Friday, August 16, 2013
The Homicide Resurgence - São Paulo
On Tuesday night this week, an American friend and I went to a seminar titled "The Resurgence of Homicides." If you have followed my blog for any period of time, you know that the whole security theme interests me. Violent death, crime of any kind, and I am there. We were told about the seminar by a friend who mentioned that her friend, a Wall Street Journal reporter, would be on the panel. So it was about violence, involved a friend of a friend AND it was in a neighborhood where we could get a drink afterwards without possibly becoming one of the statistics. Complete win.
I arrived by taxi at the location. In the flyer, it said the seminar would be held in the Instituto Braudel. The address shown on the flyer was on a dark corner of a street with no sign of the Institute. All I could really see was huge heavy steel doors with a sign saying Fundaçao Armando Alvares Penteado*. Ringing the bell, a little door opened up (picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail) with just the face of the guard showing and he of course says "pois não?" which means yes. No, he did not say "we don't want any" like in the movie. The door unlocks and creaks back. Two other security men in black with bullet-proof vests ask me a few pertinent questions and tell me to follow the person who was already down the drive in front of an old mansion. I am wondering if I should have brought my bullet-proof vest.
Just at that moment, my friend Megan came in and so we had our moments of cheek-kissing and chattering in English to the bafflement of the boys in black (the Black Block? The Blackie Blockie?). Finally we head up the driveway where there is not a single sign to show us where to go next. Well, the door of the mansion is open--let's go in. We stand around the pretty entryway then look up the spiral stairs and decide we'd better ask before parading around. We go back outside to the bemused glance of a fourth security guard who says pretty much "dopies, the event is down there in that over-the-garage kind of place." Okay, he was nicer but I know what he was thinking.
Yep the Institute is over the garage at this old mansion. We squish our way into a small entryway--it is now 5:55 pm with the event starting at 6 pm. We have plenty of time, we think, to grab some water, sign a book with fake names (just kidding!) and head up the stairs talking loudly in English about our exciting lives.
At the top of the stairs is a single room. White plastic chairs are gathered around a square area with couches. The couches in turn surround on three sides a giant wooden lion in repose and an iffy "oriental" rug. Facing us is a table of 7 older men (okay, our friend's friend is younger than us) and it was complete silence as 30 people look at us. Clearly the meeting had started on time. Ooops. We were asked (in English) by the executive director, Norman Gall, (an American who has been here many years) to take a seat on one of the couches. We were more than a bit embarrassed at our gringo-style entry.
Unfortunately, with our late and loud arrival, I could not sneakily take a photo of the place. My favorite part, besides the giant lion, was the wooden armadillo placed on the head table in front of the master of ceremonies. Fortunately it seems that the armadillo appears at all events because here is a photo of it at a past event, and the man in the middle is in fact the executive director of the Institute, Norman Gall. I might add that this director took a somewhat long nap during part of the seminar. Or rested his eyes. A lot.
And so it began with some statistics (the event was about São Paulo and the north of Brazil as well). Some key takeaways were that homicides increase when there is a territorial battle, or as the speaker said, a "disequilibrio territorial." And then they just don't stop as a cycle of revenge and honor killings is kicked off until finally an equilibrium is achieved again. That equilibrium is usually reached when there is one main player in the territory--that would be the PCC gang in São Paulo. Oh, and this is all because of drugs, right, you got that implicitly? Of course.
Next up was a self-described urbanist-architect named Fausto. He presented us with some facts of the urban "dream" that bring on violence:
1. Cities will always be filled with crime because the places are built for industry, not to respect nature. So the natural places to have recreation and fun are covered with asphalt and with no natural space to be neighborly, everyone retreats behind walls.
2. The rich elites tend to be less neighborly than the poor.
3. São Paulo was built without planning and there is an "inaccessibility of opportunity" now--the rich put the good stuff closer to them (libraries, good hospitals, etc) so that would increase the value of their land. The poor had to make do further afield.
4. Streets with three or four continuous blocks of walls without access to any kind of public space are the mostly likely to have crime take place.
He was a very interesting speaker. The only part I didn't understand was when he kept saying "aquelas coisas Chicago". Or those Chicago things. What was he talking about? Capone? No idea. Maybe I misheard him. 5 times.
The Recife security guy was next up. He said that there is a "mundo de guerra" or war world in the northeast of Brazil, except the city of Recife. The success in Recife has come from developing a list of "crime concentrations"--45% of the homicides were concentrated in 13 neighborhoods. Knowing that, the police could concentrate on those areas. As they reduced current crime, they also created a new type of neighborhood gathering place. Six "Compaz" ("With Peace") locations were built--each of around 7000 sq meters with access to justice, leisure areas, mediation, and a mixture of other activities.
His final point is that we have to stop building "obra pobre" for "gente pobre". Poor people need to have as much or better access to community services and recreation in order to stop the cycle. And he ended by saying that it made him sad that in schools there are campaigns to save whales and the environment or whatever, but there is no campaign to save people. And we need campaigns for that.
Then came the numbers guy from Estadão newspaper. The news is good for all of us living in the southeast of Brazil. In 1996, there were 40 violent deaths per 100,000 people. Now there are 20. The numbers are now almost exactly opposite in the northeast. In fact if you leave São Paulo to live in Porto Seguro, Bahia, your risk of violent death increases 8 times. Guess I'll skip that vacation. He provided a link to a map with the risk of death in various places in Brazil but I didn't get it down. I will: it's on their site.
One of the next speakers talked about the cost of violence. The cost in cutting down young people. There is one area of Alagoas state where there are 1,000 deaths per 100,000 people in the 15-25 year old age range. That's a massacre.
After opening up the floor for questions, there were a couple of interesting moments. One man in the audience (and I will mention that he was black for no particular reason except he was one of only about three) got wound up by comments from a woman in the audience. She commented about the recent protests and violence around the country and how things were getting worse. The man then broke in, introduced himself as a university professor, and proceeded to tell us that the only reason it seems worse is that the violence and crime are now starting to affect the elite. That violence and death was always a part of the poor people's lives--his point was pretty much "welcome to our world" to the elites. He even started pointing a finger (literally) at us all. It was uncomfortable and emotional, and you could have heard a pin drop.
When the attention waned a bit from this, Megan and I decided we needed a drink. Two hours had passed and not a cocktail hour in sight. Clearly academics can chat all evening, and without applauding the flag (see my Conseg posts). We snuck out as best we could and refrained from chatting about our exciting lives until all the way out of the building. Then got out of the Black Block and down the street to a bar. Based on all of this scary stuff, I felt the need to drink two caipirinhas too quickly and had a hangover for two days. I did, however, take a taxi.
*Note: Fundaçao Armando Alvares Penteado is shortened to FAAP and is a 12,000 student private university.