Monsters on Motobikes


A memorial created by students outside the school for Eduardo Paiva.

It’s become increasingly difficult to tell my daughter that monsters don’t exist.

A classroom of little kids being gunned down, girls captured and tortured for over a decade, police officers plotting to cook and eat victims… These dangerous abominations are difficult to distinguish from those scary creatures in movies and books.

I had been taking comfort in the fact that we were safely away from those nightmares in the U.S., (though periodically I would remember that statistics don’t always match up with reality in a developing country). Yes, crime has been rising in Brazil. I knew how to avoid it. Stay out of sketchy neighborhoods. Don’t go out too late at night. Don’t walk around with anything that looks valuable or expensive.

But lately the savages have been circling the wagon too closely for my comfort.

Last week a man was shot in the head on the same block where my daughter goes to school, hardly a sketchy neighborhood. It is a block that is home to two large private schools. It seems that the incident occurred just about the same time I would have been wandering over to collect her, had she attended school that day (we had arrived into the city very late the previous night, so I kept her home). The victim was not flashing a rolex or an iPhone. He was a maintenance man who worked at the other school. He had just drawn the amount of R$3000 (U.S. $1500) from a nearby bank – probably his life savings. A man approached him on the sidewalk and tried to rob him. The victim, 39 year old Eduardo Paiva, tried to get away, probably because he just couldn’t afford to lose that money. The robber shot him in the head and then jumped on the back of his partner’s waiting getaway motobike. Eduardo died later that day, leaving behind a widow and three children.

The police believe that someone working at the bank, perhaps one of the guards, tipped off the criminals. (“Why,” you, as a foreigner, might ask “would anyone risk their job at a bank to work with street criminals?” You, as a foreigner, don’t understand the working poor.)  A lot of crime also involves men on motobikes – they can hit you from out of nowhere and speed off quickly, sometimes before you even understand what has occurred.

The police also spent a lot of time trying to figure out if Eduardo actually resisted his attacker – instead of spending a lot of time trying to find the criminals, who most likely were the ones to committed similar crimes the following days in other neighborhoods. You see, here are the rules in São Paulo when being robbed:

1. Law enforcement instructs you NOT to resist. (And if you do, such as in this case, they seem to spin it as your own fault you got killed.)

2. It is also recommended that you always have money on you to give an attacker, so they don’t just shoot you because they got pissed off you wasted their time.

3. If you are a victim, or if there was an attempt, you are advised not to report the incident, because the police won’t do anything anyway and you will just sit at the police station for hours waiting for someone who will never come to take your report.

Sounds to me like street crime is a low risk, high return endeavor. It also sounds a bit like a conspiracy.

Yes, these days I’m a lot little more paranoid.

At the bank I suspiciously eye the guard who has examined me, imagining (or not) that he is typing a description of me into a text. I cringe whenever a motoboy passes by me on the street, especially when I am with my daughter.

This week, my friend, an American, was the victim of an attempted car hijacking. Or so she thought. When she was approached at her car by a man, she willing got out to give up the vehicle. But he tried to get her back in. She did resist and the criminal took off. Needless to say, she is lucky to have survived unharmed and lucky her two little girls were not in the car with her. Her Brazilian husband called the police to report the incident. The police NEVER CAME. Never bothered to show up. Not for a description of someone who could easily harm another victim. Not to understand how they could make the street safer. Not to mark it in a book as a statistic. Nothing.

Thursday night, my husband and I sat at a bar around the corner from where we live and watched as protesters attempted to set things on fire (see Reuters article). They were trying to get to Avenida Paulista to continue their protests, where they were been banned, and the fires were to divert the police and firemen from stopping them. Were they protesting about the rising crime and corruption in their city? No. They were protesting about a 20 cent increase in bus fares. Priorities people.

Crime is never easy to fix. But it is easier to identify and adjust problems in law enforcement and corruption in Brazil than it is to identify and adjust homicidal maniacs cleverly disguised as normal members of society in the U.S.

