The Worst Predictions About Rio Haven’t Come True. That Tells Us a Few Things About Brazil and the Media.

Alex Cuadros – The New York Magazine, 08/11/2016

If you only saw the headlines in the lead-up to the Olympics, Rio de Janeiro sounded like the lawless city from a postapocalyptic movie: “Wave of deadly gunbattles hit Rio as the Olympics get closer”; “Body parts wash ashore next to Rio Olympic venue.” Glib listicles played up the threat of political unrest, terrorist attacks, Zika-carrying mosquitoes, and “super-bacteria” in the sewage-tainted bay. One writer used the term “disastrophe” to describe the situation and claimed that so-called “‘lightning kidnappings’ are nearly as popular in Brazil as feijoada” (a delicious bean stew). Another writer topped him with this analogy: “the global event equivalent of a fire tornado touching down on a killer bee sanctuary.”

It was like the Olympics of hyperbolic Olympics scaremongering. Now that the games are on, the hysteria is already looking misplaced. This would have been clear enough to anyone who simply took a walk around the city. The last time I went, at the end of June, Rio was functioning more or less in its usual way: slightly chaotic but manageably so, albeit with fresh construction for the Olympics marring what is perhaps the world’s most beautiful urban topography. Off of Copacabana Beach, I could see locals hopping waves — which suggested that concerns over the quality of the water might be somewhat inflated, too.

It was like the Olympics of hyperbolic Olympics scare-mongering.

I should disclose here that I myself have taken part in the Rio-bashing. I moved to Brazil in 2010, back when the country seemed on the verge of becoming a world power, and watched as the Olympics became an excuse to funnel public money to rich campaign donors for not always useful projects. Still, even I have to admit that Rio has made dramatic improvements in recent years. Perhaps the most dramatic is that the homicide rate, while still appallingly high, has fallen by two-thirds since the 1990s. Even after a spike in murders this year, it’s now less than half the rate in St. Louis, Missouri. And with 85,000 soldiers and police securing Rio for the Olympics, it’s probably one of the safest places in Latin America at the moment.

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Brazil investigating possible police-revenge theory in rash of killings

John Lyons – The Wall Street Journal, 8/14/2015

Authorities in Brazil are investigating whether vigilantes seeking revenge for the deaths of two police officers were behind a bloody night of killings that left at least 19 dead in greater São Paulo late Thursday, refocusing attention on Brazil’s history of police violence.

In one incident, captured in a chilling two-minute video, shooters in ski-masks and windbreakers entered a bar on a western outskirt, selected several patrons, calmly lined them up against a wall and shot them, leaving eight dead.

Minutes later, a similar shooting nearby left two more dead, authorities said. All told, shootings took place at eight locations in about two hours.

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‘Bullet Caucus’ in Brazil Signals Political Shift to the Right

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 1/14/2015

Paulo Telhada rolls his eyes, denouncing Brazil’s support for the leftist government of Venezuela. He frowns, grumbling about gun control measures. But when the subject turns to how many people he killed as a police officer on São Paulo’s streets, he gives a broad smile.

“More than 30,” said Mr. Telhada, 53, a rising star in Brazilian right-wing political circles, having recently won a seat in São Paulo’s state legislature in a landslide. “I feel no pity for thugs,” he added, emphasizing that he did not enjoy working in a fancy office. “But I know my future lies in politics now.”

Across Brazil, politicians like Mr. Telhada, with backgrounds in law enforcement or the armed forces, have been winning elections. In Congress, about 21 legislators now form what is called the bancada da bala, a “bullet caucus” seeking to bolster gun ownership and repeal laws keeping teenagers from being tried and sentenced as adults, among other conservative measures.

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Correcting Brazil’s police violence: the case of Rio’s Pacifying Police Units

Layne Vandenberg – Brazil Institute, 12/18/2014

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Widespread protests against police violence and racism have recently scattered the United States after the release of the Ferguson (Michael Brown) and Eric Garner grand jury decisions. While Americans grapple with the reality of police violence, other countries live deeply entrenched in this reality. Scholar Ignácio Cano says there is “a Ferguson every day” in Brazil, and the state of Rio de Janeiro has been trying out a new policing strategy in hopes of improving community-police relations in its slums, called favelas.

