Letter to the Editor, by Chuck Cassie

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Last Friday night my friend Ryan and I walked a mutual friend home. She lives in Cantagalo and it was very late (4:30 AM). On the way back we decided to take a shortcut home and came across two guys that stopped us and said they were bandits. They told us to give them money and so we tried to just run, but they chased us and attacked us so we fought them.

We were quite drunk so not in top fighting form, but we managed to injure them. I broke one guys finger and threw him down a flight of stairs in order to try to facilitate our escape, but then they grabbed some large rocks and started throwing them at us while yelling for reinforcements (I believe they yelled “Wolverines!”).

One rock hit me square in the eye and within a few seconds there were three or four more guys (now five or six total) beating on us. I yelled for them to stop and said we would leave. They escorted us “out of their territory” while taking some of our things – my money, Ryan’s iPhone, and both our watches. End result was a fractured vertebrae, broken nose, sprained ankle, very black eye and about eight stitches for three cuts on my face, and Ryan fractured his leg and got fifteen stitches for a cut above his eye.

We hobbled to the police station first in order to inform them as soon as possible and tell them where the bandits were located – we could tend to our injuries later. The police REFUSED to let us file a report before we went to the hospital!

The police officer said “come back some other day and file it.” There was a Brazilian civilian in the police station filing his own report at the time for something minor, who told the officer to let us file our report first and he could finish his report later, but the officer still refused to let us file a report before we went to the hospital.

The Brazilian got quite angry at the uselessness of the police and started yelling at the officer. He started yelling all the things I wanted to yell at him, which made me feel better that a Brazilian was doing it instead of me (a foreigner). So we ended up going to the hospital on our own, with no police escort to take our statements. We spent the whole day at the hospital and no police ever showed up to talk to us.

I am writing this to inform people of some things I think they should be aware: 1) There is a gang robbing people in lower Cantagalo, just west of where Rua Criança Esperança hits Rua Saint Roman; and 2) The police seem to have become flagrantly useless and don’t even try to hide it anymore.

I would also like to add at this point that I think everyone has a moral responsibility to support what they believe in and to not support what they don’t believe in, meaning if you find yourself getting robbed then I think you have a duty to fight back. If we let the thieves rob from us easily then it will only reinforce the idea that robbing people is easy and they will continue to do it, as well as tell their friends who may start robbing people as well.

If we fight back then they will bear their own injuries from the encounters and maybe they might start thinking of a new career path. I completely accept that I got injured fighting for something I believe in and I would not change anything about my reaction to the situation.

Maybe just a broken finger and whatever injuries the guy sustained when I threw him down the stairs might not be enough to dissuade him from robbing others, but if it were to happen every time he tries robbing someone then maybe it would.


Chuck Cassie, B. Eng.


  1. Fighting back in Rio brings grave consequences 90% of the time. It is the worst thing you can do as you immediately risk limb and even life rather than just a few dollars or a telephone. Wise up!

  2. What do you expect when you are walking around a favela at 430am? Especially one like Cantogalo which is super dangerous. Also, the *worst* thing to do if you are being mugged is fight back. This is how people end up dead.

  3. A Brazilian friend of mine and I ended up in quite nasty exchange when he told a mutual friend, a Mexican planning to visit Rio, that Brazil (Rio) is safe. I told him that we choose to risk the violence here. We should lie to others about it. Brazil is very dangerous.

  4. Not to say one ever deserves to be mugged, but it sounds like you could have taken some standard pre-cautions that most Cariocas would take themselves to avoid that situation. As for standing up and changing the behavior how can we target the lazy police?

  5. Yes- Rio’s street assaults and mob assaults on the beach seem to be alarmingly on the increase. But it’s a system-wide problem. These thugs are usually part of a more organized crime group. I was told, even if u fight back & catch one of them, then:
    – police will just let him go later
    – YOU will be targeted by others in organization that know who u are
    And if u fight back, it’s worse. So, until there is a comprehensive change involving the police, courts, & citizens, nothing will change. And watch the locals… They use debit cards for everything, rarely carry cash, and nothing of value. Locals seem to accept it, and I know that makes many of us crazy as no one fights back. Corruption & crime- until there’s a ‘tipping point’ of anger to change the status quo- best to carry nothing & comply with thieves. If and when Brazilians want it to change, it will.

