25 April 2023
On April 5, a man killed four children in a Brazilian daycare center.
In the weeks since, Brazilian officials have detained 300 adults and children nationwide. The detainees are accused of spreading hate speech or encouraging school violence.
Little has been made public about the crackdown. It risks an abuse of power by the country's court system. It also shows the strong reaction to school violence across federal, state and city levels.
Brazil's efforts to end school attacks are very different from those of the United States. In the U.S., such attacks have been more common and more deadly for a longer period. But measures to prevent the violence have come much more slowly.
Actions taken in the U.S. are informing the Brazilian response, said Renan Theodoro. He is a researcher with the Center for the Study of Violence at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil.
"We have learned from the successes and the mistakes of other countries, especially the United States," Theodoro told The Associated Press.
Brazil has seen almost 24 attacks or incidents of violence in schools since 2000. Half of them have been in the past year.
President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's government has looked for ideas from researchers and experts. This week, he organized a meeting of ministers, mayors and Supreme Court justices to discuss possible solutions.
Some measures that Brazil has already taken are in line with those introduced over time in the U.S. Those measures include the creation of emergency communications systems, safety training for school workers, federal money for mental health, and more security equipment.
But Brazil has also detained suspects and has pushed to regulate social media sites. Those measures have not been taken in the U.S.
Many Brazilian states did not wait for the federal response. Sao Paulo, for example, temporarily hired 550 mental health experts to work at its public schools. It also hired 1,000 private security guards.
School shootings in the U.S. often create debate. But at the federal level, the debate usually ends without a solution. Democrats center on gun control while Republicans push for stronger security measures.
Brazil's efforts have gained support in part because measures have not included restricting gun use. Gun control is increasingly a divisive political issue in Brazil, like it is in the U.S. Brazil's school attacks are also more often carried out with other weapons, especially knives.
In the U.S., legislation rarely passes. There have been exceptions, however. A bill was approved last year after an attack at a Texas elementary school and other mass shootings. The bill made background checks stricter and kept guns away from those guilty of domestic violence. The bill also gave $1 billion for student mental health and school security.
Other change has come more slowly. In almost every state, schools are now required to have safety plans that often include what to do if a shooter enters the school. Many individual school systems have their own safety call centers. Some use software to watch social media for threats.
Lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro is the son of Brazil's far-right former president. He is calling for metal detectors and armed guards. He introduced a bill to make them required at all schools.
For Brazil, hoping for quick solutions risks introducing abuses of power.
Officials have not offered details on why the 302 suspects have been arrested in the past two weeks. When asked by the AP, the Justice Ministry did not say how many of the detainees were under the age of 18.
The ministry is also ordering a national consumer agency to fine technology companies for not removing content seen as praising school violence or making threats.
There appears to be large support for regulating social media sites. At this week's meeting in the capital, Lula, his justice minister, two Supreme Court justices and the Senate's president voiced support for regulation of the sites. They argued that speech that is illegal in real life cannot be permitted online.
The Rights in Network Coalition is a Brazilian group of 50 organizations centered on basic digital rights. It has expressed concern over giving the government the power to decide what can be said on social media.
Some social media platforms resisted the move but are now agreeing to the changes. More than 750 profiles have been removed or suspended, Justice Minister Flávio Dino said.
I'm Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting by The Associated Press.
Words in This Story
encourage — v. to make more appealing or more likely to happen
crackdown — n. a serious attempt to punish people for doing something that is not allowed
response — n. something that is said or written as a reply to something
mayor — n. an official who is elected to be the head of the government of a city or town
regulate — v. to make rules or laws that control
hire — v. to give work or a job to in exchange for wages or a salary
domestic— adj. relating to or involving someone's home or family
detector — n. a device that can tell if a substance or object is present
consumer — n. a person who buys goods and services
platform — n. a program or set of programs that controls the way a computer works and runs other programs