Recent studies show that a Brazilian prisoner is twice as likely to have come from a miserably poor family than the rest of the population. These studies also reveal that those with less than six years of schooling are two times as apt to be imprisoned as those with an education.
Because of this, social inequality has been singled out as the principal cause of violence, along with the lack of schooling. It thus follows that harsher anti-crime measures, including the reduction of the age at which minors are tried as adults, would seemingly be anti-poor measures.
Especially because the rich, with their lawyers and influence upon the police and the justice system, avoid going to prison. But those calling for more rigorous laws insist that their proposals are not directed against the poor because the poor are peaceful.
The Brazilian poor are, indeed, peaceful. In the countryside, the landless Brazilian poor have for centuries peacefully watched while their children died of hunger while the large companies export food.
In the cities, the poor with their starving children beg in front of supermarkets stocked with food or with their sick children beg in front of pharmacies full of medicine. Peacefully, entire families live under viaducts alongside luxurious condominiums.
The Brazilian poor are obviously peaceful. Perhaps too peaceful, some would say. After all, watching peacefully while children died from hunger or illnesses, alongside food and medicine, is a peacefulness so radical as to be unnatural. It is a peaceful respect for the law of men but totally contrary to the law of nature.
The history of Brazil is a story of the peacefulness, acceptance, and resignation of the multitude of the poor when confronted by the inequality and provocation of the riches held by the few.
No matter the age of the criminal, murder is a very grave crime. Killing a child by dragging him through the streets of Rio de Janeiro is a crime more than grave; it is horrendous.
But it is also a vile crime to leave thousands of girls, some as young as nine years of age, to be dragged alive through the streets and beaches of Brazil as child prostitutes.
An educated young person, with his or her future guaranteed, has much less an incentive to fall into criminality. Even so, some do. A young person with no future, no education to seek an alternative in life, someone experiencing the greater violence of abundance in the face of the misery, has an immediate incentive to adhere to criminality. Even so, not all of them fall into crime. And those who have fallen must be punished. Because the poor are peaceful but the poverty is violent in itself and it is manufactured.
Not all resist the necessities, the desire for consumer goods, the abandon, the ostentation of others. And they become contaminated by the evil of the perverse society until they fall into the individual perversity of crime.
Some bandits are violent; others have remained that way. And they remained that way because of some defect in the formation of their character during their childhood and adolescence. Those who commit the crimes must be punished. Principally those who manufacture the criminals whose lives could have taken another direction.
Those who maintain that all the criminals should be punished – independently of their social classes whether they are rich or poor – are right.
Especially because pardoning the criminals is an injustice against the immense mass of the poor, who are the greatest victims of the bandits’ malfeasance.
But those who manufacture the violence through their actions or omissions should also be punished; they are the ones who construct a society that is in itself perverse, vile, criminal.
Because the poor are peaceful but poverty itself is a form of violence. What is more, it is a factory of still more violence.
Cristovam Buarque has a Ph.D. in economics. He is a PDT senator for the Federal District and was Governor of the Federal District (1995-98) and Minister of Education (2003-04). Last year he was a presidential candidate. You can visit his homepage – www.cristovam.com.br – and write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.