  6. I am a resident of Rio de Janeiro , architect, researcher in slums and frequenter of Cantagalo favela. The place is rather dangerous . But you solve it approaching . When and if you can approach will be like walking in the middle of domesticated lions or cohabiting . I do not advocate the attitude of the guys , but all families always existed who disagrees . They have a family, are children of someone, brothers of someone, someone cousins ​​, and they certainly do not agree with WHAT did. A long time like the Cantagalo . These territories are appropriate for those people who do not have access to culture. It’s like an extension of life itself . Even as all this, for having run many favelas due to work I see great potential in Cantagalo .
    Sydney – Architect
    Rio de Janeiro

  7. rio is not any more dangerous than your typical u.s. city. americans who talk about the dangers in rio ignore how violent and dangerous the u.s. is. it is just that they are used to the violence and the danger here, and know how to keep themselves mostly safe (although in the u.s., we have learned than anything can happen any time and any where. sound like rio? yep!). it is also in some ways different there: no mass shootings, no random shootings like here, but mostly involving gangs and the police.

    yes, the police. the police in rio are an absolute JOKE. not only are they involved in much of the crime in rio, in one way or on one level or another, but they are also grossly lacking in basic police training and use methods worthy of keystone cops operating within a military dictatorship (which they don’t seem to realize brazil is no longer). it is partly because they are so complicit in so much of the crime that they are so complacent and blase about it. rio’s violence and crime could be solved almost overnight, if brazilians really wanted it: mostly by tripling the salaries and the training of their ridiculously incompetent and unprofessional police forces, although reforming the educational and healthcare systems would help as well.

    i am not going to bother proving my point by telling my stories about interactions with the police, or those of my acquaintances – because we have ALL heard them already!

  8. Sorry to hear about your injuries. Never bother going directly to the police here unless its the tourist police. If you need to file a police report use their website https://dedic.pcivil.rj.gov.br/principal.aspx to schedule an interview with the police. The police officer you meet at the scheduled meeting will treat you well.

  9. Interesting viewpoint on “moral responsibility/duty to fight back” if you find yourself being attacked, and the idea that fighting back could reduce crime by potentially inflicting injuries serious enough to make re-offending less appealing to the criminals. But it doesn’t work for everyone – in this case, you had (presumably) confident, strong males who were drunk and there more fearless than usual, but in many cases you might elderly, less strong, or females who are less able to defend themselves against violent crime. In the case of the latter, fighting back physically is NEVER a good idea, no matter where you are in the world. Just look at what the guys were risking in this case – not just their material wealth but also their physical wellbeing, with potentially lifelong/serious injuries. And they also ended up losing their belongings. Totally not worth it to fight back. You also have to look at the reason why crime exists – it’s not just down to few “evil” individuals. I’d say it was a “moral duty” to look at the wider societal reasons why individuals turn to crime – lack of other options, no jobs, poor education, and the state not dealing with poverty and inequality in the way they should.

  10. Yes, Rio is significantly more dangerous than “your typical u.s. [sic] city”. This is a statistical fact.

    Even when the crime rate is higher in certain cities, like Detroit, the actual number of murders and violent crimes there are much lower. For example, in 2012 Detroit’s murder rate was 54.6 but the total number of murders was 386. That same year in Rio, the murder rate was 24, but there were 1,209 murders. That is almost 4 times as many. The city with the best size comparison would be New York. In 2012 the murder rate was 5.1 – 419 murders. That is a city of 8.3 million people, compared to Rio’s 6.3 million.

    The robbery and violent crime rates are even worse. And after reading this article, it’s obvious that many crimes aren’t even being reported.

    I’m not saying that cities in the U.S. don’t have problems, or that everything’s perfect there, but to brush it off and say Rio is equal is a gross misstatement.

  11. 4:30am, drunk, walking in a favela wearing watches and with iphones … I’d say you were asking for trouble and found it. The cops probably thought you were lucky to be alive and didn’t want to waste their time investigating such a moronic incident.

  12. WOW! I can’t imagine how dangerous the city of Rio is since it has been the most popular visited city by many foreigners. Well, remember that Brazil itself is a Third World country, so the crimes practically always are activated there every day. I went to Tijuana, Mexico twice and to me, it was a really dangerous city because of many drugs. So, I guess that Tijuana is compared as same as Rio. I as an American citizen only stayed in Tijuana during the day hours with my friend also an American citizen and went back into the USA before around 5:00 PM local time or we’ld end up getting risked there. I have always wanted to come visit Rio because I want to experience the Rio Carnaval in February. My “rule” is that if I am in Rio, I prefer to go to one of the favelas with a group of tourists and a tour guider rather than going there alone even during the day hours. So, if anyone wants to come to visit Rio, just use a common sense; walk around in safe neighborhoods such as Copacabana, Impanema, and some others during the days; take cabs to some areas; be sure to make sure yourself on a low profile (not to wear jewelries and high quality clothes, not to carry electronics such as an iPad, an iPhone, a camera, and others – just leave them at the hotel and also leave your passport book at the hotel, too. I think a valid passport card is fine than a valid passport book, and also be sure to bring little cash bills); and some others. I think the Traveler’s Checks would be the best since many stores and restaurants would ask for the identification card such as a passport which means a bandit or a thief can’t use the Traveler’s Checks because the checks must have the signatures on each check and he would be stuck with anyway. Just search some Internets to learn more about how to protect yourself in Rio to make your vacation there very worth it!

  13. Moral of the story… Don’t go into a favela at 4:30 in the morning, especially carrying cash, iphones and wearing jewelry. I find it shocking how little common sense and awareness some tourists have when visiting 3rd world countries.


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