[All links lead to Portuguese-language websites unless otherwise noted.]
A 15-year-old black teenager was found sitting on the ground at Botafogo beach in a central area of Rio de Janeiro completely naked and with a bicycle lock around his neck chaining him to a lamppost on February 1, 2014.
Unfortunately, it is not an isolated case, as attacks by groups of “vigilantes” have become somewhat common in Rio de Janeiro.
Activist Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, who discovered the minor, wrote on her Facebook profile that she was preparing to sleep when a friend who was driving by on Rui Barbosa Avenue called her to say he “saw a young boy bruised, naked and tied to a pole by a bicycle lock. He was beaten by a gang of bikers that often steals on my street.”
She called the firefighters to release him and he was then taken to the hospital. She, in turn, began receiving threats.
In a statement to police, the young man said he had been chased by a group of about 30 men on motorcycles armed with at least one pistol while walking with three friends (two escaped) to take a swim in the sea. He was then beaten, stripped naked and chained to the pole. The 15-year-old has been on the streets of Rio for at least two years since he was caught stealing an electric drill from a family neighbor and being forced to leave his home.
Police believe those responsible for the attack are the “Flamengo vigilantes”, who attack and torture whomever they consider to look suspicious; they are also accused of assaulting gays. About 15 suspected members of the group were arrested by the police.
Journalist Rosiane Rodrigues, writing for Afropress, criticized Bezerra de Mello's for taking a photo of the victim and posting it on Facebook rather than just calling the fire department and an ambulance. In her opinion:
A cena chocou. É possível que o motivo da consternação tenha sido o local da ação e não a ação em si. Sim. Um menino, amarrado ao poste, em uma rua da Zona Sul do Rio de Janeiro, não é um fato comum. Meninos, amarrados em postes, baleados, espancados, violentados não cabem na paisagem da Zona Sul da cidade. Essas devem ser imagens periféricas, cotidianas das favelas, dos subúrbios. Imagens de barbárie que já não chocam nem causam espanto aos olhos dos que estão – e devem continuar – à margem.
O “menino amarrado ao poste”‘ deu sorte. Ele poderia estar morto. Se assim fosse, seria mais um a entrar para a estatística da barbárie cometida diuturnamente nos becos e vielas em todo País. Imagens de corpos violados, machucados, inertes… reflexos distantes de uma realidade encoberta aos olhos sensíveis de uma parcela da população que teima em não querer enxergar: a indústria do genocídio da juventude preta e pobre.
The scene was shocking. It is possible that the reason for the consternation was the location of the incident and not the incident itself. Yes, a boy tied to a lamp post in a street in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro is not a common occurrence. Boys chained to lamp posts, shot, beaten, raped do not fit in with the landscape of the city south. These should be peripheral, everyday images of slums, suburbs. Images of barbarism that no longer shock or cause astonishment in the eyes of those who are – and should continue – at the margin.
The “boy tied to the post” got lucky. He might have been dead. If so, he would be the latest to join the statistics of barbarism committed incessantly in the alleys and lanes throughout the country. Images of bodies violated, hurt, inert… distant reflections of a reality hidden from the eyes of a sensitive population that insists on not wanting to see: the industry of the genocide of black and poor youth.
Activist Caio Almeida warned on Facebook of the danger of the formation of a “fascist militia” in Rio de Janeiro, like the so-called “vigilantes”, and added that “what is going on in the Flamengo neighborhood is very serious”:
Esses caras agridem homossexuais, ambulantes que não concordam com o preço cobrado pela cerveja, usuários de maconha ou negros sozinhos. Em suma, tocam o terror para garantir que o bairro deles sejam para os ricos, brancos e com os mesmos hábitos sociais(e até sexuais!) que eles.
These guys attack homosexuals, hawkers who do not agree with the price charged for beer, marijuana users and blacks alone. In short, they play on terror to ensure that their neighborhood belongs to the rich and the white with the same social habits (and even sex habits!) as them.
According to the assaulted boy, all of his assailants were white “playboys” except one who was brown.
Activist Paulo Henry Jr wrote on Facebook that even if the man was really responsible for thefts in the region, the attitude of beating and humiliating him “does not cease to be brutal”, and that it should be up to the police to investigate the veracity of the charges and take him to trial. He added:
Mas a Ku Klux Klan versão brasileira que de tão cômoda nem sequer precisa usar capuz e lençóis, age livremente sem ser perturbada fazendo nas ruas a sua maneira aquilo que considera justiça.
But the Brazilian version of the Ku Klux Klan, which feels so comfortable that it doesn't even need to wear hoods and sheets, acts freely undisturbed on the streets, going their own way with what they consider to be justice.
Similar cases have occurred recently. A few years ago in the Botafogo neighborhood of Rio, bikers stripped a black man naked and left him on the pavement under the scorching sun after they accused him of trying to steal a motorcycle, described John Batista Damasceno. Firefighters helped the bikers take off the man's clothes, and a municipal guard witnessed the scene without intervening:
The role of the media in spreading the horror
Outrage over this most recent case would have been smaller had it not been for the intervention of TV anchor for “Jornal do SBT” Rachel Sheherazade, known for her conservative comments. On primetime, she said:
“Num país que sofre de violência endêmica, a atitude dos vingadores é até compreensível”, disse a apresentadora. “O Estado é omisso, a polícia desmoralizada, a Justiça é falha… O que resta ao cidadão de bem, que ainda por cima foi desarmado? Se defender, é claro”. E finalizou: “O contra-ataque aos bandidos é o que chamo de legítima defesa coletiva de uma sociedade sem Estado contra um estado de violência sem limite”.
