The September 2005 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Alarming Rise in Hate Crimes

Wave of Murders of Homeless Are A Warning Sign

Bumfights: An Incitement to Hate Crimes

Hate, Violence and Death on Main Street USA

Brazil Murders of Homeless Go Unsolved

Social Security Is NOT in Crisis

Time for Health Care for All

Cindy Sheehan's Unanswerable Question

Lawsuit Against California Hotel

Tribute to the Love Lotus Gave

A Mother's Plea for Homeless Son

Poor Leonard's Almanack: Carl G. Jung

Sept. Poetry of the Streets


ARCHIVES

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 

 


 

Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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The views expressed in Street Spirit are those of the individual authors alone, and not necessarily that of the American Friends Service Committee.

Brutal Killings of Homeless People in Brazil Still Unsolved

by Paula Mathieu

Attacks against homeless people sleeping on the streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil, left 7 dead and 9 seriously wounded. Design: Josie Evans, The Big Issue in Scotland

More than a year has passed since a brutal two-night spree of attacks on sleeping street people in Sao Paulo, Brazil, left seven dead and eight more seriously wounded. Despite public outcry, mounting evidence of police involvement, and ongoing public demonstrations, no arrests have been made in the case.

It all began in the predawn hours of August 19, 2004. August is wintertime in Brazil, and although it is not frigid, nighttime temperatures hover at a chilly, damp 16 degrees Celsius. Of the estimated 10,000 homeless people in Sao Paulo, roughly 3,000 routinely sleep under bridges, in doorways, and subway entrances, rolled in cheap blankets from head to toe.

When the sun came up that morning, panic hit the street inhabitants of the city center as word spread that 10 people had been hit in the head while sleeping. Two had died; four were seriously injured.

Several nights later, six more homeless people sleeping in the downtown area of Sao Paulo were attacked; and in the end, a total of seven died as a result of their injuries. The victims were women as well as men, ranging in age from 28 to 71 years old. All were struck once in the head with a blunt instrument while asleep.

"The criminal was a professional; he used an instrument and beat their heads just once to kill them. He knew what he wanted," said Alderon Costa, director of Rede Rua, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that works with homeless people in Sao Paulo. Medical examination of the victims supported this suspicion. Antonio Carlos Iron of the Legal Medical Institute, who performed the autopsies, described the attacks as "technically perfect," the work of someone who wanted to kill exactly.

These attacks occurred shortly before elections in Brazil, and politicians spoke out vigorously in the weeks following, calling for justice. Sao Paulo Mayor Marta Suplicy declared that she was "horrified" at the attacks and requested a public moment of silence to remember the victims. On September 1, 2004, Patrus Ananias, the Minister for Social Development and Combating Hunger, promised to create a forum of ministers to discuss public policies concerning homelessness in Brazil.

Once the elections came and went, however, media attention faded and few politicians followed through on their promises to investigate, said Luciano Rocco of Ocas, the street newspaper that gives employment and a media voice to the homeless in Sao Paulo. The Ministers forum was rescheduled several times, and soon politicians stopped discussing the issue entirely.

Despite police and governmental promises to seek justice in this case, evidence continues to increase suggesting that the police themselves might have been involved. In addition to the precise nature of the beatings, the attacks have all occurred downtown, an area once largely abandoned that is now slated for revitalization. This is an area usually patrolled heavily by police -- one attack occurred just outside a police station -- and security cameras record street events from several residential buildings nearby.

In their investigation, the police have not requested any of the video recordings, and several individuals who live or work in nearby buildings have offered recordings to the police. No public statement about whether the police have viewed or even accepted the videos has been released.

One victim described his two attackers, which led to further suspicion of the police. According to local reports, on August 30, a policeman threatened one of the victims in his hospital room, pressing a gun against the victim during a discussion.

In October, two military policemen, Jayner Aurelio Porfirio and Martins Landmarks Garci'a, were taken into custody under suspicion in these attacks. A third military policeman, not directly involved in these cases, was also detained. Despite the fact that Sao Paulo police said that these men were commanders of private security and drug-trafficking operations in the center of the city, they were released after 30 days with no charges being filed.

While these attacks are unusual because of their consistency, brutality and execution within a short timeframe, local NGOs and church groups point out that violence is a common routine in the lives of many people who are homeless in Brazil.

While no official census attempts to count the number of individuals without housing in Brazil, a local research foundation estimated that there were roughly 10,000 homeless people living in the streets of Sao Paulo in 2003. Red Rua and Ocas believe the figure is much higher, perhaps double, and that violence is part of everyday life for many of these people.

These crimes have a chilling similarity to the Candelaria massacre of street kids by off-duty police in Rio de Janeiro in 1993. But even more recent events show the pattern of violence.
One day before the attacks in Sao Paulo, a homeless person was beheaded in Sorocaba, in the countryside of Sao Paulo State. His head has not been found. A month earlier, six homeless people went to the hospital after being poisoned, also in Sao Paulo. A homeless person was shot to death in Belo Horizonte (capital of Minas Gerais) on September 4.

In Rio de Janeiro, county guards systematically threaten homeless people. Policemen compel street dwellers to abandon wealthy neighborhoods and tourist sites by taking their few belongings and throwing them into trash collectors. Any resistance to this action meets with violence, according to Rocco. This policy, undertaken by the city's mayor, is officially named "Urban Control Operation."

Rocco believes that such widespread violence against the vulnerable and poor of Brazil results from a culture of fear and prejudice. "Most Brazilians see homeless people with prejudice, with a mixture of pity and fear," Rocco said. "Many see homeless people as people who do not want to work or that are involved with some kind of illicit activity. Our mainstream media and governments contribute to this misperception."

Citizens of Sao Paulo have taken to the streets to show their sympathy and solidarity with the victims, sleeping in the street and holding monthly vigils. Despite this continued show of support, little official progress is being made.

"We fear that this issue has been forgotten, that nothing will be done, despite monthly protests and vigils in our country," said Rocco. "We have decided that on this anniversary, we need to internationalize these events, to inform people around the world about this miscarriage of justice. Citizens of foreign countries will help if they show their concern about the situation of homeless people in Brazil to public authorities, by writing to Brazilian embassies in their countries or to their own embassies in Brazil."

Rocco believes that international readers of street papers can apply necessary pressure to investigate -- and hopefully end -- such brutal attacks of vulnerable people in Brazil. He said, "Please encourage your readers to write to the Brazilian embassy in the United States or to the U.S. embassy in Brazil. We should not let these lives be forgotten or let the criminals to go unpunished."

Regular vigils have been taking place in Brazil to draw attention to the rash of violence on people experiencing homelessness. Ocas, the street paper in Sao Paulo, requests that all street papers throughout the world stand in solidarity to request that an investigation be opened on the murders and assaults.

Join the International Network of Street Papers' fight for justice. E-mail or write to Ministro Marcio Thomas Bastos in Brazil to urge justice in these matters:
Ministro Marcio Thomas Bastos,
Ministerio da Justica, Esplanada
dos Minisetrios, Bloco T, Ed.sede
CEP 70064-900, BRASILIA
Email: marcio.bastos@mj.gov.br


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