“Where should I shoot you? In the hand or the foot?”
That’s the menacingly cruel line uttered by Li’l Zé in the 2002 movie “City of God.” Zé is threatening two small boys, maybe 6 or 7 years old, with a shiny handgun, after catching them with a group of kids who were disrespecting him.
The little boys hold out their hands. Zé shoots them each in the foot, and laughs. Then he orders another kid to pick one of them to kill.
It’s one of many shocking scenes in the film, a visceral statement on the senseless violence that sometimes happens in Brazil’s favelas.
But residents of the real-life City of God — or Cidade de Deus, a community in Rio de Janeiro — are now responding to different scenes of carnage: the steady drumbeat of mass shootings in the United States.
It might surprise Americans to learn that some Brazilian residents of a marginalized community, in a country whose official homicide rate is almost seven times higher than that of the US, consider themselves relatively safer than if they lived in the world’s richest country up north.
But it's true. Take 34-year-old Carla Siccos, a local journalist and resident of Cidade de Deus since she was 13, who says she has no desire to travel to the US.
“I’d be scared to death!” she says. “Besides feeling completely safe here, a place I know, I’m scared to go there and something like that happens — I’m somewhere and some crazy person blows themselves up, or a lunatic appears with a gun and starts shooting all over the place.”
Siccos continues: “Lots of people there are prejudiced about coming here, just like we’re scared and prejudiced about going there. Even though it’s a first-world country. I’m scared and I wouldn’t go to the United States.”
Other residents were more pragmatic.
Aline Santana, a 30-year-old police officer who was teaching a ballet class for young girls in Cidade de Deus on Tuesday, acknowledged that both the United States and Brazil have problems with violent crime.
She hopes that as Brazil develops it will become safer for its residents. Unfortunately, at the moment, Brazilian society is a reflection of its government: Corrupt, inept and dangerous, she says.
But thank God, she says, Brazil doesn’t have the same culture of senseless, mass killings. Santana reflected on Sunday morning’s tragic shooting in Orlando:
“We should pray to God to help American society so that this stops happening,” she says. “Because what is happening is a really sad thing — losing the lives of young people, students, families — good people, who just went out to have fun and never came back. It’s depressing.”
Junior Marino, a 24-year-old student who lives in Cidade de Deus and also serves in the military, pointed out that in Brazil, guns are much harder to get ahold of than in parts of the US.
“In Brazil, if somebody wants a gun, even if you’re a military officer, there’s a process,” he said. “You have to go to the military command, apply, give your documents. It’s a process. There [in the US], with the ease of getting a gun, does it increase the amount of violence?”
If some Brazilian lawmakers have their way, Marino and other residents will get the answer to that question.
A bill being pushed by conservative congressmen seeks to allow Brazilians to buy up to nine guns per year. It would also lower the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 25 to 21, and extend permits from three to 10 years.
In December, we interviewed residents of Rio's largest favela, Rocinha, to get their thoughts on the proposal. Here's what a few had to say:
The bill is currently working its way through congress.