Column by Henry Montalto
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Six AM in the morning, the house is shaking so violently that everything bangs and rattles like in a Californian earthquake. Bullets pierce the air and sounds of the jet black helicopter blades cut through the brisk morning air.
All cars stop as a sudden freeze in time occurs. Kids wait lined up in the alleys, ready for the vans and buses to arrive and drive them to school.
Residents sit there helplessly waiting for them to stop the game of cat and mouse so they can get their child to school and go to work which they need ever so much to survive in these volatile times of 2019.
Here they are feeling like the forgotten and neglected. But in this case, at 6 AM, it seems sure that the residents of Rio Favelas Vidigal and Rocinha just want to go back to the daily unforgotten lives high up on the hill, far away from these operations.
Black BOPE Helicopters make passes throughout the morning, a massive operation is on our minds, or the tactics of Governor Wilson Witzel are to just fly directly above and shoot down below with his sniper comrades.
“The city is broken, they just want us dead,” is the conversation during these operations. A small pouch of drugs is collected, a young man is arrested. A life that may never be saved, a victim of society’s neglect.
Who are the ones suffering? Families of Joseleno Soares, a young Moto Taxi driver of Rocinha, and Willian de Mendonça Santos, a community member of Vidigal. These are just two of more than 100 residents who die monthly within the state of Rio de Janeiro.
The worst part is that this is only one side of this war. 2017 proved to be the deadliest year with over 1,100 residents dying at the hands of police and over 100 police officers had their lives taken tragically.
And 2018 was similar in death tolls also. As for 2019, the only difference is, this year looks more deadly than the previous decade and interestingly enough the security and benefits of police have improved substantially.
Many ask when will the lives of the residents of the Morro improve? Where is their help? Massive investments in fighting small crimes while strategically letting communities fall apart.
Who can the country learn from, are there any good examples of crime reduction in Brazil? In 2019 the state of Ceará with its capital Fortaleza is leading the country in exactly this.
Violent murders have been reduced in the first quarter of 2019 by 57 percent (10,000 murders in 2017).
Taxi drivers and residents starting to feel secure after years of violence in one of the most dangerous cities in Brazil. How?
In Rio, authorities are doing the opposite. Witzel’s military flyover, exchanging shots with petty drug dealers selling cheap brick Marijuana and arresting the poor and addicted user.
The police in Ceará are trying something new with results that are showing: all crime is not created equal. According to the new policy of the Ceará police and government, they are now actively ignoring low-level crimes.
Minor drug trafficking, users and abusers will not be a focal point as it is in Rio de Janeiro. By doing this they’ve managed to reduce the number of young children incarcerated for drugs.
The overall amount of arrests for petty thefts, drug dealing and using have been drastically reduced. This allows them to focus on crimes of far bigger importance. Arms trafficking, violent crimes, and murders.
At this moment it’s still too early to tell if this will work in Ceará. However, what we know is that the military invention with a state sticker slapped over it will not stop the violence, as our Governor Wilson Witzel would say.
We must make a change or take action for a better future for all its seven million residents. Whether you live high in the Hills of Favelas, deep within the Complexes of the north, west and east zones or the penthouses overlooking post nine at Ipanema beach.
We are equals, believe it or not, and violence generates violence. I ask how many lives need to be taken before we open our eyes and understand that this very war is unsustainable.
One million people in Rio’s South Zone alone are subjected to this dramatic conflict. Another million lives within these areas just outside the city. Bullets are not the answer to solving this crisis.
Assaults on our citizens have to end. In 2019 we have no money for infrastructure, 20,000 children without schools, a job crisis, and a broken and corrupt political system. Yet we are reaching deep into the state’s pockets to support a campaign that will never see the word victory.
People only ask you to see beyond black and white. But there are more colors in these Comunidades than in the rainbow. Bright, vibrant and special souls live here.
The future of our city and these human beings is truly in the hands of the elite and that must be changed to a city that is equal and just for its millions of inhabitants!