The death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin sparked many questions about race, the right to bear arms and Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” throughout the past months. While George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watchman who shot Trayvon, has been charged with second-degree murder, many Americans believe the judicial system took too long to do so. They also feared that all their protesting would be in vain, and that Zimmerman would eventually not even be charged.
About four thousand miles away in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a similar case is taking hold of the country. Whereas charges have been filed for the Trayvon Martin case, no charges have been filed for the death of cyclist Wanderson Pereira.
Thor Batista, the 20-year-old son of Brazil’s richest man, Eike Batista, smashed his father’s McLaren into Pereira, a 30-year-old biker who was running an errand for his wife, killing the cyclist instantly.
Pereira, who lived in a shack at the highway’s edge where he was killed, worked unloading trailer trucks. A native of Duque de Caxias, on Rio’s outskirts, he is one of the many victims of car crash fatalities. Roadside deaths are so common that they rarely are registered.
However, on that March night, when the two men collided, two Brazilian worlds crashed head on as well: one belonging to the small, privileged elite with immeasurable wealth, and the other belonging to one of the millions who live in shacks and cardboard houses, barely seeming to exist.
Very few to no roadside killings are ever reported. However, this one gained attention due to Eike Batista, who possesses a $30 billion fortune.
According to investigators, Thor Batista was within the 110-kilometer speed limit, driving 100 kilometers per hour. He also passed a blood-alcohol content test.
Nevertheless, the crash has awakened a debate amongst the Brazilian population over power, wealth, influence and traffic deaths.
“I don’t understand why rich parents encourage their young and inexperienced children to drive machines incompatible with our roads,” said Ruth de Aquino, a columnist at the magazine Época, in an essay about Thor Batista. “We’re not in Germany; we don’t have autobahns.”
On Twitter, while the younger Batista boasted his skills as a driver, his father claimed that Pereira was cycling on the left lane of the road, “The cyclist’s carelessness could have caused three deaths.” In regard to hiring a lawyer to represent his son, he later tweeted, “I only hire the best. That a problem?”
For most Brazilians, the outcome of this incident is almost painstakingly obvious: Thor Batista will evade any charges and will probably pay dues to the family to compensate for his actions.
This has happened before, after he collided with a cyclist in Rio last year, fracturing the victim’s pelvis, and after he received various drivers’ fines over 18 months, according to television network Globo.
Batista received penalties for speeding, which for any normal driver would result in a suspended license. But for the wealthy, this means nothing. Many do not even take a driver’s test but instead pay bribes to buy their licenses.
This is a sad, nevertheless accepted, truth within Brazil. A cycle of corruption, it becomes impossible for anyone with wealth and influence to be held accountable for their actions, since every branch of justice is easily paid off. Instead, more innocent people are killed, and those who are too poor to do anything about it, or even know what Twitter is, suffer the unjust consequences.
I can only hope that Brazilians learn from the Trayvon Martin case, and fight for justice and a fair trial. Although an ocean and thousands of miles apart, Trayvon and Wanderson were both innocent in their actions, and had their lives taken away unjustly. Similarly, both Zimmerman and Batista should be held accountable and must pay their fine to society for their actions.
In the eyes of justice, we should all be equal, and hopefully soon my country can adopt this wholeheartedly.
Julia Greenwald is a freshman in the School of Communication.