In Brazil, there's a saying: "Bandido bom é bandido morto." A good criminal is a dead criminal. It's the kind of perspective that forms when under the constant threat of violent crime. Though the death penalty is banned in Brazil, killings of alleged, assumed, and accused criminals happen often. More often than not, victims of extrajudicial murders, particularly at the hands of police, are black and poor. When a white, middle class person becomes the victim, it's a different story.
This issue came to the fore this week when a man named Marco Archer became the first Brazilian national to be executed abroad. The 53-year-old convicted of drug trafficking in Indonesia died by firing squad. President Dilma Rousseff herself appealed to her Indonesian counterpart on humanitarian grounds, but her request for clemency was denied. Brazil recalled its ambassador from Jakarta, and Rousseff said there would be diplomatic consequences.
The failed appeal wasn't just an effort to save a fellow citizen. Brazil bans the death penalty, and maximum prison sentences are capped at 30 years. By law, Brazil will not extradite foreigners who will face a life sentence or a death sentence in their country of origin. In Archer's case, the Brazilian government asked for his extradition so he could serve his jail sentence in Brazil.
Archer was a confessed criminal. He was a seasoned international drug trafficker who began hauling cocaine and other drugs in the 1980s across Latin America, the United States, Europe, and Indonesia. He grew up middle class in Rio's Ipanema neighborhood, and was a professional hang glider. As he began trafficking, he became a playboy, traveling the world and living large. But at one point, he got into a bad accident while hang gliding, ending in a long recovery and expensive hospital bills. So he went on a new smuggling trip to Indonesia, where he was arrested in 2003.
In a 2005 interview with a Brazilian journalist, he proudly said: "I've never paid income taxes, I've never had a checkbook, I never served in the army. I only voted once in my life, for Collor, a family friend." On his storied trafficking career, he said: "I've never had another job in my life."
The execution has divided Brazilians. Some say he deserved it, along the lines of bandido bom, bandido morto school of thought. Others have expressed outrage from a human rights perspective. Amnesty International Brazil Executive Director Atila Roque told Reuters:
"The impression that Indonesia is giving to the world is that the country is moving backwards, that it is decidedly willing to disrespect something which is so important for the world today. The world is moving forwards in reducing, suspending and halting the executions, and Indonesia is saying 'no.'"
Meanwhile, Brazilian writer Alex Castro wrote on Facebook:
"Dear Brazilian drug trafficker...do the exact same thing in Indonesia that you do in Rio's favelas or the outskirts of São Paulo, and get executed by the Indonesian government after a trial, instead of summarily, in the street, by a Brazilian military policeman. (Ah, to be Carioca, white, middle class; having a cool profession also helps. Avoid being black at all costs!)"
While Brazilian law prohibits the death penalty, in reality executions by state agents are common in Brazil. Between 2009 and 2013, over 11,000 Brazilians were killed by police, according to the Forum Brasileira de Segurança Pública. Last year, killings by police rose 30 percent in Rio de Janeiro, and nearly 29 percent in São Paulo. On average, police kill six people each day.
Black Brazilians are much more likely to be executed by police. In general, nearly three-quarters of Brazilian homicide victims are black. And in São Paulo, for example, police kill blacks at a rate three times higher than of whites.
Youth are often targets. One particularly terrible case happened this month in Rio de Janeiro. Patrick Ferreira Queiroz, age 11, was shot three times in the back by police during an alleged shoot-out with drug traffickers in the North Zone favela where the boy lived. Military police, part of the local "pacification" unit, claim Patrick was armed, and said they found drugs and a gun in his belongings. His father denies he had a gun, and his cousin said she witnessed police targeting and executing him, shooting him multiple times at close range. Police had detained Patrick a week before his death on suspicion of working for drug traffickers, but he wasn't charged and was released. One of Patrick's older brothers had also been recently detained for alleged ties to trafficking. Patrick had dropped out of school six months earlier, and was reportedly working at a local café.
Patrick was buried the day he would have turned 12. The shooting is now under investigation.
In 2008, one of Brazil's most famous actors starred in a movie called "Meu Nome Não É Johnny." It's based on the true story of a white, upper-middle-class Carioca who became a drug trafficker, got caught, and was given a minimal jail sentence of two years, during which time he redeemed himself and got his life back on track. It's a vivid example of the vast differences in how judicial systems treat white and black drug offenders, as well as wealthy and poor offenders.
A documentary on Archer's life is already in the works. But don't expect a movie about Patrick any time soon.