Monday, November 26, 2007

I'm an idiot, part 3

Hopefully last in a series...... (part 1) (part 2)

Promise me that after you read this you won't say, "that's it, I'm never going to Rio." This will probably make me look dumb, make you less likely to want to go to Rio, and make you less likely to be willing to visit a favela if you do. But honesty and transparency are the name of the game, so here it goes.

Today I got robbed by the police.

The background: I'm living in a favela, where the police don't enter and where lots of illegal activity occurs - most significantly the drug trade. Police sit on the edge, and are underpaid. I've heard they routinely demand bribes of US$250 for people caught with drugs, so they are keen to search people. Especially a white person with a collared shirt on, they just see a money sign. Need to get that 13th month's salary for Christmas, as a friend said.

So for the second time today, I was stopped by the police. But this officer was immediately more aggressive. I had a backpack on and was waking down a street with lots of little stores when a hear "grandao" (really big one). I turn around and there is the officer, probably 30, with a semi-automatic gun in front of him.

I told him I was already stopped once today. He said, "good, well you're being stopped a second time." I knew this wouldn't go over as well. He asked about what I was doing and I told him I was a volunteer, etc. He went through all my pockets, all the way to the bottom. I didn't have much money but I did have my Blackberry (it should tell you how much I love the phone that throughout this ordeal I'm thinking, "as long as I walk away with my Blackberry").

After he finished going through my pockets, he gave me everything back. He grabbed my backpack, and had me start walking toward his car. He then started going through it. I was moving more stuff from Rocinha to Leblon for my imminent move, so I had a memory card, 3 bottles of perfume (more on that later), an alarm clock, and various small items I crammed in my backpack, including a computer mouse and a phone charger.

He started laying it out on the hood of his car and started asking me all kinds of questions. I had a book of photos, and he looked through it and said he was looking to see if I had a photo with bandidos. He wanted to know more about the institute. I told him we have a library and teach languages, etc. He said the girls were just learning English to be prostitutes. He said the whole thing is probably a front for drugs. He said I was probably in the favela to find prostitutes and drugs.

He wanted to see receipts for all the things I had. Of course I don't have any, but I did make one mistake.....my passport was in Leblon. Of course this has never been a problem in the whole year, including the other times I was stopped by the police, but this guy was more determined.

Eventually he called over another officer, perhaps 5 years older. That officer started asking more or less the same questions, then the officers started going into a rehearsed dialogue about how they have to take me to the processing station and blah blah blah. Without my passport they would have to put me back on the next plane to the US. Blah Blah Blah.

I've always thought that in this situation I would just say, "okay take me to the processing center." Just make it known I wouldn't bribe them. But they just kept going. I had my stuff all over the car at this point. These guys were in my face, and they had nothing else to do.

For a bit the original officer started being nice, even saying he's learning English. But this was a mirage. I would later realize it was just them injecting their version of being friendly into what was otherwise a business transaction.

The other officer then had me zip down my pants. He then had me pull down my boxers. I said that was private and he was like, "what are you a woman? Are you gay? We're men here." I said, "it's just not necessary." He said, "well, you're being searched."

That was moment number one of my newfound understanding of what corruption means. I started to realize these guys were going to get their way one way or another. Would they resort to more humiliation? If I did get in the car, would they drive me somewhere to beat me up? The risk/reward ratio for resisting was looking worse every minute.

All of a sudden I started thinking maybe it wasn't worth trying to tough this out. It dragged on a bit. I asked the one if he had a girlfriend or wife, and he said yes. I said I understand the hard work it is to be a police officer, so for the inconvenience I'd let him take one of the perfumes home to her.

The perfumes were gifts for Fatima, the lady I lived with for 6 month in Leblon. I really liked her, and wanted to get her something. She loves perfume, and since perfume is about half the price in the US, it's like getting her twice as much. I had three kinds that cost about US$100 total.

He wasn't amused, and said, "you don't understand, we have big problems here." To be honest, I was pretty sure I was going to have to give more than just one bottle of perfume, but that was my test lob. They had already asked me how much they were worth. I've never bribed anyone before, so I didn't know how to go about it. And if I could, I really wanted to give those to Fatima, because she really was wonderful to me, and it would cost me about US$250 to replace them here in Brazil.

It dragged on a bit more, and they started filling out paperwork. My address, etc. I have no idea how long this would have gone on had I not simply capitulated.

The one started asking about the perfumes.

"This is for females?" he asked as he pointed at each bottle. I saw where this was going......

"What can we do to fix this situation?" I said.

"I don't know, what are you thinking?" The officer said.

Sorry Fatima, no perfume for you this trip.... Instead these asshole police officers are going to give them to their wives. I just hope the wives realize they were stolen.

The officer smiled. "From the heart?" he asked.

"From the heart," I said reluctantly. In my head I'm just cursing this asshole for making me say I wanted to give it to him.

Lesson number 2 about corruption - it isn't explicit. The officers need to at least abstractly justify it in their heads. They have to be able to at least plausibly think it isn't just theft.

The officer then tossed the other valuables back in the bag. I zipped it up, he shook my hand (like I said, it's a business deal to them), and I walked away, dismayed. There leaning on the windshield of the car were the three perfume boxes. Both officers walked away a bit, not touching the perfume. Presumably they need to leave them there so they can "find" them later.

I got on a van, in disbelief that after months living in a favela it's the police that cause the first incident.

I didn't expect to be shaken up by something like this, but it was really bizarre. It's not the money, or even Fatima's gift, but rather the feeling that this is just so detrimental to Brazil. I mean, if you can't even trust the police....

1 Comments:

Blogger P said...

I'm sorry to hear that :-(

And Yea, not being able to trust police really sucks...

3:11 AM  

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