Brazil is in mourning. The death of a little boy dragged for several miles throughÂ Rio de Janeiro streets, with his blood, fingers and pieces of brain splattered on the asphalt of the violent city while two youngsters, one of them a minor, rushed in a car they had just stolen, shook a town and a country that seemed anesthetized to all violence even the most barbarous.
The death of little João Hélio Fernandes Vieites, who was going to be 7 in March, touched people in a way no recent massacre or tragedy had been able to.
Veja, Brazil's most read weekly magazine, with about 1.2 million copies, is coming this Saturday to subscribers and newsstands with a black cover framing the grainy picture of João Hélio under which the publication issues a challenge to the Brazilian people: "Dragged through four Rio de Janeiro districts, dead, mangled by criminals, and once again… AREN'T WE GOING TO DO A THING?
Inside, the cover article is called "No limits for the savagery", with the subtitle: "The public torture of a 6-year-old boy in Rio shows that Brazil is in the emergency room of a social tragedy in which the criminals decide who lives and who dies."
João Hélio's tragedy happened last Wednesday, February 7, a little after 9 pm. Rose Vieites, his mother, was driving her car after going to church on her way to meet the husband for a late dinner. Together with her were her 13-year-old daughter Aline, a lady friend and her little son.
Two gunmen approached the vehicle when she stopped on a red light and ordered all of them out. Everybody obeyed promptly, but the boy took longer to comply since he was strapped at the car seat. The mother rushed to help him, but while she was taking him out the robbers drove away in high speed while she run after them screaming that the boy was hanging from the car still half strapped to the seat. He would be dragged for over four miles.
Commenting on the circumstances and on the level crime has reached in Brazil, Veja sounds indignant: "We had enough explanations. Every social degradation phenomenon has an explanation. Rome's fall, the rise of Adolf Hitler, the spread of the Bolshevik disease throughout the world, the destruction of Brazilian cities by criminals and their partisans and supporters – or simply those who are blind – among the intelligentsia, the police and in politics.
"The public martyrdom of little João Hélio is loosening the tongue of dozens ofÂ explainers. They are the same who stroked the head of "my little boys" who came down from the hills to the asphalt to take away a little of the lot that the rich had so they could be able to provide for their mothers on the hill. Let's stop romanticizing the criminal and blaming abstractions like "violence", "neoliberalism", and the "middle class negligence."…
A motorcyclist who tried to warns the robbers told his appalling story:Â "In the first curve, the head hit the sidewalk's edge and the blood spurted on my clothes. I started to scream and to honk, but noticed that the child was already dead. When I managed to reach the car, one of the occupants put the gun on my face and told me to get lost."
The gunmen ran for ten minutes and then abandoned the car in a deserted street. At that time, the boy still strapped to the belt, didn't have a head, knees or fingers in his hands.
A witness told police that he saw the gunmen when they stopped.Â One of them, he said, noticed the boy's body hanging from the car, then he looked inside the vehicle for anything of value he could find before running away by foot. Apparently they didn't want the car, just the goods inside.
Veja accuses the Brazilian society of letting itself back into savagery for refusing to pay the price of facing banditism and keep itself civilized. "The most discouraging," says the magazine, "is to find out that little João Hélio suffered his torture in vain. Nothing is going to happen to the criminals whoÂ dismembered him in public and soon they and others will be on the streets preying on other little Joãos."
The publication pans what it calls "much talk and little action," which takes experts to national and international seminaries and in trips to know cities that won over crime: "When the issue is crime Brazil is not in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit)… it is in the emergency room. Unfortunately, the decision of who lives and who dies in this room, is in the criminals hands.
Veja lists a series of measures that should be taken immediately according to experts heard by the magazine:Â Â
* To limit the time bars are kept open. It cites the example of Diadema, in the greater São Paulo, which reduced its homicide rate by 68% by ordering all bars to be closed by 11 pm.
* To be less liberal with inmates and minors who break the law.
* To create a multidisciplinary network to assist youngsters having problem with the law.
* To make community policing a priority.
* To devise special courts to try in a speedy way policemen charged with corruption and other crimes.
"I am used to see violent scenes," said Hércules do Nascimento, the police chief in charge of little João Hélio case, "but this was a barbaric thing. I didn't have the courage to raise the plastic to see the boy."
The police say that two youngsters, Diego da Silva, 18, and E. (a minor), have confessed the crime telling details of what they've done and showing very little emotion.Â They have also implicated two other youths.
The father of E. could not believe his son had done that: "He didn't need that," he told reporters. "He was studying and he was making money washing cars. I knew my son was keeping bad company, but I never imagined he could do something like this."
During the funeral, Aline, the older sister, was inconsolable. "I want my baby back," she screamed in pain. "I want my brother back, I want to hear his little voice again." And then added in a softer tone: "I'm so sorry, little brother, that I could not save you."