Monday night, Rio. Some criminals park their car on the elevated highway, blocking off the access ramps and creating a traffic jam. As they rob cars, an off-duty policeman pulls out his gun. Bullets flying, the commuters throw their cars into reverse or just jump out and begin running in the direction where it seems the shots aren’t coming from. There is chaos. The attack is in front of the Federal Police building, and the shooting causes agents to come out to see what’s going on. The original policeman who reacted to the situation was shot and killed, one innocent driver was hit in the face and is on a respirator, the bullet unable to be removed from her eye until her condition stabilizes. One of the robbers was grazed and is now in custody. The others got away.
Rio de Janeiro is nervous, more nervous now than ever. This makes more than 4 civilian woundings or deaths in the past two months in car-related assaults. Involving police as the prime suspects in the deaths. A gentleman was killed a few weeks ago when a police officer saw a suspicious situation and decided to shoot first and ask questions later. The suspicious situation? The driver was being carjacked; police's actions killed the driver. The carjacker, yet again, suffered only mild injuries. Headlines are still mourning the three year old boy who died recently when the police misidentified both the color and make of the car they were chasing and machine gunned a car containing a mother, her 9 month old son and the toddler. She had pulled over to let the police car pass by--it was blaring its sirens, and traffic law dictates that civilian cars must give way. The police took it to be a threatening gesture. Miraculously, the mother and the baby survived with minimal injuries, but now face the horrifying loss of little João Roberto.
There are more. Suffice to say, one gives thanks to God both in coming and in going anymore. And even passengers pay close attention to the roads. That’s why, when three cops sauntered up to my bus this morning and took advantage of their free passenger status, we were all a little edgy. More so when just three stops down, in front of two favelas, they stood up and began banging on the door. The driver let them out and we watched warily, with trepidation, as they crept alongside our bus, hands to their weapons, scuttering across the road to another bus stopped at the red light. Darting looks all around, one of the officers banged on the darkened bus door until it opened and they disappeared inside. It took us all a moment to understand what had just happened, let the adrenaline rush subside. I began to giggle, nervously. This was no attempt to catch a suspect they’d just seen cross the road. This wasn’t a blitz. This was three overweight police officers trading a worn bus for a classier one with air conditioning.
After all we’ve gone through as a city these days, that made me laugh. A tiny example of low-level corruption, entitlement and fringe benefits. Laugh, and cringe as well, wondering what’s going to become of us if these drastic social problems aren’t brought into some kind of order. When the police start to use their brains to think, instead of their trigger fingers. When civilians don't have to feel like prisoners, safe only within their own walls...