The investigation “In São Paulo, black people are convicted for drug trafficking more often and with less drugs”, published in may 2019, sought to examine the institutional racism still present in the brazilian judiciary system. Through the analysis of thousand of drug sentences in São Paulo during the year of 2017, the piece revealed that, proportionally, most of the convicted people were black, and that black people were convicted with smaller quantities of drugs than their white counterparts.
This data-driven investigation unveiled the currency and some of the consequences and extent of racism in the brazilian judiciary system. The piece was republished by 45 brazilian websites, including some of the most important news outlets in the country, such as UOL, Exame and El País Brasil.
The reporting was also mentioned in several brazilian articles regarding racism, the judiciary and the war on drugs, published in outlets such as Vice, Carta Capital, Alma Preta and Almanaque SOS. In some of these articles the data was used to to deny false statements made by Bolsonaro that racism is rare/doesn’t exist in Brazil.
Emicida, one of the most renowned brazilian rappers, quoted the data revealed by the investigation during a debate at a TV show.
This piece was supported by a program developed by the journalists, using Python programming language, to scrape information and documents from the Court of Justice of São Paulo website. The program was also used to process and analyse the data and documents. The reporters also used a SQL database system; KNIME platform, to process and classify text files; and Tableau software, to analyse and produce visual data. At last, we designed didactic infographics with Agência Pública’s visual identity to easily present the investigation results to the readers.
What was the hardest part of this project?
The biggest challenge was filtering the information gathered by the scrapping program we developed, since we obtained 2,5 million digitized sentences from the Court of Justice of São Paulo. This stage of the project allowed us to analyse the data based on our initial question: are black people and people of color more frequently sentenced than white people? There were sentences for all sorts of crimes: theft, homicide, murder in attempted robbery, domestic violence, rape, torture, etc. But we only extracted drug trafficking-related cases that went to trial in 2017; there were 24,000 sentences in the whole State of São Paulo and 4,000 in the city of São Paulo. We searched for the defendants characteristics, like race, in the case records and digitized documents – defendant information sheets, forensic reports, release orders – those 4,000 sentences. Then we cross-referenced the qualitative values of the sentences (acquittal x conviction) and the skin color of the defendants.
What can others learn from this project?
We managed to show in numbers, through the analysis of a massive number of sentences, what many supposed but weren’t able to prove: the extent of the institutionalized racism that prevails inside the Court of Justice of São Paulo, the largest judiciary department in the world.