Brazil is the world’s murder capital. More than 1.3 million homicides have occurred there since 1980. And the problem appears to be getting worse. The rate of killing has risen by 150% over the past three decades to 56,000 a year. This grisly toll cannot be put down to a so-called culture of violence. To the contrary: these preventable deaths are a result of policy failures. Brazil’s violent crime wave can be reversed.

The acceleration of homicidal violence is due to a combination of risk factors. Notwithstanding the country´s genuinely impressive strides in reducing poverty, persistent income inequality keeps crime rates high. Gun availability also plays a role, insofar as more 70% of fatal victims are shot by firearms. The heavy handed response to low-level drug traffickers and users – Brazil is purportedly one of the largest consumers of cocaine in the world – is similarly destructive.

Arguably the most important factors predicting the profile of homicide victims areethnicity, sex, age and education. In Brazil, as in other parts of the world, the most likely victim of murder is a young unemployed black male who has yet to complete primary education. Although just half of Brazilians self-identify themselves as black, they nevertheless account for almost 70% of all violent deaths.

Since 2000, the proportional killing of young black males has risen while simultaneously decreasing among their white counterparts. To put this in numerical terms, a black adolescent is 2.8 times more likely to be murdered in Brazil than a white teenager. And in northern states like Paraiba, the ratio increases to a terrifying 18:1.


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