“In a country that suffers from endemic violence, the attitude of the avengers is even understandable,” said the anchor. “The state is absent, the police demoralized, justice flawed… What is left for the good citizen, who moreover was unarmed? Defend themselves, of course.”. She concluded: “The counterattack to the thugs is what I call collective self-defense of a stateless society from a state of violence without limits.”
The reaction was immediate, both in support and against. Businessman Vinicius Duarte commented on Facebook:
Quando um telejornal de grande audiência permite que se faça apologia a um crime (sim, ~cidadão de bem desarmado~, acorrentar bandidos ou inocentes nus em postes é CRIME), é sinal que a barbárie está vencendo o jogo.
When a news program with a large audience allows an apology for a crime to be made (yes, you ~disarmed good citizen~, to chain bandits or innocents to lamp posts is a CRIME), it is a sign that barbarism is winning the game.
The profile of social collective Pedra no Sapato, making a pun on the name of the presenter, stated that Sheherazade outdid herself with her statements:
[ Cheira a Nazi ]
Defendeu a ação da milicia carioca que prendeu o adolescente ladrão e negro num poste com uma tranca de bicicleta no pescoço, o espancou e o deixou nu. Acha normal, natural algo assim. Afinal, já que vivemos em estado de barbárie, não custa nada nós mesmos começarmos as nossas, né? Ninguém esta defendendo os atos de banditismo do moleque, agora chamar de ‘compreensível’ e ‘legítima defesa’ uma barbaridade dessas é sinal de que essa mulher não tem um pingo de humanidade!
(Smells of Nazi) [a play with the sound of words Sheherazade]
She defended the action of Rio militia who chained the thief and black teenager to the lamp post with a bike lock around his neck, beat him and left him naked. She finds it normal, something like that is natural. After all, since we live in a state of barbarism, it costs nothing to start our [own barbarism], right? No one is defending the banditry of the boy; but saying that a barbaric act like this is “understandable” and “self-defense” is a sign that this woman doesn't have a shred of humanity!
Student Mosiés Teixeira demanded that Sheherazade “be liable for the blunder issued in primetime” and that those who supported it should “reflect a bit before issuing opinions full of catchphrases that are just polished stupidity.”
According to the Union of Journalists of Rio de Janeiro, the punishment will come. The union and its Committee on Ethics not only expressed their disgust, but also demanded that the National Federation of Journalists take action “in this and other cases of human rights violations and of the Code of Ethics of the Brazilian journalists, which occur routinely in broadcasting programs in our country.” The Union of Journalists of the Federal District also declared their disgust with Sheherazade's statements and added that they will ask a prosecutor to act.
The Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL) announced that it also will demand punishment for the presenter.
For activist and journalist Rodrigo Mariano, Sheherazade “reached a level that she now supports murderers openly on national television. And the girl shares the same profession as me, you see. She took the oath she swore and reversed it. She wiped her ass with her diploma, certainly.”
After all repercussions, SBT issued a note stating that the journalist does not represent the opinions of the channel. Sheherazade using airtime on “SBT Journal” tried to explain herself, saying that she was “on the good side, the side of the angels”, which is:
uma crítica da violência. Eu defendo as pessoas de bem deste País, que foram abandonadas à própria sorte, porque não tem polícia, não tem segurança pública. O que eu fiz não foi defender a atitude dos justiceiros. O que eu defendi foi o direito da população de se defender quando o Estado é omisso
a critique of violence. I defend the good people of this country, who were abandoned to their fate because they have no police, no public security. What I did was not defend the attitude of vigilantes. What I defended was people's right to defend itself when the state is absent
In other words, Sheherazade maintains a view that, for activist Robson Fernandes, “is tradition among the Brazilian conservative right” and consists of “making a Manichean division of society between ‘good citizens’ and ‘bums’.”
Nessa crença que divide a sociedade entre “bons” e “maus”, os primeiros seriam pessoas “cidadãs” que “pagam impostos”, “respeitam as leis”, “lutam para vencer na vida” e se dizem “incapazes” de cometer qualquer crime ou dano contra outras pessoas e também contra animais não humanos. E os segundos seriam inimigos da ordem, ameaçadores da vida alheia, preferidores de “caminhos fáceis”, como a criminalidade ou o recebimento de benefícios financeiros pelo Estado, sendo muitos deles autênticos demônios do mal que deveriam ser presos, torturados pela polícia e/ou mortos.
In this belief that divides society into “good” and “bad”, the former would be the “citizen” who “pay taxes”, “law-abiding”, the ones who “struggle to succeed in life” and are said to be “not able” to commit a crime or harm other humans and non-human animals. And the latter are enemies of order, threatening the lives of others, those who prefer the “easy path”, such as crime or to receive financial benefits from the state, many of them being authentic evil demons who should be arrested, tortured by the police and/or dead.
Military police officer from the state of Bahia and contributor to Global Voices Danillo Ferreira made it clear:
Nenhuma violência deve ser celebrada. Tentativas violentas de vingança e “resposta” a outros atos violentos apenas alimentam os ciclos de violência.
No violence should be celebrated. Attempts of revenge and violent “response” to other violent acts only feed the cycle of violence.
A petition that so far has more than 50,000 signatures was created to demand punishment for the journalist. A Facebook event was created to humorously ask for the replacement of the news programme anchored by Sheherazade by the popular Mexican series “Chaves”, whose main character “has much to teach us about tolerance and equality.”