Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Yes We Can!! Neighborhood Security - São Paulo

Last night, I went to the monthly meeting of our district community security taskforce. Wow, that was a lot of words. Well, in portuguese CONSEG is the "conselho comunitário de segurança" or the community board of security. So you suffer either way. The acronym is a fun play on words because "Consegue" (pronounced the same as CONSEG) is "to be able". Or as a famous US poster says: "Yes, we can!"

I have my doubts, frankly, about CONSEG being able to do much. I was invited to the meeting last night by a good friend and amazing community volunteer, Joana. She is involved in community gardens, environment, security and quality of life in our district and I admit that I am not worthy. She is also an "adjunct director" of CONSEG or, as she says, the lowest director on the totem pole. This means she got to read the last meeting minutes--but I am jumping ahead. At the speed this meeting went...WAY ahead!

One of the reasons I was inspired to go to the meeting last night was because there was a horrific assassination of a person in front of a friend's kids' school yesterday. No, she didn't see it but the proximity was scary. The recent uptick in violence, or perceived violence, is making me a little crazy about learning all I can about protecting myself, my family and my friends. Another day I will talk about my experience meeting with a police captain about security here.

Anyway, Joana had mentioned that the meeting last night would be about swearing in the new "posse." This is one of my favorite Brazilianisms. The posse (yes, that is the Portuguese--pronounced the same as the English) is the new board for CONSEG...but President Dilma was also sworn in with her posse last year...makes it sound all wild-west, no? So I knew there was going to be a bit of bureaucracy, a bit of blah-blah, but then I thought we'd get to the part where we would talk about the spate of house invasions in our district in the last weeks.

My submayoralty (yep, that's the name "Subprefeitura"--this is why I go with district which is probably not quite correct) has 289,000 people as of 2010. I grew up in a town of 17,000 people. Folks, this place is huge! Now of these 289,000 people, about 40 residents (rounding up by 10 at least) showed up last night for the meeting. I think I would be fair in saying 80% of them were over the age of 60. The lady in the first row kept warbling "what did he say?" in spite of some rather loud microphones.

The submayor was there. Angelo is his name. I am watching my words because a blogger in Brazil just got nailed with a mega fine for defamation. There was also a representative from each of three police forces (an explanation of why we need three here will wait for another day--when I finally figure it out after 8 years of living here!)--Policia Militar, Policia Civil and Policia Guarda Metropolitana. Again, they all wear guns and I'm sure they're all very nice and effective. Elsewhere. And then the current board president and vice president were at the head of the table. Apparently the election merely reversed their job titles--the vice president became the president and vice versa. So let's get to the meeting--you've got the cast of characters.

First we stood and sang the National Anthem ("hino nacional") while facing the flags on the stage. I have given my opinion, and apologized, about the Brazilian anthem. It is a little too Portuguese for me. Did I defame anyone? Phew, I am getting nervous. Why do they always play the soundtrack to the hymn with words included? Anyway, we had to sing both stanzas (the civil police delegado checked his emails between each stanza) and that takes a while. Oh, I did not sing but I did stand. I was impressed by how many folks knew all the words. An easy anthem it is not.

Then, the exiting president got up to say a few words. She got a little emotional about apologizing for not doing everything that she wanted to do during her 6 years as president but (she said) it was because of the lack of support of the government (somewhat avoiding the eyes of the new submayor who was appointed in January). I think I like this "submayor" thing. I guess he would be a Borough President in NY. Again I digress.

After this, my friend Joana got up and read the minutes from the election so fast that I understood nothing. If she had read them all at normal speed we would have been there all night. Bottom line: out with the old, in with the new. The president and the vice president exchanged kisses and hugs and seats and then I thought...hooray!! On to our security concerns!

Not so fast. First every single person had to tell "Doutora" leaving-president how wonderful she is. I love this use of "Doutora". It doesn't mean she is a medical doctor or even holds a doctorate. It is a way of expressing great respect. I love it. Seriously. (Ed. comment: Joana has now told me that they use "doutor" or "doutora" for lawyers and former lawyers.) Then the civil police delegado presented her with a certificate of appreciation. Both the military police representative and the guarda civil police representative looked over with eyes bugging out like "why didn't I think of that????"  On and on. Okay. Time to move on to business, right?

Not so fast. Another board member got up and said it's time to hand out the new "Carteirinhas de Identidade." (Identity documents). Yes. So each person on the board was given his or her carteirinha by name calling. Not that kind of name calling. My friend Joana got one for being an Adjunct Director--it was a nice huge heavy paper card saying "CONSEG" etc. Maybe I can convince her to take a photo of it. I asked her if it got her a discount with the local stores and she said no. Okay, so at this point I was losing patience.

A couple of announcements were made about upcoming meetings. Then we all stood and clapped at the Brazilian flag. Meeting over. Whaaaat? Yep, monthly meeting over. I do not believe the actual words of security or crime or "what is going on?" actually crossed anyone's lips. Well, except for Joana telling me that one of the two police battalions that cares for our almost 300,000 residents was quietly disbanded a few weeks ago. More crime, fewer cops. Huh? Shouldn't we discuss?

No. It's time for Guarana and "metro" (subway) sandwiches. I admit that I used my time after the meeting to have a chat with the comandante of the Policia Militar that has its administrative offices four blocks away. I took him to task about a lack of toner, but that is a story for another day. And I just want to mention here, in case I disappear, he asked for my home address. YIKES!

I will go to August's meeting but will have to skip July as I flee the country. I can hardly wait--maybe we can discuss some security concerns next time!

This year's CONSEG board. Man with the beard in the back is Submayor Angelo. Doutor Angelo.

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