Isn’t it?

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10 Responses to Monsters on Motobikes

  1. Peg says:

    I think I told you before, but when I was robbed in Rio I wasn’t even allowed to file a police report. We went to the local police station in the morning (it was later at night) and were told that there was only one station in the entire city of Rio which was allowed to accept criminal complaints from foreigners, and it was clear on the other side of town. With no way to get there in the time I had left in the city, it went unreported.

    And I was blamed for the robbery. I was out with a girlfriend after dark. That was enough for everyone who heard about it to tell me it was my own fault. While I do take my share of responsibility for being out after dark, it was THE THIEF’S FAULT. Not one person, police officer, friend, or friend of my friend put blame on him. They all said he was probably a desperate guy who really had no other choices. I’m still pissed off about that. Poor, poor dude with a big ass knife who was just a victim. Who can blame him for scaring the bejeesus out of a couple of stupid girls?

    Luckily, neither of us were hurt and we didn’t lose anything irreplaceable other than a full day’s worth of photos. If, in fact, I did have something stolen that I would want replaced by travelers insurance such as an iphone or expensive camera, I would be SOL because I couldn’t produce a police report to file the claim.

    I’m glad you and your daughter ware far away from the shooting, and I hope that’s the closest you ever get to serious crime. 😦

    • I remember your story – way too scary. If this attitude continues, crime will continue to increase. What is the risk for the criminal? Zero. So why not try? In the case of the school, they didn’t rob some “rich” American. It was a member of the working class poor – so what now? Blame the victim because he resisted. If this continues, the government is going to be in a lot of trouble when no one wants to buy tickets to the World Cup and Olympic games.

  2. Samia says:

    I completely agree with you on the issue of crime and lack of police action in Brazil, not only in SP, it happens all over the country. It feels like we’re to blame for it. Last year, two men with guns on a motorcycle tried to assault us in SP as my aunt was parking in the garage. Luckily, my cousin managed to close the gate on them in time. She was very lucky because, technically, by closing the gate right on their faces, while they had a gun, she was “reacting” and she could have been shot. We called the police, they said they’d send a “viatura” over, and they never showed up!! I called again, they said there was “nothing they could do” I will never be able to put my anger and frustration in words.
    I have to disagree with you though on the nature of the protests in SP. I think it’s about more than just a R$0.20 increase in bus fares. It’s a matter of “where is the money going?” It’s not being using to stop crime, it’s not being used in infrastructure, not in education, not in healthcare… where is it going? You know how much we pay in taxes in Brazil and we just don’t see it returned to us in any shape. The protests in Brazil aren’t about bus fares just like the protests in Turkey aren’t about a new stadium.
    Also, I need to point out that the same police that never bother to show up to solve crimes and stop criminals who take many lives every year are the same police who are shooting and throwing tear gas bombs at students protesting on Av Paulista. Meanwhile, SP’s governor is in Paris calling the protesters “thugs and vandals”. Priorities? Where are the priorities of the Brazilian government at? Why is it that they have to use force and violence to stop protesters but will do nothing to stop criminals? How come absolutely nothing is done to improve our lives?
    Not to mention that a 20 cent increase in bus fares might sound irrelevant, it’s only 20 cents after all, but for the people who have to take sometimes more than 2 overcrowded buses everyday, spend more than 2 hours in traffic to get to work, and make a 678 monthly minimum wage, those 20 cents will make a big difference, especially when the increase will not improve their commute.

    I’m sorry for my little rant. I just think it’s a bit unfair to say that the protests are about 20 cents only, and even if they were only about bus fares, now they have become more about gratuitous police violence against civilians. I’m extremely happy that Brazilians are out protesting about something, it’s about time it happens, since clearly our passive-aggressiveness and our bitching about the government and corruption while sitting at a bar sipping our beers aren’t taking us anywhere.

