Brazil is experiencing an “epidemic” of violence in schools, according to the Brazilian government. Alarm bells began ringing earlier this month after a 25-year-old man hacked to death four children between the ages of five and seven, in Blumenau, in the south of the country. A few days earlier, a 13-year-old stabbed a teacher to death and injured four other people at a school in São Paulo. The back-to-back tragedies have sparked alarm among families and authorities, who are also concerned about the spread of fake news online warning of new attacks.
On Tuesday, the president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, met with ministers and governors in Brasília to assess the measures taken to contain the violence. At the meeting, Justice Minister Flávio Dino reported 225 people have been arrested in cases related to violent acts or plans to attack schools in just the last 10 days. A total of 1,224 cases are being investigated throughout the country, and 694 adolescents have been called to testify. Dino added that 756 profiles from platforms such as Twitter and TikTok have been eliminated, and that Escola Segura (Safe School) — the channel created by the Ministry of Justice to receive complaints — has received 7,473 reports of violence. “This shows that we are facing an epidemic […] this allows us, in a very eloquent way, to understand the scale: they are not isolated cases. It is a structured criminal network,” said Dina.
The minister presented his data at the high-level meeting chaired by President Lula. The highest representatives of the judicial and legislative powers were also present, as well as eight ministers and several governors and mayors — something that has not happened since the January 8 attack on Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace.
Indeed, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes linked the insurrection with the scourge of violence at schools, claiming they share the same modus operandi since social media has created a “lawless land.” One of the central ideas from the meeting was to tighten regulation online in a bid to prevent hate speech and to root out profiles that allow aggressors to grow a wide supporter base.
Lula criticized social media platforms for not doing more to stop algorithms from spreading violent hate speech and images. “The big companies that make money from disseminating violence are getting richer. Some are the richest businesspeople on the planet, and they continue to spread lies, they have no standards,” said the Brazilian president. The Brazilian government was recently upset by the attitude of Twitter executives in Brazil, who showed little interest in moderating or removing content likely to encourage violence at schools.
Meanwhile, the conservative media and opposition leaders are calling for increased security measures at schools, such as weapons, barricades, metal detectors and private guards. Lula, however, said that he “will not transform schools into a maximum security prison.”
Brazil’s parliament is currently debating a law that would criminalize fake news, and could serve as the grounds to regulate social networks. But for now, the measures are focused on calming social alarm by creating a more secure school environment.
The government announced that it will invest 3.1 billion reais ($625 million) to combat attacks in schools, with the focus on tracking and removing online calls for violence. More than half of that amount may go to infrastructure to reinforce security at schools. Teachers will also be offered training courses on how to deal with school violence. And more than 200 million reais ($39 million) will go to promoting mental health policies.
But in a country as diverse as Brazil, the response on how to address the epidemic has been far from uniform. In the state of Santa Catarina — where the deadly attack at the daycare center took place — the governor, an ally of former president Jair Bolsonaro, promised that he would place at least one armed police officer in each of the region’s 1,053 public schools.
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