Apparently Going to the Beach Is Now a Crime in Rio. Driving With 14 DUI Tickets Is Not

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16:  People gather on the beach during a protest calling for the impeachment of President Dil
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 16: People gather on the beach during a protest calling for the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff along Copacabana beach on August 16, 2015 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. A massive corruption scandal at Brazil's state-owned oil company Petrobras has rocked the nation which is now in the midst of a hard-hitting recession ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Rousseff's approval rating has dropped below ten percent. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

We live in such strange times. I think that is a pretty common thing to say nowadays. You realize it even more when you think about how each poor, black Brazilian living in the outskirts -- or suburbs, as they are called in Rio de Janeiro -- feels under state repression. There is nothing new about the crude reality of the criminalization of poverty.

On Sunday, August 23, Extra reported that more than a hundred young people were "arrested" by the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro State (PMERJ) of Rio, all charged with the same "crime": wanting to go to the beach. No, they were not doing anything wrong. They did not have guns or drugs with them. And they did not try to dodge paying the bus fare on their way to the beach in the upscale southern area of Rio de Janeiro.

A 17-year-old adolescent arrested by the PMERJ described the situation as follows:

"They took us off the bus, told us to sit on the floor and then to get in the van. They think we are thieves just because we are black."

Things can always get worse; and they did. The same state that criminalizes poverty, and promotes a social dynamic similar to apartheid, attempted to justify the arrest of these teenagers. On Sunday, the PMERJ said that the youngsters "were in a vulnerable condition" because "they were on the street without money."

On Monday (August 24), the governor of Rio, Luiz Fernando Pezão (PMDB), gave another 'explanation' for the arrest. According to him, it was all done to "avoid beach gang assaults" on the southern beaches. How did they identify the 'criminals'? "Police intelligence," explained Pezão.

"There is always some kind of repercussion, either when we (the police) take action or when we don't take action. How many beach gang assaults have been committed by minors? I am not saying that every minor on the bus was a potential offender, but a lot of them had already been mapped and arrested more than five, eight, ten or fifteen times, like for example, at the Central Brasil train station."

The so-called police intelligence did not convince the ombudsman, who criticized the action as being endorsed by the state government. "One cannot assume that young people riding a bus to the beach are going to commit crimes. There is no way of knowing, except by guessing," said public defender Eufrásia Souza das Virgens, coordinator for the Defense of Children's and Teenagers' Rights.

Pezão could not explain why the so-called efficient police intelligence was unable, for instance, to answer at least three questions:

  1. Where is Amarildo?

  • How can someone be in a state prison for so long for having stolen a disinfectant?
  • The third one is perhaps the most important question: How can someone with 240 points on his Driver's License, resulting from 70 traffic tickets -- 14 of which were for DUIs -- drive freely without sanction?
  • The state intelligence that represses the poor and black citizen, 'guessing' his 'future crimes', is still unable to answer that last question. If possible, I would ask the 44-year-old worker José Fernando Ferreira da Silva the same question. Sadly that won't be possible. He was run over and killed by the 59-year-old businessman Ivo Pitanguy Campos Nascimento, son of famous plastic surgeon Ivo Pitanguy.

    According to the police chief Monique Vidal, and to the statements made by witnesses and the police officers who registered the case, by driving under the influence of alcohol, the businessman took the risk of killing someone -- which justified his indictment for murder.

    Yes, the state is monitoring the case: Pezão already said that he has asked the DMV of Rio (Detran-RJ) why the businessman was still allowed on the road, despite his long record of traffic tickets. Not forgetting, of course, the principle of presumption of innocence, guaranteed by Article 5 of the Federal Constitution.

    There is no such thing as presumption of innocence if you are a poor, black Brazilian who wants to go to the beach in a part of the city "where you are not supposed to be."

    The police intelligence. The state intelligence. Yes, you heard it right: They are trying to insult OUR intelligence.

    This post originally appeared on HuffPost Brazil and was translated into English.