In Latin America, Awash in Crime, Citizens Impose Their Own Brutal Justice

In Latin America, Awash in Crime, Citizens Impose Their Own Brutal Justice. By Samantha Pearson.

For Victor Melo, the end began with a stolen iPhone.

The 16-year-old had spent a balmy Saturday afternoon in May with his high school friends at a funk music party in Brasília’s central park, not far from the country’s presidential palace.

As he headed home shortly after sundown, someone in the crowd grabbed his classmate Ágatha from behind and snatched her phone, witnesses told police. She spun around and saw Victor. Believing him to be the thief, she screamed out for help. Her friends knocked him to the ground and began to beat him.

Hearing Ágatha’s shrieks, another group of partygoers presumed he must be the same teen who had swiped a pair of sunglasses from them earlier. One of them jammed a broken bottle into Victor’s stomach. A young blond woman known as Apple punctured him repeatedly with what police believe was a screwdriver, skewering the muscles between his ribs. A man then plunged a knife into his heart.

In the half-hour it took the group of 20 mostly high-school students to kill Victor, no one searched him for the stolen items. Another 100 or so partygoers looked on and did nothing, investigators said.

“Die, you asshole,” one onlooker can be heard saying in a video recorded on a witness’s cellphone, as paramedics later tried in vain to resuscitate Victor, hunched over his limp corpse.

Lynching is Latin America’s dark secret. The region has the world’s highest murder rate, and its highest rate of impunity. Some countries including Brazil solve just 1 in 10 murders. With little faith in the police or the courts to bring criminals to justice, mobs routinely kill suspected lawbreakers in spontaneous attacks.

In Brazil, mobs now kill — or try to kill — more than one suspected lawbreaker a day, according to University of São Paulo sociologist José de Souza Martins, Brazil’s leading expert on lynchings. That figure is both the highest in the world, and more than at any point in Brazil’s history, he said. …

Lynchings typically follow the same ritual across Latin America. A group of friends, relatives or neighbors witness a crime or hear about one over the messaging service WhatsApp. They hunt down the suspect and drag him to a public place, where they torture and kill him with whatever weapons are at hand, from kitchen utensils to scythes from the harvest. …

Lynchings are rarely a response to a single crime, researchers say. Rather, the crimes are simply the last straw for a community living in fear of endemic violence. …

In a society haunted by violence, lynchings are cathartic acts meant to reimpose order, said Gema Santamaría, an author on extralegal justice in Latin America and adviser to the U.N. on the issue. The irony, she said, is that since the lynchers themselves rarely face prosecution, the attacks “only create more injustice, and more insecurity.”

No wonder Brazilians elected Bolsonaro, who promised:

to fight crime with an iron fist, loosen gun laws and give police more freedom to kill suspected criminals.

This might not be relevant here, but overpopulation stresses rats:

When a pair of reproductively competent rats are placed in a closed space and provided with sufficient food, they will reproduce and reproduce until the space is filled with rats. At a critical density, wars break out. …

Anthropologists and population biologists studied all the wars in history for which adequate data were available. They learned that war breaks out when the percentage of the population consisting of single males in the age range 16-26 exceeds a certain fraction of the total population.