Some disheartening news regarding the killing of Brazilian and American youth in today's newspapers. In Brazil's state of Ceará, a investigation by the Military Police concluded that the police officers who assassinated 13-year old Mizael Fernandes da Silva acted in self-defense. The teenager was killed inside his own home in the city of Chorozinho three months ago. The police officers claim Mizael was holding a gun. Mizael's family contests this narrative; according to them, the child was sleeping when he was shot. In the state of São Paulo, the Military Court of Justice released from prison the two police officers who shot 19-year old Rogério Ferreira da Silva Júnior in August. Rogério was killed on his birthday as he tried to run away from the police in a motorcycle. Although he possessed all the documentation for the motorcycle, he was not wearing a helmet.
Today's edition of the Washington Post also reports the violent death of 17 children in St. Louis this year. St. Louis Children's hospital has treated 114 children with gunshot wounds through October 8 -- more than in all of 2019. One of the children killed was 14-year old Victrail Mora. On August 12th, while babysitting his sister in his mother's apartment, Victrail heard a knock on the door and went outside to investigate. He was shot in the back of his head.
In Brazil, the Chamber of Deputies has been sitting on a bill that institutes a national plan against the killing of youth since 2018. I recently wrote about it with Estevan Muniz here and here. Several bills have been introduced in the U.S. Congress to tackle the issue of gun violence against children and gun violence in general -- none of them have advanced in the legislative process. In the 111th Congress (2009-2010), senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Violence Against Children Act of 2010, which did not move past the introduction stage. More recent efforts in legislative limbo include the Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safe Act of 2020, proposed by senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).
American poet Louise Glück won this year's Nobel prize for literature. I spent the last five years living in Syracuse, NY, which I like to call the city of snow. I am not exaggerating: it snows 6-8 months per year there. The first snow usually comes in October, and it keeps coming until May. I purchased Glück's book The Wild Iris on a cold, snowy afternoon day at one of Syracuse's local bookstores. I was searching for books by Mary Oliver. Oliver helped me survive Syracuse winters; her poetry made me focus on the beauty of snow. As I couldn't find any, a store employee -- an MFA student at Syracuse University -- recommended Louise Glück as alternative. "If you like Oliver, you will like her. Perhaps even more than Oliver". He was right. Here is my favorite poem from The Wild Iris (for which she received the Pulitzer Prize in 1992).
Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know
what despair is; then
winter should have meaning for you.
I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn't expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring --
afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy
in the raw wind of the new world.
Last week I started reading As Raízes do Conservadorismo Brasileiro (The Roots of Brazilian Conservatism), by Juremir Machado da Silva. The book traces the origin of Brazilian conservatism back to the Áurea Law, which abolished slavery in the country (thus my interest in it; Black history in Brazil and the U.S. has been one of my research areas). In chapter 7, the author describes the legislative process surrounding the Áurea Law in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate. Keep in mind - Brazil abolished slavery in the 19th century under a monarchy led by emperor D. Pedro II. The bill was sanctioned by princess imperial Isabel, who replaced a sick D. Pedro II (who was in Europe at the time). Importantly, legislators approved the Áurea Law in a span of five days. At the end of chapter 7, Silva writes: “One idea prospered in the social imaginary: when parliament wants, everything happens”. This idea is still part of the social imaginary today. But is it true?
A couple of years ago, when I decided to focus my doctoral work on legislative politics, I wanted to deconstruct ideas like this. In many Latin American countries, citizens view legislators as corrupt politicians who do not care about working. While this is obviously true -- the recent Odebrecht scandals tell us as much -- it is not the whole picture. One example: it is very common for journalists in Brazil to visit the floor in the Chamber of Deputies on a Friday and find it empty. They infer that legislators do not work; otherwise, they would be on the floor. There are a few problems with this view. First, not all legislative work happens on the floor. In fact, most legislative work happens before lawmakers meet on the floor for a vote. Second, legislators are indeed working on Fridays: that is when they go back to their districts to meet with their constituents. I have spent some time with Brazilian deputies in their districts. They work nonstop while they are there. And while they are in Brasília. Of course, a lot of them don’t work at all (I will never forget the image of a deputy sleeping during a vote on the floor). But others do work.
As I continue reading Silva’s book, I will comment on whether it is enough for legislators to “want” to pass a bill. Spoiler alert: it is not. More to come.
Beatriz Rey is a political scientist and a writer based in Washington, D.C.