The Henry Borel Case : Death, Militias, And The Media In Rio De Janeriro 1
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Luciane Silva, Tiago Abud, Eliz Rosa – Researches with the Núcleo Cidade Cultura e Conflito of UENF

The death of Henry Borel, a child of 4 years, has captured the attention of the researchers for the Núcleo de Pesquisa Cidade, Cultura e Conflito (NUC) of the North Fluminense State University (UENF). In this article we apply Content Analysis (CA), a technique that enables the study of feelings, positioning, and idealogies from disperse elements. CA can be performed based on the letters of soldiers fighting in wars, newspaper columns, police reports, and the lyrics of songs. The idea is to think of the material at hand as a dataset able to provide insight into a particular group with respect to feelings related to a professional category or even a society at a determined conjuncture. By using headlines, video channels, and discussion sites, this reflexive exercise strives to comprehend the evaluation of Fluminense residents (especially those living in Rio de Janeiro) regarding the Henry Borel case and investigate how this comprehension can play a useful role in investigating questions involving morals, democracy, and public security.

The Case

On March 8, Henry Borel, a resident of Barra da Tijuca was rushed to the hospital. Officials later announced that he had been dead on arrival. Claims made by the boy´s mother and stepfather that he had died falling from bed were inconsistent with the 23 lesions found on Henry´s body.

The Accused

The autopsy report refuted the allegation that the boy´s death had been caused by accidental domestic injury (a fall from bed while sleeping). The stepfather, Rio de Janeiro City Councilman and physician Jairo Souza Santos Júnior (“Dr. Jairinho”), and Monique Medeiros, Henry´s biological mother, have been detained as suspects in the crime of qualified homicide.

The Investigation

A task force was assembled by Henrique Damasceno, the police superintendent of the 16 th Police Delegacy in Barra da Tijuca. The Civil Police of Rio de Janeiro proceeded to conduct a rigorous state-of-the-art investigation making use of forensics, witnesses, high-tech tools, and crime simulations. The investigation´s final report is expected by the end of April. The two accused parties, Dr. Jairinho and Monique Medeiros, will very likely be formally accused of doubly qualified homicide and the use of torture on a defenseless victim.

1 We are grateful the NUC researches for the contributions made to this article

The Media Coverage

All the mainstream television and radio media outlets have been issuing daily reports on the case. The platform, however, that has multiple channels providing live coverage related to the investigation and crime, as well the public´s reaction, is Youtube.

Content Analysis of the Media and Youtube

Since the beginning of the case we have been analysing the content of manifestations appearing on television channels, blogs, newspapers, and other media platforms. Some of this content deserves special attention due to its ability to deepen understanding regarding reactions to the hurtful act and the meanings represented.

In the first place, Henry´s mother has seemed cruel and vain, and frequently seen as responsible for her son´s death. Thus, a maternal figure considered responsible for the family´s well-being has become a central figure in a crime in which one of the accused has a history of aggression and the use of torture against women and children.

In second place, the psychopath hypothesis reduces the events to the actions of evil people. Accepting this hypothesis ignores the regularity and intensity by which Brazilian children and teens are subjected to mistreatment. It fails to recognize the domestic violence unleashed on a child, violence frequently also applied to other family members. While it may seem more comforting to respond to the crime with hatred toward the couple, the killing of Henry reveals the vulnerability of children in our country. This fact cannot be addressed by assigning psychopathy to the adults of this case, because reductions in harm of this nature require public policies aimed at assistence and social protection. We do not stand before people suffering from mental impairment. We are confronted with social practices that are highly recognizable to a large segment of the public.

Thirdly, the coverage of the Henry Borel case and investigation place in stark relief the selective nature of State action depending on the profile of victims. This 23 rd day of April, 2021, marks four months since the unresolved disappearance of 11-year-old Fernando Henrique, 10-year-old Alexandre da Silva, and 8-year-old Lucas Matheus. The three boys were last scene playing in the street in Castelar, Belford Roxo. Family members assert that an investigation should have begun immediately afterward, something that failed to happen.

What Remains to be Resolved and What Would Resolving It Mean?

Lastly, it is worth noting the most interesting element of this case. An analysis of the published content from various media types reveals considerable public outrage with respect to the barbaric act committed against a child of 4 years of age. Accusations against Monique Medeiros have also been frequent. When criticism is leveled separately against City Councilman Jairinho, however, it typically involves characterizations of a corrupt political system. THE FACT THAT THE CITY COUNCILMAN HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED AS A MEMBER OF A MILITIA GROUP IS RARELY MENTIONED. Jairo Santos, the son of Colonel Jairo, was accused of torturing journalists of the O Dia newspaper in the favela of Batan.

Why is this Fact so Important to the Henry Case?

For decades Rio de Janeiro has been waging a war against drugs 2 . This war has come at the cost of thousands of lives anually – both those of civilians and agents of the State. Residents of both Rio and Brazil tend to associate any perceived evil in low-income areas with drug trafficking. Rio de Janeiro State Governor Wilson Witzel won an election using this narrative, fired shots from a helicopter, and commanded official strikes on favelas that caused the deaths of innocent children while failing to have any practical impact on the drug market. When he assumed office, the governor already knew the maps of the city of and state of Rio de Janeiro did not present trafficking as a major problem of public security.

It is noteworthy that Dr. Jairinho called acting governor Cláudio Castro on the day of the crime.  It is also significant that he tried to secure a quick solution to his legal problems through string pulling at the hospital (as if such a thing were possible). In an interview with Publica on January 29 th , 2019, researcher José Cláudio Souza Alves stated “in Rio de Janeiro the militia is not a power parallel to the State.  It IS the State” (our translation, with emphasis added). Alves has published books and given interviews detailing the tangled web the militia has cast within the State apparatus and its effects on legislative processes, such as the use of intimidation for the filling of key congressional committee positions and expanding influence through related institutions.

It is horrible to think that after having committed so many crimes, a child had to be killed for Jairinho to be arrested. It is terrible to think that the militia in Rio das Pedras gave newly elected Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes a public shout-out. And it is terrible to reflect that residents of the northern sector of the city have defended the Liga da Justiça, of which Colonel Jairo is considered a leader. This is no isolated incident, but rather a common practice of this group. It involves the repeated banalization of evil, catalyzed through the fear of its victims, a scenario that allowed Jairinho to continue torturing children for years.

It is terrible to think that we still don´t know who ordered the killing of Marielle.

All of these crimes converge within the same phenomenon. It must be called out and brought to the attention of each and every reader when discussing the case of Henry Borel. Militia groups are gaining ground, unopposed, and strengthening ties within the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches of government.

This is the central question that has received insufficent attention in the mainstream press.

2 We are grateful for Rafael Barros Vieira’s insight and suggestions.