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.