Sixteen-year-old Jefferson was shot to death in the entryway to his family home in a poor district on the periphery of Brazil’s largest city. He was one of thirty poor children murdered in São Paulo, Brazil, just in July 1991 alone. Jefferson, like many other murdered youth, did not know his father; he lived with his younger siblings and mother, a washer woman, in a one-room cardboard, stucco, and wood structure. He dreamed of earning enough money to add a room where he could entertain his friends. But Jefferson’s dream was an illusion; his earnings for his family had always been well below subsistence level.
Jefferson had begun working when he was seven, mostly in the informal sector, where he pieced together a meager income gathering scrap metal and cardboard, selling fruit, washing windows, and helping out a fishmonger and a stone mason. Jefferson had been looking for a “regular job”—one covered by minimum wage and social security legislation. But his search had been in vain, for, as his mother explained, “employers don’t hire draft-age boys.” (Arruda 1991:21)
Jefferson’s story puts a human face on Brazil’s young murder victims; the majority are poor black or dark-brown males between 15 and 17 years old. These are the youth most likely to die at the hands of a stranger. Girls of all ages are less likely to be murdered by strangers; most often, girls are killed by a family member or close family associate. This chapter focuses on youth murdered by strangers in Brazil.
This chapter focuses on victim-generating sociostructural situations and the social creation of victims in Brazil. Rather than concentrating on individuals’ predispositions or overt motives for murdering Brazilian youth, or the victims’ specific alleged misbehavior and threats, or on some generalized culture of violence, we identify the conditions that make particular kinds of Brazilian youth into social problems and symbolic assailants—adolescents whose assumed social and physical characteristics render them criminal without their necessarily having committed a crime.
Our thesis states that modern Brazilian social structures powerfully shape poor Brazilian youths’ vulnerability to being murdered by strangers. Such youth come from