Thursday, August 25, 2011

Robbed in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro's violent streak was thrown in my face today. There are days in Rio where you only see the beautiful landscape and wonderful people and others where the city seems to flip over exposing it's nasty little underbelly.

On the way home from school, my boys and I were approaching the crazy homeless lady who "sells" magazines next to the school. I say "sell" because no one actually buys them. She carefully spreads out these 2 yr old versions of Veja while she sprawls over the entire freaking sidewalk. As you can see, she is usually someone I consider annoying as I have to take my boys off the sidewalk to get around her carelessly spread-eagle legs.

Today was different. Two street kids were there and she was on her feet. Seeing her on her feet made me wake up and pay attention. The street kids were grabbing at her stuff. While she made sure to keep a distance, she kept telling them to put the magazines down! They were hers to sell! The teen and kid took her things and walked down the street. There was nothing in the bag of value and they were just doing it to be little shits.

If I hadn't had my boys with me...

I come home only to find out that a good friend of mine was robbed by knifepoint. She was out for a jog, it still being light out, when a large man grabbed her. He put his extremely large knife to her throat, and demanded her mp3 player (which was actually an ipod). When she couldn't get it off fast enough, he sliced the cords of the headphones like jelly (her words) and ran off with it and her cell. She walked away with a couple of cuts but then realized that there was a man there watching the entire thing happen. The man told another man passing by and all three of them watched the assailant run away. No one did anything.

My friend told me later that she though of my blog post about a girl shot in Flamengo. She kept thinking "Give him everything." Considering her position, I think she was right to do so... not that she had any other option.

But hearing her story made me think of Jenna's comment on the Flamengo post about how we need to fight them. While my friend couldn't, that man watching could have. That man could have rallied someone to help him. And I could have helped that poor woman, or at least tried to motivate another onlooker without children to do something.

I can't say why the man didn't  do anything but I can say why I didn't. I was afraid to get involved. I live in the area and have small children. Street children normally run in packs. I could be caught off guard any given evening and be totally screwed, and what if my boys were with me. Sure I'd fight and I have very little doubt that I wouldn't at least stumble away, but do I want my kids to experience that?

At the same time, if a criminal knew that other people would react, I doubt they would choose to attack. Maybe if we acted as a community the criminals would have less opportunity to strike... 


  1. I know it's a serious topic, but I just wanna say. You have the best f'ing graphics! This fat batman pic just cracked me up!

  2. What can I say, it's a gift ;)

  3. Everytime I hear or read of this happening, I get really concerned and even dare I say scared to visit Rio again. I was lucky twice and I stand out like an alien but I'm afraid now that I won't be so lucky the third time around.

    What are they going to do when they host the World Cup and the Olympics? I mean, they better bet getting this problem under major control or Rio is not going to have a very good reputation when all is said and done. And knowing how the media blows everything up, all it is going to take is a few really bad things to happen, and they will run with it like crazy.

    Leon's 13 yr old little sister was robbed of her purse and cell phone while walking home a few weeks ago. Guy jumped off the back of a motorcycle he was riding with another guy and held her at knife point only a block from home. I have a 12 year old daughter andd when I heard this, I couldn't IMAGINE this happening to mine but it seemed to be such a normal part of life there and it made me sad. I love Rio and I really wish this part of things could get fixed so no one ever has to go through this again.

  4. Shay - things like this don't "get fixed" until things like social justice and opportunity "get fixed" - não e facil...

  5. Good reminder to be vigilant, especially when on the rua. Can never be too comfortable.

  6. Jim I agree the government should improve education, provide social justice and opportunity etc but as in any society some people just don't want to work and will steal if they have opportunity to do so. In this case they should be punished but in brazil they think it will be easy to get away with the police.
    In some countries people wont steal because they are afraid of the consequences - jail , death penalty , etc.

  7. Jim,

    I have to respectfully disagree that crime is related to social justice in Brazil.
    Having lived in Brazil most of my life and gone to Law School in Sao Paulo, I think most of these criminals are stealing to use drugs or just because they are criminals by nature, plus our Penal Codes are crap, they are too easy on these people and they know it. Gotta blame the freaking Romans, all Brazilian law is based on Roman Law and it sucks for the most part.
    There are millions of honest Brazilians lifting themselves out of poverty by working hard and building a better lives for their families by going to public schools, that are not perfect, but are available.
    This is bad blood and drug use in a bad combination plus a sense of complacency by the state. Brazilian laws are very lenient with crime.
    Brazil should cutting off a hand for each time a robber is caught on the act and castration for rappers, plus capital punishment for murders. Plus, you can vote at 16, you can dam sure be treated as an adult if you commit a crime. Then it's seat back and watch crime rates take a nose dive.
    That would definitely make these bastards think twice.


