Sampa Diary: Two Television Moments

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São Paulo TV moment No. 1: A distraught carroceiro, 50, who has reportedly been mixing antidepressants and beer, holes up in his home, holding his wife and four children hostage and brandishing a machete of the kind used to cut sugar cane.

He might as well be wearing a sandwich board announcing, “I want to commit blue suicide.”

Every single news channel goes live to the scene and stays there. Suspending commercials.

The case has the potential to develop into another Ónibus 174 — the documentary of a bus hijacking in Rio produced by the same team that brought you Tropa de Elite.

The hijack took place in June 12, 2000 (Valentine’s Day in Brazil) and was broadcast live for 4 and a half hours. The whole country stopped to watch the drama on TV. The film tells 2 parallel stories. Not only does it explain the dramatic events that unfolded as the police tried, and failed, to handle the hijack situation; but it also tells the amazing life story of the hijacker, revealing how a typical Rio de Janeiro street kid was transformed into a violent criminal because society systematically denied him any kind of social existence. Both stories are interwoven in a such a way that they end up explaining why Brazil, and other countries with similar social and economic problems, are so violent.

In the end, the military police are not filmed shoving the man’s lifeless corpse into the trunk of a viatura, never to be seen again. The GATE hostage negotiator who talked the man down is interviewed. He seems like a very nice guy. Another police spokesman suggests that treatment, rather than punishment, might even be appropriate in the case.

The star of the show is Fátima, 12, a relative of the man, who participated in talking him down and became the family’s informally designated spokeswoman. She proves to be impossibly lovely, intelligent and articulate, even as a jostling scrum of dark-suited, gabbling TV reporters shoves microphones and, in one hairy-wristed and highly visible case, cell phones in her face .

Even if her grammar — “ele já largou as faca” –betrays her as a local version of a Cockney. (The last issue of Veja magazine but one featured a cover-story exalting proper grammar as the key to career success! If you lie, but avoid using the gerund, you will go far.)

(The hostage negotiator has a hick accent himself — which urban metrosexuals here sometimes mock mercilessly, but I find kind of charming. They say it is influenced by the Foghorn Leghorn drawl of immigrants from the American South after the Civil War.)

So, with the all-seeing eyeball of the TV news looking on, casual ultraviolence is avoided. Good for the all-seeing eye.

It will be interesting to see, however, to see how the man is treated once the cameras are turned off, and whether the all-seeing eyeball will actually follow up on that angle of the case. My beer-money bet says it won’t. But maybe the brand-new Record News will pleasantly surprise me.

TV moment No. 2: The official TV channel of the state legislative assembly airs a newscast produced by the state military police, anchored by a uniformed man with lots of fruit salad on the chest of his tunic.
Giant sculpture of a
carroceiro, with his trackpicker’s carroça, in the Conjunto Nacional, Av. Paulista, São Paulo, last year. Our local park, with a small brook running through it, is an informal rest stop for local carroceiros. In New York, you have those homeless guys on the subway who smell awful because they never bathe. In São Paulo, the homeless bathe religiously. Everybody bathes religiously. Our current dog is a former carroceiro dog, we are told, though we cannot confirm it.

The uniformed anchorman (repeatedly) replays (excerpts from) the press conference held by the state military police commander last week on the four PM troopers under investigation for having committed “the biggest massacre of the year” in Ribeirão Pires, in the “peripheral” region of ABC Paulista, recently.

On which press conference, see:

On recent press reporting on the incident, see

The uniformed anchorman: “The state commandant makes an excellent point there. He is absolutely right. We must not rush to judgment when police troopers are accused.”

Responding to widespread concern over a well-documented pattern of condoning and covering up summary executions for decades, the official channel of the state assembly features a uniformed PM warning against “rushing to judgment.”

These people need to hire an “unintended irony” consultant to try to avoid such schizogenic moments in their public relations.

The commandant’s comments:

Accused of murder and belonging to a death squad in Osasco, Pvt. Natanael Viana, 38, was taken into preventive custody by judicial order. He had been accused by the police ombudsman in 2001 of alleged involvement in another death squad, but the case was archived and Viana returned to active duty. “To this day there is no proof he killed anyone. In 2001, the process was the same: a charge that generated an exhaustive search for evidence that was never found,” said the colonel, who did not rule out the return of the policeman to active duty once again.

And yet if investigations continue, how can the colonel now conclude that the exhaustive search will prove fruitless in this case as well?

What I understood from the uniformed anchorman’s Larry Rohter-style editorializing in the news hole was that the burden of proof is not on police to justify their actions to the press or society.

Sort of a real-life equivalent of that Colonel Jessep (Jack Nicholson) moment from A Few Good Men:

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!

After digging a bit through the archives on such cases, I tend to think this is standard-issue message control.

However, failure to realize that the military police have a reputation for a long and sordid tradition of impunity in cases of arbitrary death-dealing, and to plan one’s public relations accordingly, may indicate that a new public relations approach is needed.

And indeed, the governor, Mr. Serra, recently made signficiant changes to his cabinet in the areas of public security, education, and social communications. It will be interesting to see what changes after those changes. If anything.

As a journalist myself — parachuting in from another planet, admittedly, but marooned here indefinitely and making the best of it — I have to say I find this whole scenario extremely sinister.

Case in point: when local journalists try to report objectively on the status of investigations into such incidents, their names often wind up being discussed at length in the “police blogosophere” — there is such a thing — where they are muttered darkly about as commie stooges and traitors to (a) their race; (b) the fatherland, (c) the gospel according to Ayn Rand.

I kid you not.


You can be aggressive in hunting down news, that’s one thing. It is quite another thing to be agressive in a way that disrespects authority. You must not let your authority be disrespected. … In those who have authority, that authority is intrinsic, it is innate. … if you do not respect yourself, journalist will not respect you, just as no one at home will respect you. A single look can generally resolve half such problems. The way you look at them when you answer, and the journalist will not persist in posing a disrespectful question.Antônio Carlos Magalhães

A single look that says, “I can have you fucking killed, you know.”


The segment is followed by a community calendar of PM-sponsored events.

Dance festivals! Community-relations open forums! Mobile dental clinics in the Northern Zone!

The program wraps up with a lengthy documentary segment on “the battery of rigorous psychological examinations that trooper candidates are subjected to.”

Also reinforcing a principal talking point of the state commandant’s press conference last week.

Where he argued that because of this rigorous testing, it is simply implausible to suppose that vicious sociopaths would be able to find work on the police force — or that absurdly low police salaries might provide even the average man with decent intentions with economic incentives to leverage hhis badge and gun into more lucrative entrepreneurial activities on the side.

See also


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