Note from BW of Brazil: This is the second part of a two-part series on the surge of lynchings in Brazil. Although these mob attacks have recently surged in the media, it is by no means a new phenomenon in the country. See the first report here.
The epidemic of popular justice
The situation in Argentina is mimicked in Brazil, with citizens who decide to take justice into their own hands
• “One million Brazilians have participated in lynchings”
by Beatriz Borges
The news reports about lynchings proliferate in local newspapers of all Brazilian states, but not included in the statistics. According to the penal code, lynching is not recognized as a crime and therefore it is difficult to calculate how many acts occur in the country. The list of acts of violence that have as an argument to penalize street crime is great. In the past two months, at least 10 cases were reported in Brazil. The situation is similar to what happens in Argentina, which has been experiencing a wave of lynchings since mid-March, even leading the Pope to rule on acts of brutality against thieves. Despite the repetition, which proves that this is not an isolated activity, Brazil is unbeaten in lynchings, according to sociologist José de Souza Martins, an expert in the field. “Three years ago, there were three or four a week. After the demonstrations in June, there was on average one attempt per day. Today we have more than one attempted lynching daily,” he explains.
The public humiliation is the beginning of the end (as) it often does not end up at the police station, but in death. One of the most recent cases was that of a 17-year old who died on Friday in Serra, Espírito Santo (southeastern Brazil). The young Alailton Ferreira was beaten by a group of people who assaulted him with stones, pieces of wood and iron. By the time the police arrived, according to the blog Negro Belchior, of Carta Capital magazine, no one knew for certain what the motivation of the beating was. There was speculation that the boy had tried to commit a robbery, abuse of a child or rape a woman. But nothing has been proven. Also on Friday, in São Francisco, in Maranhão (northeast Brazil), a robber was lynched in the street after stealing purses, jewelry and cell phones of customers in a clinic, according to local newspaper O Dia. Fortunately, other neighbors prevented the assault from continuing and he was forwarded to the police station.
On Thursday, the 10th, a man managed to escape the wrath of neighbors in Campina Grande, Paraíba. He was beaten after police caught him with two children, a girl 12 and a boy of 11, at his home. According to the news site Paraíba Agora, minors would undergo a forensic examination to establish whether abuse had come to be consummated.
A 24 year old in Nova Crixás, Goiás, didn’t have the same luck was, dying on Monday, March 7, after being lynched by a group of residents. The site Goiás News published a video recorded by phone where the scene of extreme violence was registered. Isaías Novaes dos Santos, who already had a prior record for rape, was arrested by police on suspicion of having carried out a theft hours after a six year old child had been raped in the city. There was evidence that he had been the perpetrator of the crime. Because of the theft, he was apprehended and taken to a hospital where he underwent a corpus delicti test before imprisonment. Even accompanied by a group of policemen, hundreds of villagers stormed the hospital and beat the man to death, according to the G1 news site. Another lynching of a suspected assailant in Teresina, Piauí, on April 8, was also recorded and the images can be seen online. Just this week alone, eight videos of lynchings were placed on YouTube.
In Porto Alegre, capital of Rio Grande do Sul (southern Brazil), a 15-year old was lynched by residents on Sunday, June 5, for cutting his five-year old brother with a knife, but he eventually died with shots to the head. According to police, the murder was due to a gang act, motivated by revenge, which doesn’t take away the weight of the beating he suffered at the door of his home, the victim of family and neighbors, according to the news portal Terra.
In March, the crimes were already news. On the 22nd, according to Correio de Uberlândia, a man was sent to the hospital in serious condition after being attacked by neighbors who accused him of theft, in Uberlândia, Minas Gerais (southeast Brazil). On the same day, the police managed to prevent the continuation of a lynching in Macapá, in Amapá. Two men suspected of assaulting a teenage girl were assaulted by pedestrians who witnessed the theft. G1 news collected testimonies of passersby and one of them, the services assistant Domênico Marques, 41, went on to say they would take teach “those ‘guys’ a lesson” because it makes no sense that people sweat at work for a man that come and stealing in broad daylight,” a comment also repeated in the act of violence in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro. That day, a teenager was tied to a pole with a bicycle lock.
On the same weekend as the lynchings in Uberlândia and Macapá, a man was killed and two women were beaten after stealing a taxi in São Luis, Maranhão. According to the newspaper O Imparcial, other taxi drivers were able to locate the vehicle and acted on their own, along with citizens passing by, ten kilometers from the city center. On March 26th, rape suspect Jeferson Souza Ramalho, 18, was killed with sticks and stones before police arrived on the scene, near Lagoa Mundaú in Maceió, Alagoas. According to the website Folha do Sertão, no one has been prosecuted, which usually occurs when these acts of collective violence are executed.
“In 60 years, one million Brazilians have participated in lynchings”
José de Souza Martins is a doctor of sociology and a researcher on lynching in Brazil, an investigation that has taken more than 40 years. In its latest survey for the book Linchamentos: a justiça popular no Brasil (Lynching: Popular Justice in Brazil), which will be published by Editora Contexto at the beginning of next year, the retired professor now calculates that “in the past 60 years, one million Brazilians have participated in lynchings.” In a telephone interview, he explained some of the reasons why vigilantes increased their operations in the country, in their majority “motivated by rapes of children and incest”, he explains.
Question: Are the lynchings that we see in Argentina and are following in Brazil since February, when the case of the boy tied to a pole in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, appeared in various media outlets, having a snowball effect?
Answer: I’m not tracking cases in Argentina, but it is certainly not an isolated case in Brazil, it takes place in several parts of the world such as Africa. However, Brazil is the country that most lynches in the world, and I can affirm this from the material of my research over the past 40 years. There are lynchings and attempted lynchings. The case in Rio, is a form of attempted lynching, which three years ago were three or four a week, but after the demonstrations in June, we were at an average of one attempt per day. Today, it’s more than one lynching attempt daily.
Q: And what are the reasons for this increase? Do people repeat the acts that are transmitted by the media? Do they act on their own?
A: The causes are several. Lynching is always a defensive reaction of society against rising insecurity and violence. Even if there is violence and brutality in lynching, it is a self-defensive reaction, even if it’s unjust.
Q: And what are the motivations? Is there some constant?
A: Crowds often react against child rape and incest. Thefts weigh less on decisions for lynching, which are not insignificant, but three quarters of lynchings are motivated by crimes against the person. My calculation that I did for the book Linchamentos: a justiça popular no Brasil, is that in 60 years one million Brazilians have participated in lynchings.
Q: Of the cases that you have followed, is there some impunity index on these lynchings?
A: There is no crime of lynching. It is difficult to use police records to find out whether it’s increasing or decreasing, exactly because of this. Those who find themselves involved end up being processed, but there is a mitigation of group crime. The Criminal Code is usually benign in these cases and rarely do the police manage to incriminate. It is very difficult to identify the people who commit these barbaric acts.
Source: Edição Brasil no EL PAÍS