mob justice lynchings plague the streets of brazil

December 10, 2018
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Brazilians are angry. A dwindling economy, staggering rates of crime and rampant political corruption and unrest have plagued the fifth biggest democracy on the planet and the response doesn’t just stop at the fact that the country just elected the South American Trump. The response to the sustained chaos that is Brazil is an increase in mob justice by the way of public lynchings according to an analysis by The Guardian.

The “justice” aspect of mob justice has always eluded me, purely because the known legacy of lynchings is steeped in the racial domestic terrorism inflicted on Black Americans during the Jim Crow era. The epidemic of lynchings ravaging Brazil isn’t based on race per se, with the lion’s share of lynchings happening as a result of petty crimes punished by frustrated crowds that seek to serve as judge, jury and executioner. “A lynching is a communal act in response to a sense of impotence,” says Cesar Barreira, head of the Violence Studies Lab at the Federal University of Ceará. “It’s a hunt for an infection inside a social group.” The issue with such a hunt is who gets to decide the infection and most importantly, is the diagnosis fair?

Victims of lynchings are often hunted for stealing bicycles, cell phones and sandals, owing to the fact that most culprits are caught in the act, unlike the case of those who are lynched for murder or sexual assault. The flaws are palpable and troubling because, even as culprits, those brought forward by mob justice are forced into a life of crime by the same dire economic and political environment that incenses crowds to take back control of their communities through mob justice.

Clayton Sousa, a 21-year-old resident of Fortaleza was accused of taking an 8-year-old girl to a secluded location and sexually assaulting her on New Year’s Eve. The word had spread, igniting a wildfire of collective rage that resulted in Sousa being beaten and run over by bikes without even a mention of the police or protocol. Sousa was dead by afternoon on New Year’s Day. The case of the sexual assault he was accused of has not been solved, revealing the dangers of abandoning due process.

Mob justice is a slippery slope, off of a very high cliff, as vigilantism only follows the moral compass of the crowd — a dangerous reckoning when a frustrated masses yearn for any kind of justice any way they can get it. The white domestic terrorists of Jim Crow saw Black independence as an affront and an injustice to the ruling order of white superiority. The apartheid freedom fighters of the African National Congress used lynching in the form of necklacing (placing a tire around a traitor’s neck and setting it on fire) as a means of their own mob justice inflicted on spies for the apartheid government.

Human nature detests lack of control. We try to find it anywhere we can, using the pursuit of it as an end we deem good enough to justify the means — in this case, vigilantism. According to a report by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, 57% of Brazilians believe that “a good criminal is a dead criminal,” which might seem justified to the Brazilian who watches friends and family ripped away by crime. The situation in Brazil displays a sense of helplessness that people believe can be helped by the morally bankrupt strongman politics of Trump and his Brazilian counterpart, president-elect, Jair B0lsonaro, or taking matters into their own hands.

There is no easy answer and that is wholly dependent on whether there is an answer to be found at all. Mob justice plays a precarious part in the struggle and oppression of mistreated communities but the problem is that poor people, even those who steal to survive, become collateral damage of a failing system instilled by a corrupt elite. They don’t have guns to fight the gangs that exacerbate gun violence and they don’t have the political power to hold politicians responsible. What comes of this predicament is a culture of hunting down the accused with no court to give them their due process. When that becomes a norm, no one is safe. No one.



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