Brazil government aims to boost safety after school attacks

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s government announced efforts Tuesday to spend more on securing schools and crack down on the incitement of violence as officials seek to curb a wave of fatal school attacks.

The array of measures were discussed at a meeting convened by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the capital, Brasilia, among ministers, governors and mayors.

The government’s effort to shore up school security began earlier this month after a man killed four children at a day care center in the southern state of Santa Catarina. Three other incidents occurred in the preceding months of 2023.

“This is a moment for us all to unite, independent of political, partisan or ideological issues,” Education Minister Camilo Santana said at the opening of the event, attended by all but one of Brazil’s 27 governors and dozens of mayors.

“What’s at stake is the lives of kids and adolescents in our country,” Santana said.

Santana announced 3.12 billion reais ($625 million) in funding for schools to reinforce security and infrastructure, plus tens of millions more for treating mental health and training teachers in prevention.

The government has also created an online program to teach safety recommendations to school administrators and teachers, a task force for monitoring of social media and hotlines to report suspicious activity.

The latter actions, in particular, have contributed to a crackdown by the justice ministry and state police forces against adults and minors suspected of inciting violence in schools. Over the past 10 days, 225 people have been arrested or detained, according to Justice Minister Flávio Dino, adding that his ministry’s website received more than 7,000 reports in the same period.

The number of arrests and detentions “allows us to see that these aren’t isolated cases,” and shows that bad actors use online platforms to “recruit our youth for evil,” Dino said.

School violence in Brazil had been uncommon, but has grown increasingly frequent in recent years. From 2000 to 2022, 16 attacks or violent episodes happened in schools, four of them in the second half of last year, according to a report from researchers led by Daniel Cara, an education professor at the University of Sao Paulo.

“That’s why we are here: to cut off this dangerous ascent of violence, of hatred,” Dino said.

At the meeting, regulation of social media was a recurring proposal to prevent further incidents, particularly holding platforms responsible for failing to remove content that incites violence. Dino noted that some companies that initially resisted compliance with takedown requests have come around and, in the past 10 days, removed or suspended more than 750 profiles.

Alexandre de Moraes, a Supreme Court justice who is also president of the electoral authority, compared violent comments shared on social media to fake news during last year’s presidential race, as well as the antidemocratic speech that led to an uprising in the capital on Jan. 8, with supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro trashing government buildings.

Efforts to clamp down on antidemocratic speech last year often followed the contours of Brazil’s political divide, and so prompted allegations of repression of free speech. De Moraes referred to social media as a “no-man’s land” where users can still get away with actions and speech that are illegal in real life, and said regulation is needed. Lula voiced his support for regulation, too.

“Either we have the courage to discuss the difference between freedom of expression and stupidity, or we won’t get very far,” Lula said, speaking after everyone else at the meeting.

Lula’s administration since January has adopted measures to tighten gun control, reversing the push by Bolsonaro to facilitate access. However, Lula didn’t touch on the issue Tuesday, nor did others — perhaps because it is increasingly a political hot button, or because knives have been more commonly used in Brazilian school attacks.

Nor did Lula support schools resorting to walls, metal detectors or inspections of children’s backpacks. Instead, he focused on the need for stronger parental education and resources for mental health.

“We are not going to transform our schools into a maximum security prison, which will not work. There is no money for that, and it is not politically correct, humanely correct or socially correct,” Lula said.

“If we try to do that, we are demonstrating that we aren’t very useful, because we don’t know how to resolve the real problem.”

Copyright © 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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