The idea of hate crime in Brazil is one that seems to be something of a new concept. In a place where violence is a daily possibility in major cities, and where some deny the existence of racism and discrimination, hate crimes are sometimes viewed as just crime. It isn't unless an attack is particularly obvious and especially violent that the press frames it as a hate crime. While racism is punishable by law in Brazil, experts say it is often ignored, and that impunity helps contribute to more hate crimes.
After the presidential elections, an angry law student posted an incitement to murder on Twitter, blaming the election results on Northeasterners and urging her followers to "kill Northeasterners" by drowning them. While her Tweet was quickly circulated, it drew outrage from many, and a prosecutor now wants to pursue a hate crime case against the bigoted Tweeter, who was swiftly fired from the law office where she worked. If found guilty, the student could get jail time or a fine. The crime was framed as racism, which is illegal in Brazil, despite the fact that there was no mention of race in the outburst. Since the Northeast is associated with poverty and black Brazilians, the student's comment was interpreted as being racist, since the implication was that she was urging others to kill poor blacks. The incident was not really out of character, though; wealthy and middle-class Southeasterners, particularly on the right side of the political spectrum, are apt to blame the Northeast for supporting the Workers Party, and anti-Northeastern sentiment is unfortunately not uncommon. The upside of the incident is that it helped shed light on an issue that has not gained as much attention as it could have, and helped start a dialogue about tolerance.
Meanwhile, last year, a middle class black man who was "mistaken" for a car thief was nearly beaten to death in the parking lot of a Carrefour by security guards. The story was initially suppressed, though it was eventually reported by the press. The victim sued Carrefour and won, and Carrefour fired the employees involved and also hired a new security service. However, as far as I can tell, the crime wasn't brought to the courts as a criminal case; none of the assailants were charged with a hate crime. In fact, it would appear none of them were charged at all, though the victim's lawyer seems to be trying to have them prosecuted. But given the excrutiatingly slow judicial process in Brazil, there's hope yet.
More recently, there have been disturbing cases of hate crimes against gays in Brazil. According to gay rights groups, murders of gays rose 62 percent between 2007 and 2009, with an average of 110 murders per year. Some even estimate higher mortality rates, claiming that one person dies every two days in Brazil as the result of homophobic crimes. Human rights organizations have been pushing for a national anti-homophobia law, but they haven't been successful yet. In fact, there is allegedly no law that specifically punishes homophobic crimes, which some say helps lead to more hate crimes. Homophobia has not quite become non-PC as it has in other parts of the world; Brazil still has a machismo culture, and homophobia is frequently accepted as normal, be it as an insult or source of jokes, especially among men.
In June, a fourteen year-old was brutally murdered by a group of skinheads in a Rio suburb. Three suspects were arrested and claimed they were not guilty. The victim was kidnapped, tortured, and strangled, and abandoned in an empty lot. Last week, a group of upper middle-class teenagers went on an attacking spree, beating several men and yelling homophobic epithets after the Sao Paulo Gay Pride Parade. Four of them were minors, and were sent to a juvenile detention center, but they have already been released, since a judge determined that they "were not a danger to society." Though the victims' lawyers will hopefully pursue criminal charges against the aggressors, the Sao Paulo government has only threatened fines (though they could potentially be quite high).
Finally, on Sunday, a nineteen year-old student was shot after the Rio Gay Pride Parade, supposedly by members of the military. Yes, you read that right - by soldiers. His crime? Chatting with other men after the parade. The victim claims he was approached by several men in uniform, who yelled homophobic comments and shot him at close range. (Thankfully, he survived) The military has denied any involvement, but it has begun an investigation to determine exactly what happened. One of the military's defenses is that the local military base in Copacabana does not use blue uniforms, which the student said they were wearing (they use green). While it remains to be seen exactly what happened, the bigger question is if the shooter, whoever he is, will actually be brought to justice.
UPDATED 11/18: A soldier has confessed to the Rio Gay Pride Shooting. He will be charged for attempted homicide and could receive a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. Now it's a matter of seeing how it plays out in the courts.