So it’s almost midnight – I’m sitting in my room with candles burning. I somehow managed to blow my power-box completely tonight after getting home, so I am without electricity until tomorrow morning when I can run to the hardware store and pick up the necessary pieces.
I guess you may or may not know about all the junk that has been going down in Rio over the past few weeks. The traffickers from several of the favelas around the city have been making a big fuss the past couple of weeks as a new governor has been sworn in. (He promises to be much tougher on crime.) The traffickers protested by shooting up police stations and police cars around the city and burning a number of buses around the city right before New Years – 19 people were killed.
The governor asked for help from the president, who promised to send in the elite “National Security Force.” Along with them come the elite SWAT teams from Sao Paulo (who are almost as scary and feared by those who live in the favelas as the Rio SWAT teams…) In all, 6000 new troops are coming to Rio for the next few months to “keep order” (at least until the Pan-American games are over…) And the traffickers aren’t happy about it.
The conflict between police and the favelas is deep and complicated. Maybe I’ll write more later. But there are few good guys – mostly just bad guys and worse guys, with the roles changing based on the scene and circumstance. Today the police invaded a nearby favela searching for a gang of car-jackers. In the ensuing shootout, three people were killed and two more wounded. The police claimed they were suspects. The residents of the favela said they were innocent people who had no ties to the drug trade – wrong place at the wrong time. In anger and frustration residents from the favela (probably egged on by some of the traffickers) stopped and burned two buses and a private car. Thankfully no one else was injured.
It’s not that this is commonplace. But the fact that it is happening in this city right now is heart-breaking. On the micro level, I see this in the increasing number of fights breaking out among the street population we work with – fights among friends that turn ugly because of alcohol or drugs – violence towards women on the streets (we spent almost two hours tonight intervening and trying to mediate one couple’s dispute). I see this in the favelas we call home, with increasing number of young teens with guns and attitudes. I hear it in the gunfights that happen with enough regularity that it’s not that big a deal (unless they’re shooting at you, or you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.)
And I see once again how much need there is for peace and transformation in this city. That lasting change will only happen as individuals change. Shalom (peace as wholeness, completeness, unity) is so far away, and so needed. May we learn to be peace-makers – builders of peace – one life, one action at a time… May we learn to have eyes to see the reasons for hope in the midst of the darkness and pain… And may we never give up.