I was walking around in downtown Rio on Saturday morning and suddenly saw people running towards what seemed to be a fight. The whole scene was reminiscent of being at school and hearing people yell, “FIGHT!” (well I guess if you were in the fight the emotions would differ). Everybody seemed excited about seeing the violence. Normally, I would go the other way, but because the people veering toward the scene were mostly middle-aged people, especially women, I thought it might be instructive to witness their reaction to the carnage.
Well, by the time I got there, the participants, were, I suppose separated, and the civilian authorities overseeing the downtown market were struggling with some guy. They were pushing and wrestling him into an alley where they closed a gate to keep out onlookers. It was difficult to see anything because of the throng of people, but suddenly a guard appeared and attempted to disperse the crowd; meanwhile, the other guards had pushed the guy out of sight, further into the alley.
As the crowd thinned I saw a woman and her young son approach the gate asking to get inside the alley. I am not sure what she said, but the guard let her in and she quietly went on her way. A look around and I noticed similar sudden indifference to the fate of the man in the alley.
All around the market area people went back to their activities. Families continued shopping. Others arrived possessing no knowledge of what for five minutes seemed to me a big event.
Do not get into trouble in Rio. The city is too large and over populated for the authorities to feel concern for one person. Most places you visit in Rio will be overseen by civilians not the government. The locals comprehend how to navigate this uncertain terrain. They know to be careful because their lives often depend on the whims of other civilians. You as a tourist do not know how to deal with what can be capricious authority. I recall once a few years leaving my metro rail card sitting on a counter and when a woman asked who it belonged she refused to believe it was mine. Rather than argue I left the place and bought another (She now realizes I am an American and ignores me out of seeming embarrassment that she kept my card).
If you, as a tourist, get into a fight in Rio or involved with some civilian authority, you are in BIG TROUBLE! Stay as quiet as possible to avoid trouble. It is best to just depart the situation if you feel any discomfort because more than likely you are correct. The last thing you want is to be pushed into some dark alley!