By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The sweeping mass robberies known as “arrastões” (big drags) on Rio de Janeiro’s beaches last weekend and their spread into the Zona Sul (South Zone) neighborhoods of Botafogo and Humaitá were quickly followed by reports of a rise of in alleged vigilante attacks and groups promoting vigilantism through social media.
In response, the Delegacia de Repressão a Crimes de Informática (DRCI) (the Police for the Suppression of the Computer Crimes) began analyzing social network messages on Monday, September 21st.
When speaking to O Globo about possible vigilante actions, head of the DRCI , Alessandro Thiers warned; “Anyone who takes justice into their own hands, encourages it, or makes apologies for violence should be careful, as this is a crime which can be punishable by more than ten years in prison. Police are watching.”
Following the widely reported arrastões and thefts in the Zona Sul neighborhoods of Botafogo, Humaitá, Ipanema and Arpoador on Saturday, September 19th, a group of approximately thirty civilian men were reportedly conducting “raids” for thieves and pickpockets on buses in the South Zone neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema on Sunday, September 20th.
According to Folha de São Paulo , the men allegedly arranged the meet up locations and times using the smartphone application WhatsApp. During the afternoon, the group approached and stopped at least two city buses running from the city’s Zona Sul to its Zona Norte (North Zone).
One bus was on the 472 line and another on the 474 line. Witnesses recorded the group’s breaking of the 474 bus’ windows and the group’s fights with passengers on that bus. Police were called and intervened. “We did not beat them. We just wanted to show that we are not hostages,” one of the group referred to only as Daniel, preferring not to give his full name, told Folha de São Paulo. “The officers supported us so much that they didn’t arrest us. It’s the third weekend we’ve done it.”
In addition to that WhatsApp group, social network activities highlighting the escalating tension have included Facebook pages like “Linha 474 O inferno do Rio” (Linha 474, The Hell of Rio); Facebook events with one scheduled for Ipanema’s Praça General Osório suggesting that attendees bring bats; and memes with pictures of bats and text suggesting the use of bats for protection in place of sunblock while on the beach.
Additionally going viral was a video from the show “Documento especial” (Special Document) which originally aired in the late 1980s on the now defunct Manchete channel. The episode entitled, “Os pobres vão à praia” (The poor go to the beach), documented the reactions of Rio’s South Zone residents to the influx of Zona Norte and suburban residents on what they considered to be their beaches, although all beaches in Brazil are public by law.
Featured in the video, an eighteen-year-old beachgoer named Angela Moss told the interviewer that she had started to go to the beaches of Barra da Tijuca in Rio’s Zona Oeste (West Zone) in order to avoid the new beachgoers from the Zona Norte who lacked “minimum education” on Copacabana beach. Moss, now a 47-year-old lawyer, published a retraction of her statements made in the video following its resurgence in the public eye after almost thirty years.
O Globo reported Moss’ statements to the poster and to upset commenters; “I’m glad that people like you become angry with this video. What disturbs me is the many people who write to congratulate me. […] I therefore, ask you to keep the video online, but, if possible, publish my statement,” Moss continued.
“Note that the video was edited to look worse than it is. Like every medium, Manchete was not interested in informing or alerting but in just getting ratings. But there is no denying: this is the sad face of a society without compassion, selfish society, of which I was a part. It’s sad, but now at my age, I am proud to see how I was when I was younger and how I’ve transformed.”
Part of the popularity of the video is due to the fact that efforts to prevent large groups of Zona Norte youths from attending the beaches, including minimizing bus routes between the areas, continue to this day and remain highly controversial. A recent ruling declared that State Military Police could not seize nor search teenagers attempting to go to the beach unless they were committing a crime.
The Tribunal de Justiça do Rio de Janeiro (President of the Court of Justice of Rio de Janeiro) Judge Luiz Fernando Ribeiro defended the ruling saying; “The decision was absolutely the correct decision. One can not assume that someone, a group of teenagers, just because they’re on a bus, that they would be heading to commit robbery. There cannot be this divination, this assumption of the robber. You cannot deprive young people of the right to freedom because of a guessing game.”
However, State Secretary of Safety José Mariano Beltrame said on Monday that the police were restricted in their prevention efforts by the ruling, stating, “We will act because I fear the vigilante problem, if this continues this way. I’m working with this possibility, that rather than us having one problem, we’re likely to have two.”