  3. No, you are right. The 20 cents is about more than the bus fare. But what is the message that got out? At least the one that I received? Bus fare. Not that the money is being diverted to the pockets of the corrupt. Thanks for your rant because it does bring to light two (or more) important issues 1) yes, there were plenty of police out that night, but where are they when an actual crime is committed 2) the protests were another scenario in which the victims – albeit ones that used violence to make their point, though perhaps that was the only way to get attention – are being portrayed as the criminals. So what do we do? What I can do and you are doing is writing and commenting about the issues and putting it out there. Let’s get this stuff circulated and maybe we can help communicate the real problems and scare someone into creating a solution.

    • Samia says:

      At first I thought it was only about the bus fare too and I thought “pffffft! This ain’t going anywhere”, but now that I’ve read the reports, seen pictures and videos of thursday night, I’m very supportive of the protesters. From what I’ve heard it was the police that started with the violence. There’s a video of a police officer breaking the window of his own viatura. The police forces in Brasil are known for being indiscriminately violent and abusive, unfortunately.
      We’re probably getting our news from different sources. I don’t think the mainstream media is giving accurate reports of what’s happened. They are trying to make it sound as petty as they possibly can, and the international media is following suit.
      I have friends who were there, and the information I’m getting from twitter and Facebook collide with what I’ve read on the papers. Folha de SP for one was calling the protesters vandals until one of their reporters got shot in the face for no apparent reason. We can’t have the police use such brutality to dissipate protests and still call this country a democracy.

      These two articles basically cover the point I’m trying to make here:

      Sorry again for the huge comment, but I feel this is something that needs to be put out there. 🙂

  4. The Rider says:

    Exactly the same situation in South Africa… it is tough in the Southern Hemisphere…

  5. sccirihal says:

    2 years ago when we arrived in SP, I didn’t know anyone personally who had been affected by crime. Now, it’s hard for me to think of someone who hasn’t. I must say that honestly, I am done with this city. I will enjoy the rest of my time here (with lots of precautions), but am glad that I have the luxury to leave.

  6. Alex says:

    Yes, I was really shocked and disgusted to hear about this crime that happened in your neighborhood. I am also still somewhat nervous being out on the street (especially at night) after what happened to a fellow student at my university here, who (thank god) survived.

    But the weird thing is, is that I’ve never had a situation in Brazil in which I felt like I was gonna get in trouble. I stay in good neighborhoods and watch who is around me. I think that it definitely helps, but sometimes it just can’t help you, and you become part of the statistics.

    I also wanted to point out that crime rates are not necessarily ”rising”, they’re more-so being spread out into non-traditional areas where violence did not occur in the past. It’s more of a ”redistribution” if we can call it that. It’s also important to remember that São Paulo is literally 5 times safer now than it was twenty years ago, and Rio is following in these foot steps.

    I do think more needs to be done, however. I think that there needs to be a huge re-writing of the ”codigo penal”, there needs to be less corruption and in general there needs to be a larger stress on safety. I want to think it’s getting better, and I truly think it probably is, but it still is not comforting to be hit home so close to these things. I mean, you could have been standing in front of this crime scene as it was happening, and I could have been the unlucky student from my school walking half a block away if my class didn’t get out late that night.

    Unfortunately, it’s part of the reality (not only the Brazilian reality) that these things are a concern in big city living. It has its great sides, and it’s bad sides. This certainly is the worst of it’s sides.

    As for the protests: I don’t like the fact that people are getting hurt, but I think it’s about time that Brazilians take their country back and I think this might be an important event in the retaking of Brazil.


  7. anna says:

    I agree 100% with Samia . I do hope this protests go somewhere!!!
    I dont know if u have seen this video
    the policemen purposely broke their car’s glass pretending it was one of the protesters. ABSURD!! it makes me sick!!

  8. Pingback: So, they found a sack of body parts in my hood | born again brazilian

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