Monday, December 5, 2011

Shame on You Rio de Janeiro!

I saw a horrific sight the yesterday. It was supposed to be my Sunday Steam of Consciousness post but with the continued lack of internet it has been moved to Monday.


Today I am horrified. I saw something that shook me to the core. Walking innocently home, I saw a pharmacy delivery man beating a homeless man. It wasn't in a dark alley or at night. It was the middle of the day on a very busy street, next to a busy plaza. The most disturbing part was that no one did anything. 

I wanted to be able to just walk away and ignore it, tell myself the homeless guy must have had something coming to him. But I know that homeless guy and I saw him sleeping right there just 20 minutes earlier. 

I was the first one to yell leave him alone. By then his mouth was already bleeding and the man was dragging him down the street by his dreads. An old lady joined me in yelling. All the men, the multitude of men standing there, didn't get involved. Just a Mother with a small child (who would rather he not see something like this) and an old lady. Everyone else just watched. 

A different older woman passed by and said to me that he must be a theif. I looked at her and said that I have spoken with him before and he had never tried anything. I also said that even he is does that mean that you get to just beat this skinny starving homeless man? Is it ok? 

Sadly my true sacastic nature doesn't quite translate yet. I was dying to tell her that her line of thinking is a slippery slope into linching people and maybe she has forgotten that the dictatorship is over. I'm also dying to know what the best translation of daft cow is in Portuguese. Would have really fit the moment. Regardless, she looked embarrassed enough with her assumption and walked away with her head down. 

But I was pissed. Pissed at everyone watching. Pissed at no one breaking up the fight and figuring out what the hell was going on. Especially pissed because of the unfair size advantage of the beater and the fact that the homeless man was begging him to stop, not even fighting back! I give props to the little old lady who was shouting with me because she had the young man balls to walk up to the man doing the beating and yell at him. The man just said that the guy had it coming to him. She kept yelling at him but the guy was determined and started dragging the homelessman away. 

I took off towards the plaza to find a police officer. That's when I noticed that the delivery man was dragging the homeless man in the same direction. Hell, if a man is going to publicly beat another man and then drag him to the police, something must have happened. 

Still, the lack of response by the general public was disturbing. Hell, it happened right next to a bar with at least 20 men sitting there watching the fight and the game simotaneously. 

I think the neighborhoods of Laranjeiras, Catete and Flamengo should be ashamed of themselves! I sure am ashamed of my neighbors enough for everyone. Have you seen this? What would you have done?


  1. Lovely post, Rachel. I grew up in Rio, and I remember scenes like this, unfortunately. The insult you're looking for is "vaca." You can easily translate literally in this case! There is a way to make it more profane, but I'm trying to be demure. Love your blog -- I'm an American who was raised in Brazil and just moved back to the US, and it's cool to read someone else who has seen/has opinions on both cultures (but is a better writer!) Amanda


    This is sad =(


  3. Daft cow? Try "vaca burra" perhaps, or something a bit more stinging...
    Boo to the whole incident. We are so civilized, no? Soccer trumps heroism any day of the week...

  4. Were you ever able to find out whether the homeless guy had actually done anything? I salute you for not ignoring the situation, but getting involved can be dangerous too.

    Best to try finding out the facts, if that is possible, before commiting to one side or the other. If the homeless guy was minding his own business, the delivery guy should be arrested for assault. Overly aggressive people like that seldom commit only one such act.

    Did you take pictures? I know that is not generally the first reaction, but being able to ID the delivery guy would be the first step in righting this potential wrong.

  5. I confess that I wouldn't intervine without knowing what was going on...

    I understand where you are coming from, but "pharmacy delivery man" don't usually pick fights on the street.

    There was some incidents of prep boys (Mauricinhos) and Jiu-Jitsu guys ganging up on homeless people, but I never heard of a working man picking fights with homeless people on the streets...

    Who knows why there were fighting? may be it was due to a prior incidend or it could be family related. Did the homeless call for help? Did you watch or know how the fight started?

  6. Rio needs more cops. NY was like that when I was a kid. Today, cops everywhere. Expensive, but certainly safer.

  7. Unfortunately, Dave, the cops in Rio are more likely to join in on the beating than stop it. I once saw a cop in lapa take a teenagers skateboard and start beating him over the head with it because the kid didn't stop sktaeboarding as soon as he was ordered to.

    Rachel, your story is one of many I have heard and witnessed where groups of carioca men do NOTHING to stop agression where they see it. The most traumatizing part of being robbed here, for me, was the fact that I was robbed at a bus stop by unarmed, shirtless 10year olds infront of several large adult males who did nothing but watch the kids twist my arm until I was on the ground crying. Their inaction sickened me more than actually being robbed.

    If the homeless man did do something wrong, he is lucky that the whole crowd didnt beat him to death. Did you see this story about the bus driver who suddenly passed out while driving and was beaten to death by a group of around 40men all because he cause an accident in which one other person broke a toe?,,OI5491904-EI5030,00-SP+motorista+passa+mal+bate+onibus+e+e+espancado+ate+a+morte.html

    Brazil is quite often a land where people make up their own rules and everyone thinks its someone else's problem.

