Brazil Diverges From US on School Violence

Government follows 'the successes and the mistakes of other countries'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 22, 2023 1:30 PM CDT
Brazil Diverges From US on School Violence
A family lights a candle at a makeshift memorial at the Cantinho do Bom Pastor day care center after a fatal attack on children in Blumenau, Brazil, on April 5.   (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

About two weeks after a man killed four children in a Brazilian day care center, authorities already have rounded up some 300 adults and minors nationwide accused of spreading hate speech or stoking school violence. Little has been revealed about the unprecedented crackdown, which risks judicial overreach, but it underlines the determination of the country's response across federal, state, and municipal levels. Brazil's all-hands effort to stamp out school attacks stands in contrast to the US, where such attacks have been more frequent and more deadly for a longer period, yet where measures are incremental, the AP reports. Actions adopted in the US—and some of its perceived shortcomings—are informing the Brazilian response, said Renan Theodoro of the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of Sao Paulo.

"We have learned from the successes and the mistakes of other countries, especially the United States," Theodoro said. Brazil has seen almost two dozen attacks or violent episodes in schools since 2000, half of them in the last 12 months, including the day care center attack April 5. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said the notion of schools as safe havens has been "ruined." His government has sought input from independent researchers and this week convened a meeting of ministers, mayors, and Supreme Court justices to discuss possible solutions. Some measures already adopted are in line with those implemented over time in the US, like the creation of hotlines, safety training for school administrators and teachers, federal funding for mental health, plus security equipment and infrastructure.

The arrests aim to assuage fear among Brazilians, said Luis Flávio Sapori of the Brazilian Forum for Public Security. "The priority is diminishing panic," he said. In the weeks since the day care massacre, unconfirmed threats and rumors have circulated on social media, and stirred dread among students, educators and parents—including Vanusia Silva Lima, 42, the mother of a 5-year-old son in central Sao Paulo. "I am afraid of sending my son to school. Not only myself, my friends are too, women I met at the salon, too," Lima said. Many Brazilian states didn't wait for the federal response, per the AP. Sao Paulo temporarily hired 550 psychologists to attend to its public schools, and added 1,000 private security guards.

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Brazil's push has garnered broad support in part because it hasn't included firearm restrictions, increasingly a hot-button political issue, as it is in the US. And anyway, Brazil's school attacks more often are carried out with other weapons, especially knives. Eduardo Bolsonaro, the son of Lula's far-right predecessor, was one of a few prominent lawmakers calling for detectors and armed guards, citing examples in the US, and put forward a bill to make them obligatory at all schools. Lula has said his government will consider neither detectors nor backpack inspections. Sapori said Brazil has adopted a mixed approach that stresses mental health care, preventive monitoring of threats and training for teachers, in addition to policing. "In Brazil, we have a clear understanding, based on the US experience, that merely investing in armed security in schools does not work, that police presence in schools doesn't hinder attacks," Sapori said. "It only works to transform schools into prisons."

(More Brazil stories.)

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