This disturbing investigation of four Brazilian states (Rio de Janeiro, So Paulo, Pernambuco, and Esprito Santo) details a consistent pattern of vigilante killings of street children, often committed by death squads composed of off-duty policemen. Even though the international attention that followed the blatant murder of eight homeless teenagers outside the famous Candelaria church in Rio in July 1993 brought some improvement in the central government response, the high level of urban insecurity and the inadequacy of the judicial system and police continues to provide the perpetrators with the cover of popular acquiescence and even approval.
Final Justice, the title Human Rights Watch has chosen for its report, is the name of a death squad headed by a former military policeman that operates in the state of Rio de Janeiro. It is also the name given in Brazil to a popular American television show (Equal Justice). In the series a judge is forced to release suspects on technicalities but enforces justice with his own hands. A recent poll by Rio policemen found that the series protagonist ranked only behind Charles Bronson as a favorite hero. It is a sad indication of the intransigence of the problem, growing as it does from the grotesque social inequities of Brazilian society and disregard for the underprivileged, that a poll among Rios middle-class population is unlikely to show different results.