LIFE IN RIO'S FAVELAS

Youth Torn Between Gangs and the Government

Stories by Monte Reel, Washington Post Staff Writer | Photos by Fred Alves for The Washington Post
The favelas of Rio de Janeiro — shantytowns that double as battlefields — are filled with stories of gangs against the government, where children are caught both as victims of crimes and as perpetrators. Select an image to the left to read more.

The March

Brazil Portrait 1
Residents of Rio de Janeiro stage public demonstrations to call attention to the violence they say has claimed the lives of 1,000 people so far this year.

The group of about 20 parents and neighbors made halting progress down a street in downtown Rio, bearing pictures of children killed in this city's violence.

They didn't chant or sing songs. They didn't walk together in any sort of uniform formation. A few photographers and a television camera chronicled their slow progression around a city square. But the next day, no photos of them appeared in Rio's largest newspapers.

Marches like this one have become increasingly common throughout the city. To capture attention, many have evolved into emotionally charged spectacles of mass grief. Two days before this procession, hundreds of people marched to Copacabana beach and planted black crosses in the sand, creating a Normandy-style image they found fitting for victims of an undeclared war. Last week, hundreds more played dead on a sidewalk. The organizers of that march were hoping 1,000 people would lie together to show the city what 1,000 dead people looked like. That's how many they estimate have died as a result of violence in the state of Rio de Janeiro already this year.

This march didn't draw that kind of attention, and featured no theatrics, no play-acting. Instead it included people like Maria de Lourdes Santos, holding a picture of her 16-year-old son, Leandro. Santos doesn't smile easily, and she seems at first blush like a woman who would listen to absolutely anything you could tell her with the same mask of resigned passivity. She doesn't openly seek attention, and doesn't seem to get much of it.

But she said she "went crazy" when she heard Leandro had been shot and killed two years ago. When asked what she would do if she learned that any of her children joined one of Rocinha's gangs, she said, "I would kill myself -- I always tell my friends that, because as a mother, I couldn't bear it." She said it without hesitation, but her expression didn't change at all. Next Story »


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