Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, September 2013
After sunset we swim back to shore and slowly make our way back up the favela, stopping to chat with people several times, then across the road and up the hill. The road leading up to the square has people who seem to be on the margins of a big event. The street reeks of urine, not just in one or two places, but all the way up. Cute houses, but the stench!! The square itself is busy and we push on to the road on the other side which is one of the city centre thoroughfares. It is clear of traffic and quite full, with hundreds of revellers attracted by the gay pride parade which has been going on, although not all are gay by any means. Bahians have gone into carnival mode: girls in even sexier getups than usual, lads topless, asking for kisses from strangers; costumes. There are some topless drag queens with quite big breasts, flaunting them down the middle of the wide road. One gets pushed to the wall on the pavement and snogged, I think it’s for the benefit of a photographer. While one guy is snogging her, someone else is kneading a breast. Somewhere else a muscly black guy tries to snog a black woman, who refuses, but as she pushes him away she has a good squeeze of his juicy pec. While I watch the ‘show’ Caudio chats animatedly with some acquaintances.
We think the parade is basically over and this is the aftermath, but then music can be heard approaching, starting to obliterate the music from the bars along the road. The trio elétrico is a huuuuuge truck towering over the revellers, competing with the five storey buildings around. It has lights, gay dancers, a DJ and is basically a massive mobile PA system with stage on top. When it passes us I have my fingers firmly in my ears, but the bass almost pushes me to the wall – incredibly powerful! The truck is followed by more revellers but also about 25 military police, in helmets and fully armed. The truck passes, then another one approaches with a light show that projects words and images onto the buildings. Teenaged girls do funny erotic dances, people talking, drinking, parading, fighting. Everything.
Then the shots.
The crowd, which had been generally moving slowly in the direction of the parade, suddenly goes into fast reverse, running back towards us. The vendors with their trolleys and polystyrene boxes don’t abandon them so they are reversing, too. We can’t really see what’s happening. We stay put.
Soon though, Claudio resumes his hustle and chat, people move in the direction of the flow again. Then, a few minutes later, there’s more unusual commotion and we see a tall man running carrying a large child, a boy. The man is running against the flow, he is crying. The child is alive, he has blood on his legs. Some other people a running with them. Some police, too. They pass, like the trucks. I can’t see an ambulance. Again, the crowd turns back to the party. Claudio once more takes up his conversation. I am shocked. Schocked! Claudio notices and says, it’s all right, it’s all right. No, it’s not.
Later we talk about it. He thinks, and this was being said by the friends he was chatting to as well, that the violence was caused, wait for it, by the WRONG KIND OF MUSIC. The locally popular but maligned style of pagode being the cultprit. The truck with all the police had been that of pagode group Bronkka (althought they weren’t actually playing live on it when it passed, but apparently had been earlier). The singer is Igor Canario, a white guy apparently well connected in the drug scene. THEY, I was told, were booked to attract bigger crowds, but they have nothing to do with gay pride, and crucially, they attract the wrong crowd. Youths involved in favela turf wars who bring their quarrels, and their guns, to the no-man’s land of the city centre. When the music stops, they get bored and start scoping out enemies and rivals, sometimes taking a shot. The fact that innocent bystanders like the boy are bound to get hurt if you shoot in a crowded space like this doesn’t bother them. This is why violence happens Claudio informs me, also he wouldn’t bring his young daughter there at night!
The next morning I scan the paper for a report of the shooting, wanting to know if the boy is OK. I scour amongst the usual bus holdups, shootouts with police and targeted drug gang hits, but find nothing. I assume that means he survived; the mere injury of a child by gunshot is not serious enough to make the city paper. I am sitting outside a café in the square, not far from where the incident occurred. At the next table some gay men are enjoying coffee and conversation. They seem to be left over from the gay pride parade somehow. Eventually I pluck up the courage to ask them if they heard of the shooting of the boy. Yes, in fact one of the witnessed it. They, too had looked for it in the paper but had seen nothing about it. The boy had apparently been hit in the leg. We can assume that the bullet grazed or passed through, and that the child would recover, perhaps even easily. We have to count it as a good day when a child is ‘only’ shot in the leg because of the wrong band at the parade.