Carolina and I were eating our breakfast at a little joint we favor for mixto quentes com ovo (ham, cheese and egg sandwiches) and açai. Today was a busy Sunday, and late-morning there were quite a few people trying to put in their order for açai and salgados. Up walks a police officer, a short black fellow, buds in front of a few people and shouts at a kid behind the counter to put a few things in a bag. The kid looks at him with a mixture of fear and acquiescence, and does as he’s told. Carol pointed out the scene to me. Afterward she said,
“I bet he didn’t pay. The police in Rio do this sort of thing all the time.”
I was curious about whether this indeed was the routine petty extortion I hear so much about. So after finishing my meal I went to the kid behind the counter.
“The policeman who was here, does he pay?”
“No…he doesn’t pay…” the kid responded.
Then the manager jumped in.
“Yes, he pays, he pays,” he said with some urgency.
Carol and I walked away knowing that the kid had told the truth, the manager had told what was safer to tell.
Even though we have had few encounters with the police here in Rio, they have not been pleasant. While we were looking for an entrance to a Botofogo soccer game, Carol went up to a couple of policemen leaning leisurely against their vehicle. As she came close they looked her up and down, their mouths slightly open, making no attempt to disguise their sexual intent. Carol was disturbed.
“Imagine them, police, wearing a uniform and hired to serve the public, acting like a couple of jackass adolescents.”
If Rio is to overcome crime, perhaps those in charge of this task should first stop acting like criminals.