Facebook page has currently gathered more than 19,000 fans.
"The reason [for her arrest] does not matter," one anonymous Brazilian activist explained to Globo. "The photos depict Veronica in a state that shows she was not treated as a citizen, as a person. She was treated as an object we dislike, mess up, tear, and throw away without much care. Veronica is a trans woman. Veronica is black. Veronica is called [a male name] and everybody laughs."
"Those photos were shocking because of the violence, and [because] the police didn't respect her gender identity," Brazilian LGBT activist Alessandra Ramos further stated to Fusion. "A trans woman was not respected. That brought rage into LGBT activism."
The rage has continued to fester among trans advocates from around the world, who have picked up #SomosTodosVeronica on social media, sending Brazil's police the message that the world's eyes are on them. Many have created art (below) to spread awareness of her story as Bolina remains incarcerated.
Globoreports that the Brazilian police force's Internal Affairs Division will be investigating Bolina's treatment. She has now been moved to a separate male prison where she is detained alone in a cell awaiting a hearing with a judge.