Robbed

Erik

My first time almost being assaulted, I was in Rio. I was strolling along Copacabana beach deep in conversation with my friend Nick when a man approached us. He asked if we spoke English. Used to getting that question, we both said yes.

The sun had gone down at Copacabana.

He proceeded to say a sentence that neither of us understood. He said it again, patting his waistline. Now a couple of words became clear: “money” and “shoot.” I believe he told us to sit, but, caught between not understanding and not wanting to understand, Nick and I just stood looking at him, then at each other.

After about thirty seconds, the man lifted his shirt and pulled a folded baseball cap from his belt. He had been bluffing. As he left us, probably to find more victims further down the beach, he cackled over his shoulder, “Welcome to Brazil!”


My first time being assaulted for real, I was back in Teresina. People in Teresina have been warning me about crime for the past seven months. I always took their warnings with a grain of salt, assuming that they were being overcautious with me because I’m a foreigner. That said, I did know that most people here have been robbed at least once. Those who haven’t usually tell their friends and family members’ stories.

I had met up with my pals Anderson and Laura Rose right off one of the main drags in Teresina, which was full of people heading to and from dinner. We had just decided where we wanted to eat when a motorcycle pulled up next to us.

It all went really fast. The man riding in back got off. He pointed a gun at us, demanded our cell phones, then hopped back on. The driver shouted at us not to watch as they sped off so that we wouldn’t see their license plate.


Crime has spiked in Brazil in the past couple years. The reasons are complex of course, but some experts explain that Brazil’s recent economic boom has a lot to do with it. In an¬†NPR story about youth crime, a Brazilian psychiatrist¬†states that young people at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder “are bombarded with the message that they have to consume. But they don’t have access to what they want.”

I do believe that a real solution to crime in Brazil – or in the U.S. – will include more investment in effective public education, social service, and housing programs. If the young men who robbed us had had more opportunities to study in good schools and work good jobs, they probably wouldn’t be stealing cell phones.

But when a crime happens to you, it’s hard to blame it all on the system. A couple days after the incident, the robbers used my phone to call my friend Kilson. They said they wanted to return the phone, laughed, and hung up.


There’s no real way to avoid being robbed. You can refrain from using your cell phone or camera on the street. You can travel in groups as much as possible. But at a certain point, you have to just go about your life, accepting that a crime might happen.

During the rest of my time here, I’m not going to let the fear of another robbery keep me at home. I might follow the example of some savvy Teresinenses I know, though, and start carrying an extra phone and wallet just in case.