  8. Rachel,

    I think she did great by not reacting.
    These guys are usually high on crack or something and they will snap at any sign of fighting back.
    Plus, they usually have a back up guy watching from a distance, often with a gun, so, not a good idea to try to fight them off.
    Your friend will have a new ipod and new cell phone in no time and will also have her LIFE. The girl at the bus stop in Botafogo is gone, she doesn't get a second chance.


  9. you can't react, they will shoot/stab you without a second of hesitation... you have to pre-empt and try to get away before they corner you but if they stick a knife/gun at your face just give them your wallet, ipod, ipad, iphone whatever your live is much more valuable than that...

    Glad to hear your friend is OK

    The last 10 years the life and prospects of the bottom half (classe D, E and F) improved tremendously, but we had no sharp decrease in violence so "social justice" alone won't completely change the picture. Accountability and punishment along "social justice" should improve the situation... and to be very, very un-PC a bit of family planning?

    About the WC and Olympics. South Africa also has a violence problem and they manage to host a good WC. Brazil did host a few international events without any major violence/crime spree.

    google account thing isn't working... Marcio

  10. Goosebumps. Just yesterday in the newspaper I read about a few assaults in Lagoa and Ipanema. Wake-up calls. It seems like there are waves of these things...but it's a reminder to always be aware and to train yourself not to fight. But yes, it would be great if bystanders actually did get invovled. I think folks here are just too scared or trained not to interfere, for fear of losing their lives.

  11. I really appreciated this post, not just because you referenced me, but because I think you hit the key word for fixing crime: community. So true. So hard. So necessary.

  12. Oh, Ray, I checked out the follow up on the Botafogo girl and she's fine. :) Lucky girl.

  13. Ray --- WTF?

    some people are criminals by nature?

    Bad blood and complacency?

    What are you talking about!!?!

  14. Yes, Jim,

    Complacency from the government, sorry Jim, I don't have patience for these bastards.
    It's proven scientifically that some individuals are born with a strong inclination for crime.
    That show Dexter discusses this issue, the father can tell his adopted son is prone to murder so he trains his son to become a vigilante, so at least, he kills bad people.
    I believe some people are just mean, and it's in their nature to commit crime, I say off with their heads!!!! The rest of us deserve to live in peace...



  15. Jenna,

    Thanks for the update. That is great news.



  16. Jim,

    When I talk about the Brazilian laws being complacent I am talking about all the little articles in the law that give criminals a brake.
    For example, if the crime wasn't premaditated, if it was a spur of the moment thing, the punishment is reduced from to 3 years in jail down to 6 months, if they behave well in jail ( don't kill anyone while in prison ), the sentence is reduces another 3 months.
    Long story short, you may stab someone at a bus stop for their cell phone and spend 3 months in jail, if you have a bad lawyer, if you have a good lawyer, forget it, you might not get any jail at all.
    All this considering the S.O.B gets caught by the police...fat chance...!
    The good news is that these bastards kill each other all the time, the bad news is that 1000 new potential criminals are born everyday... :(


  17. I remember reading several years ago about a model who was stabbed in NYC and left on her doorstep to die. She miraculously lived, but the thing is after the story hit the news several people came forward saying they had seen the attack and yet not a single one of them even called 911!!!

    On another note...while trying to find information on the net about the super model stabbing I ran across this story about a homeless man who gave his life to save a woman. He bled to death on the streets while people walked right on past him. Since it was in broad daylight many people must have seen the crime happening.

    Too many people do too little too late they have Krav Maga classes in Rio...

  18. :-( No matter how much you try to stay esperta and not get into bad situations or bad areas, sometimes it's just bad luck. Yesterday I found out that a friend of my students was robbed and shot in the face in the same neighborhood where I give class and then have to wait for the bus around 9:30 PM. It's a well-to-do area and unfortunately that makes it that much more unsafe, because 1) people like to rob people who have money; and 2) everybody has cars and garages and lives in closed condos, so there's very little foot traffic.