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Two Syrias a Year | The Brazilian Murder Rate


A recent op-ed by Daniel Ricardo de Castro Cerqueira, a researcher  at the Brazilian IPEA — The Institute for Applied Economic Research — in the pages of O Globo.

The headline, «Syria é Aquí» plays off  the Caetano Veloso composition «Haití é Aquí» — no need to look to Haiti for examples of extreme poverty: they exist in abundance here at home.

The UN recently announced that nearly 70,000 Syrians have died since the outbreak of hostilities in that nation.

During the same period,in Brazil, according to calculations based on data from the Ministry of Health, 120,000 Brazilians were murdered.

Unlike wartime violence, however, this social violence is diffuse in origin and has been a part of daily life for decades. Approximately 1.4 million Brazilians have been murdered since 1980.

It is possible to predict within a small margin of error that this year, 60,000 persons will fall victim to homicide. The victims will be, for the most part, young, male, black or brown, with less than a junior high school education. For the most part, they will be shot down in the public streets between 10 p.m. and midnight.

Up until the 1990s, the national debate on public safety raged back and forth. Some called for more policemen  — preferably hard, implacable men capable of putting an end to criminals — while others insisted on a deterministic theory of crime as a natural consequence of social ills.

From 2000 on, however, the debate changed direction. People began to see how simplistic the old bipolar debate had become and to realize that resolving the situation called for social prevention programs operating in sync with quality policing that respected the rights of citizens.

There were important and innovative policy changes during that period as well.  In 2000, After the Bus 174 incident, public safety moved to the forefront of issues debated in municipal elections, and the federal government intervened ever more directly in the situation, establishing a National Public Safety Plan and the National Fund  for Public Safety.

Bus 174 is a 2002 José Padilha documentary — see the freeze frame at the head of this post — about a live on TV standoff between police and a homeless robber who commandeered a city bus. The stand-off ends in the shocking death of a hostage when shots are fired from close range as hostage and hostage taker descend from the bus.

The hostage taker, disarmed, is loaded alive and apparently uninjured into a squad car and taken to a hospital, where he is declared dead.

During the Lula government, the idea of integrating federal agencies with local forces was finally taken seriously. Under this arrangement, municipal governments could submit policy proposals to be financed by the federals government.

Along with problems of governance and coordination among the federal agencies, which must still be dealt with, it was also discovered that very few municipalities were qualified to file such requests. On the other hand, the challenge of bringing down the murder rate in Brazil is such an important, and such a difficult, task that it cannot merely be left up to police, city administrations, or the federal government alone.

It is time to come up with an anti-homicide campaign involving various levels of government, civil society, the business community and academia. This campaign should consist of a general letter of intent oriented by a precise analysis of adverse factors relating to crime in each of Brazil’s 288 cities with more than 100,000 population.  Every program and policy adopted should have its efficiency measured quantitatively rather than claiming success based on trust and common sense.  The time has come! If not for the tragedies that threaten the integrity of Brazilian families, then do it for the R$ 110 billion per year these lost lives cost the economy.