  8. to be honest I dont think I would have gotten involved...

    it is strange to see a worker picking up a fight w a homeless guy for no reason.Maybe sth did happen before....

  9. OMG Anon, I hadn't heard of that! They killed a bus driver?! Crazy! I also can see how you would be more disgusted by the grown men than the robbery. I had a friend who was robbed by knife point from behind while 3 grown men watched. When the guy left they didn't even come to her aide...

    You guys do have a point about the working man. Delivery men usually do go about their business. Of course there only needs to be just one. None the less, the level of aggression could only be anger from something happening or major rage issues... Still for me it could swing either way.

  10. Reading this alone makes me angry. I would like to think that I would have done as you did, at least to bring attention to a possible injustice. I had a horrible experience in Egypt where I saw a truck hit a man on a donkey on the outskirts of Cairo. It was absolute chaos and hard to imagine how the farmer could have survived such an impact. I tried to stay as a witness until things got out of hand and no police came. I finally gave up and got on a micro bus back to town. You can imagine my horror when I got on and found the drivers fleeing the scene. I am still conflicted about what I should have done. Had they stayed, they may have very likely been beaten to death by villagers. On the other hand I watched as they fled, and I didn't say a thing. Everyone on the bus knew and nobody confronted them. These situations are hard enough to navigate in your native language, let alone another language, culture, and justice system.

  11. it really seems to have been scary, but ... Not defending the pharmacy delivery man, but maybe he has not had his reasons to hit the beggar? I know that may seem ''daunting to you'', but sometimes people get tired of being robbed in broad daylight, and hitting is not the right solution, but unfortunately here in Brazil is what some do by not the police do anything to help people ... It's horrible, I know. But is not the fault of the people, is simply the police inefficiency...

  12. This is see someone being beaten up on the street, seemingly helpless...not right. Who knows the story behind it? It's not right, but then again, hard to know if you should get involved. From what I've seen of homeless around here, they are flanelinhas, or mothers with young kids asking for diapers..but who knows who is really homeless as they just show up on the weekends normally, living here for a long time, you notice the locals here! There was one lady who truly lived on the street here for years, she painted lots of pretty paintings, but she disappeared about 2 years ago...I still wonder about her. Cutting to it... they just need money or things...and I've never seen something like you described. I've rarely seen aggression here, only between drivers on the street maybe once or twice. And my god, have you seen the amount of police on the street lately??? Like 10 on every corner for 3 weeks now.

  13. That's why beating someone is against the law and violence is not the answer. I think of a lot of people who have a lot of things coming. But really who made one guy the police, the lawyer, the judge and the firing squad. Right, unfortunately we have broken legal system in many parts of the world. so Justice isn't here as is needs to be. But god you can't go all cowboy, I mean it's 2012!

    Go girl! You did the right thing. Glad you stood up to that crappy situation!

  14. I hate seeing things like this. It's scary and ugly. As Plugadão says, I think these things happen because the general populace have zero confidence in the police and justice system in general.

    Also, large groups are often very bad at 'stepping in' because each individual feels a reduced responsibility ("Why doesn't someone else do something?") - often it takes a brave individual who is apart from the group to get involved.

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  16. This idea that the people have no confidence in the justice system is absolutely true here in Peru, too.

    In fact, unless you've stolen over a certain $$ amount, they do absolutely nothing, so the choros make sure they only still small things that won't add up to enough to get them in trouble.

    This impotence leads to violence on the behalf of the people who feel they have no other recourse - and often, they take it and take it and take it, then something makes them snap.

    It's worse when the mob mentality takes over - I remember in my early days here, seeing on the news about a pregnant woman being attacked and beaten in the streets, because she'd been caught stealing a can of milk from a bodega. I was horrified, still am.

  17. It's a sad truth, but happens in almost every country. People don't care anymore for each other, nor have the guts to react.

    Now... if he was dragging him towards a police officer, I guess something has happened. Honestly, if someone touches my property, I would beat the hell out of him, and after that drag him to the police.

    Because chances are that the police will just write a report and that's it... No punishment, no reaction to what the guy did. The more a law system fails, the more an eye for an eye is justified.

  18. I'm so glad you wrote this post, Rachel, because I've been struggling with the same thing. One day a good friend of mine tried to show me a video of people violently beating a man who had allegedly sexually assaulted a 12 year old girl. I was horrified that my friend wanted to show me this video, and even more so when he tried to share it with some younger students who were nearby. It was bad enough that people decided to take justice into their own hands without the benefit of a trial (no such thing as "innocent until proven guilty" here in Brazil), but even worse that this was a video being shared through cell phones - and apparently being enjoyed by respectable people! I really had a hard time not judging my friend for his culture in this case, but I did stand my ground and prevented him from passing the video on to others. Sadly, I think he still doesn't understand why it upset me - he thinks I was overreacting to the violence. But in reality it is the complete lack of justice and the local fascination with and desensitization to violence that were the most disturbing things.