Monday, October 08, 2012

The Fall of the Armadillo -- Rubber Bullets, Stun Grenades, and Signs

We went grocery shopping last Thursday, which means we also went to that amazing candy shop near(ish) the train station. I believe that shop actually is my favorite place in Porto Alegre. You wouldn't believe how many cookies, potato chips and candy you can get for cheap prices. We spend R$20 (around $10 Dollars) and come home with bags of goodies that technically should last for a month, but we eat too much, and finish them in two weeks or less.

The other great thing about going to that store is the interesting route we take. We go all the way down Borges de Medeiros Avenue, dodging the sea of people that goes up and down the street, turn right when we get to the open market, where many farmers sell fruit and vegetables, walk past the always crowded bus station, turn left, keep going straight ahead, and then turn right. The street where we find the candy shop is my favorite. It has so many pet shops, I always forget I'm on my way to get candy and spend time looking at puppies, birds, bunnies, hamsters, and other adorable creatures I wish I could bring home with me. Michael always has to pull me away from them, even though they bewitch him too.

Last Thursday, though, there was something different on our way there. There was a giant inflatable mascot in the shape of an armadillo near the open market. It was right here, if you are wondering. We were a bit surprised at first, but I soon remembered that armadillo actually is the World Cup mascot. Right when the new mascot was revealed, whenever I accessed Globo.com it would pop-up in front of the news and become a soccer ball I could juggle around with the mouse. It was entertaining, and distracting.

We saw protesters, too. They were protesting against the privatization of public places in Porto Alegre. And showed they were unhappy with the current mayor, too. But it's not unusual to see protesters here. We've seen many protesters going down the avenue since we got to Porto Alegre. It's a city very politically involved.

Later that day, at 11(ish) PM, we were in our bedroom using our laptops -- Michael's desk is right next to mine, and our room often feels like an office -- when we heard distant noises. It sounded like people screaming, and fireworks, and thundering. It was hard to tell what it was, though. Our windows don't let a lot of noise in, which is good, because we live next to a busy avenue here in the historic district. Most of the noise we hear, though, often come from drunk people going back home from partying all night.

When the 'thundering' started to sound more like explosions, we ran to the windows and opened them to check what was going on. We saw people running down the avenue, scared. We later saw police cars. More people running away. It occurred to us that the 'fireworks' actually was the sound of shooting, so we preferred not to stay near the windows. I believe the whole thing quieted down thirty minutes or so later.

The next day, we read that the police and the protesters clashed. The explosions we heard were stun grenades. The shooting we heard was the police shooting rubber bullets at the protesters. Can you believe that? The police accused the protesters of attempting to tear down the inflated mascot (after watching a few videos on YouTube, I get the impression a police officer actually got his leg tangled with one of the strings supporting it, and when he tried to catch one of the protesters, the mascot came down), and the protesters accused the police of responding aggressively to a protest that was peaceful in nature.

I don't condone violence. I can't help feeling frustrated, though, when I see so many kids getting beaten up. The ones holding cameras seems to me were the ones most targeted. A journalist covering that protest for a major newspaper, in fact, said the police officer broke his camera, even though he explained he was working. I consider myself very apolitical, although I'm very interested in politics and find it dangerous to be oblivious to it. But, in a situation like that, I must side with the protesters. It's important to have a confident youth. Those kids were speaking their minds, they were unhappy, armed with only their voice and ideas. The way we responded to their activism: we shoved them around, kicked and arrested them, shooed them off under a rain of bullets.

Video uploaded by ciclodocs on YouTube.

They were protesting, again, the next day. Peacefully, like the day before, chanting and waving signs.

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