Julia Fonteles – Brazil Institute, 07/01/2016
The arrival of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro has been the cause of great speculation in Brazil and around the world. With the ongoing political crisis, a severe recession and multiple indebted states, it is difficult to maintain high expectations regarding the international event, especially in the area of public safety. On Tuesday, June 21, the national government authorized a generous loan of $2.9 billion reais to the state of Rio de Janeiro in order to increase the city’s public security. According to the Minister of Justice and Citizenship, Alexandre de Moraes, and the Secretary of Security from Rio de Janeiro, José Mariano Beltrame, the collaboration between the state and federal government is essential to ensure a secure and safe environment for tourists, athletes and residents. Beltrame says that the state of Rio de Janeiro will also be receiving direct help, reaching a total of 85,000 officers from the federal and state military as well as international policing to supervise areas near the airport, the favelas and state borders in order to guarantee maximum security during the games.
Throughout recent years, however, the state police of Rio de Janeiro has been highly criticized by local communities and human rights organizations for their aggressive and invasive operations. One of the most alarming tactics used by the police is the purchase of military-style vehicle known as “caveirões” and their tactics of intimidation. According to the report published by Amnesty International, in 2014 alone, every three hours one person was killed by the police, representing an increase of 39.4% in police lethality in only one year. These numbers are concerning at a local and international level, because it generates a sense of fear and insecurity from the police, who have sworn to protect its citizens.
In response to numerous critics, the former secretary of Justice from São Paulo and current Minister, Alexandre de Moraes justifies the elevated number of killings by the police as responses to violent attacks from the drug cartels. In an interview conducted by El Pais, on February 2016, Moraes recognizes the increase in deaths caused by the police, but justifies it by saying that “in 2013 and 2014 there has been an increase of more than 40% of police confrontations, which proves that criminal activities are more violent”. He also promised to prioritize the reduction of civilian’s deaths by the police through the implementation of new policies. One policy is to require the presence of the operation’s commander, the region’s sheriff, a magistrate and a separate team from the military after any report of police lethality. This measure, he argues, will ameliorate the control of the occurrences and increase the supervision of military activities in higher-risk areas. Other measures include the proper monitoring of police officers and their involvement in operations where there was proof of police lethality. The policy proposal states that if a police officer is involved in more than three lethal operations, their license will be suspended and taken for evaluation to the civil police.
Although police officers and government officials have acknowledged the problem of police killing, the judicial system also needs a structural reform. On June 22, 2016, the Superior Court of Justice granted a habeas corpus to the four police officials accused of killing five innocent young men with over one hundred shots fired at their car in Costa Barros, a poor neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro. The police officers were in jail for nine months after the incident on December 2014, but were released on June 14 by the Superior Tribunal of Justice Judge, Néfi Cordeiro, who granted the defendants’ authorization to work on the administrative division of the military. According to Edison de Lima, one of the defendant’s lawyers, the decision to release them was based on the argument that “there is no evidence from the case that proves they are a danger to public safety”. Yet, from the victim’s perspective, “it’s too much cowardice from the judicial system, taking into account how many shots they fired at my son,” said Monica, one of the victim’s mother.
Unfortunately, incidents similar to the one in Costa Barros occur fairly often. According to the study by Amnesty International they usually take place inside the poorest neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, in the Zona Norte (North Zone) and Zona Oeste (West Zone) and tend to target specific minorities. The numbers show that out of the total killing by the police in 2013, 99.5% were men, 79% were black and 75% were young (ages between 15 and 29).
The diverging reports from the police and the local communities create a problem with liability and bias, since both sides have compelling evidence and claim to have the same objective to increase the local area’s security. During the Olympic Games, the reinforcement of military and police supervision is expected to reduce the wave of violence between the police and the drug traffickers. But the continuous argument that Brazil should invest in long-term public security regardless of international events remains a priority for many citizens, especially those who are directly affected by these violent encounters.
Julia is a staff intern at the Brazil Institute.