Between 2009 and 2013, Brazilian police killed more than 11,000 people, or about six people per day. The 2014 edition of the Brazil Public Security Yearbook also found that 53,646 homicides occurred in 2013, or one person every 10 minutes.

With the highest per capita rate of killing of any Brazilian state and 6,826 homicides per year between 1991 and 2007, the state of Rio de Janeiro is “comparable with urban areas of countries in civil war.” But Rio needed a quick solution for its violent reputation among the international crowd. Rio is home to Maracanã stadium, where several 2014 FIFA World Cup matches, including the final, were held and the city is the host of the upcoming 2016 Olympic games. So how do you change the face of a city and a state in time for the world’s two largest sporting events?

The Rio state government’s solution: pacification.

Continue reading “Correcting Brazil’s police violence: the case of Rio’s Pacifying Police Units”

Brazil Has ‘a Ferguson Every Day’

Mac Margolis – Bloomberg View, 11/26/2014

Like many expatriate Americans, I spent a lot of time in August staring at video replays of the protests roiling Ferguson, Missouri, and beyond. After all, the story line — white cop shoots unarmed black man, streets erupt — seemed only too familiar, one of those signal moments by which the U.S. is seen and judged by the rest of the world.

But when I commented on the tumult to a senior Brazilian political journalist in Rio de Janeiro, where I live, he seemed underwhelmed. “Ah, I heard about that,” he said, laconically. Likewise, the Missouri grand jury’s failure to indict the police officer who’d pulled the trigger got little more than a few angry tweets and Facebook rants.

My Brazilian friend was not uninterested, merely inured. Racism, rogue cops and rough justice are as familiar here as flip flops and palm trees. Brazilian police killed 2,212 people last year, the Brazilian Forum of Public Safety, a national think tank, reported in a study published Nov. 9. Between them, report the authors, Brazilian state and federal police violence claimed more lives (11,200) in the last five years than did all U.S. police combined in the last 30 (11,090).

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Young, Black, Alive – Breaking the silence on Brazil’s soaring youth homicide rate

Atila Roque – Live Wire, 11/26/2014

Earlier this week, many people around the world waited with bated breath for a grand jury’s decision in a case where a police officer shot dead an unarmed young black man on the street. While the 9 August shooting of Michael Brown took place in the US suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, the case has a deep resonance here in Brazil. The tragic course of events leading up to the teenager’s death could just as easily have played out on the streets of our cities orfavelas.

Of the 56,000 homicides in Brazil every year, 30,000 are young people aged 15 to 29. That means that, at this very moment, a young person is most likely being killed in Brazil. By the time you go to bed, 82 will have died today. It’s like a small airplane full of young people crashing every two days, with no survivors. This would be shocking enough by itself, but it’s even more scandalous that 77 per cent of these young people are black.

Since 1980, more than 1 million people have been murdered in Brazil. According to Global Burden of Armed Violence 2008, in the period from 2004 to 2007, more people were killed here than in the 12 main wars worldwide. However the violence doesn’t impact Brazilian society equally. Murders are rampant in poor and marginalized communities. Prejudice and negative stereotypes associated with the favelas and city outskirts have a key role in perpetrating this violence.

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Police Violence Continues to Plague Brazil: Report

David Gagne  – InSight Crime, 11/11/2014

A new report by a citizen security body in Brazil says that police have killed more than 11,000 civilians in the past five years — while the number of police killed during the same period nearly doubled — suggesting strategies aimed at lowering police brutality have not had the intended effect.

The report (pdf) published by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security — a body comprised of security officials, research centers, and NGOs — counted 11,197 citizen deaths perpetrated by both on and off-duty police in the country from 2009 to 2013, representing an average of 2,239 people killed by police per year over that period (see graph).

The highest number of reported police killings in this time frame was in 2010, with 2,434 cases, while the lowest number occurred the following year, with 2,042. According to the report, the vast majority of killings are committed by military police. This body was responsible for 1,567 citizen deaths in 2013, compared to just 198 cases of fatal confrontations between civil police and civilians. On the flip side, military police are also over four times more likely to be killed than civil police.

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