First and foremost, I would like to say that bad stuff happens everywhere. The fact that I am talking about bad stuff in this blog and about Brazil is simply because I live here. When I head back home to the US later this year, there will be bad stuff there. And I will see it and I will talk about it. In particular, inexplicable violence (like a runner being shot because shooters were bored and needed something to do) and lynching (people being dragged behind cars) is not a foreign concept in my homeland.
I have been horrified by the recent spate of vigilante justice here, in particular in Rio de Janeiro, as residents "fight back" against crime. What exactly am I talking about? A boy who was attempting to steal a bicycle is tied to the street sign. In the photo above, a man trying to rob a luncheonette was grabbed and tied up (this happened not in Rio but in a small town in the state of Santa Catarina). The idea, I assume, is to publicly humiliate and exhibit the criminal.
I am completely opposed to this kind of "justice". We are one step away from public stonings. I understand that many here feel that police forces are not able to provide protection and that the legal system is broken--if we cannot even jail people who have stolen millions from the country, how are we going to convict and jail those of lesser crimes? Given that the prison system here makes little attempt to rescue and re-educate criminals, I don't think jail is the answer either. And any crime that has a penalty under four years means that the criminal does not go to jail. There isn't any room left for minor criminals.
So, is the answer local justice? Tying people to poles? We are not far then from people judge and jurying other people to death. As in, I think you killed my daughter--no, I'm sure of it-- so I am now going to kill you. I don't have a solution to the police or justice issues here but I know that eye for an eye is not a good plan.
This morning I read an opinion piece by Antonio Prata, a writer and columnist for Folha de São Paulo. It is a beautiful column and for those who read Portuguese, I would suggest reading its entirety on the site.
Here is the paragraph that most affected me (translation is my own):
“….Our country is strange, my friend. Horrible things are happening, and instead of people thinking about how to stop these horrible things happening again, they want to inflict these horrible things on who first inflicted them. …what they are asking for is not justice or vengeance, but the right to their own share in the barbarism, like children who complain ‘Why can he play on the swing and I can’t ; ‘Why can he play mobster and I cannot?’. Every other day I open the newspaper to see someone defending lynching as a form of direct democracy.”
And that is what I am thinking about on this overcast Sunday. Democracy...one step away from barbarism.