Saturday, November 16, 2013

Good Cop / Bad Cop

On the day that justice is finally done (or, at least, seen to be done) in the conclusion of what is widely being called a “landmark” corruption trial here in Brazil, I recall an exchange not so long ago.

I smiled at the stoney-faced cop taking his breakfast propped against the counter in the corner of the diner. Largely, I admit, to provoke. I used to do the same thing in New York a while back (where smiling was most definitely optional while Protecting and Serving). He returned the gesture with an expressionless glare. I let my smile fall, but made a somewhat lame second attempt - raising the corners of my lips into an awkward rictus grin. 

Only the stoniest of hearts would not reciprocate this gesture, I thought.

I received a cursory nod and he left without paying. I was irritated at the time at how the passive giving and receiving of a bribe creates a double-bind. The owner can say something and be ignored by the police if ever he needed police assistance or he can keep quiet and then be expected to aid the police if called upon for a “favor”, thereby becoming a passive colluder in the corruption. Victim turned perpetrator.

A similar thing happened on the bus the other day. As I got on, a teenager approached and handed a cheap chocolate bar to the driver from the box he cradled in his arm. He climbed on at the back and sat down without paying.

As the bus lurched from side to side and in and out of the bowel-vibrating potholes, we made several stops and soon there were no free seats left and several older ladies were standing. I gave up my seat (of course), but as I held onto the rails my eyes remained fixed on the thief in the back row. As we passed the catholic church he made a sign of the cross and pressed his index finger to his pursed lips in reverance. Maybe he was asking for forgiveness? Pah!

Anyway, as I looked around and saw all those tired and elderly ladies hanging on for dear life, I burned with righteous anger at the thief and the bus driver and all those who think that corruption is victimless. I so want this country to succeed, to progress. It is such people who will always hold it back.

Bonus Ad: Note the near-empty São Paulo tourist bus going over the pothole at the start.

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