Facing the crowds in Brazil, the Extreme Violence of the Police

Brazil’s larger cities have been in continuous upheaval for months, with strikes and massive demonstrations. Disgust with police violence seems to be on the rise.
“Against the Terrifying Public School Teachers, Police Far Braver Than When They Actually Have Something To Fear.”A strike and attemped sit-in by schoolteachers in Rio has been met with remarkable violence, writes Mauro Donato:

On the night of Saturday, Sept. 28, the entire police force of Rio de Janeiro – or at least it seemed like every policeman in town was there- was busy hunting down protesters. The protesting teachers had invaded Rio’s legislative assembly; its nickname as ‘the house of the people’ added to the absurdity of the police attack. That same night, Rebecca Carvalho, a girl only nine years old, was being raped and murdered just a few kilometers away in the favela of Rocinha.

The horrors of that Saturday, which saw police beating demonstrators, tear gassing them and pepper spraying them, continued through Sunday. The police repression, their arbitrary violence, went beyond any bounds of acceptability.

There were an infinite number of policemen. I have never seen so many policemen together at once. And really, why can’t we see this many policemen in the streets every day? If we did, I am quite sure that Cariocas [Rio Residents] would not fear the streets of their city as much as they do. Against the terrifying spectacle of the public school teachers, the police were courageous, far braver than they are when they actually have something to fear.

Rio’s public school teachers have been on strike for a month and a half already, and their demands are nothing more than what any worker should expect today: a career plan and a better salary policy. It goes without saying that one consequence of this is that children have not been attending school since the strike began. How much longer can Rio mayor Eduardo Paes dismiss the subject as something irrelevant, while state governor Sergio Cabral Filho sets his dogs on the sexagenarians of the teachers’ union?

The horror show taking place in Rio has exceeded every limit imaginable, and it has now gone on for months.

Military tactics were used against teachers when they were cornered inside the House of Representatives (while the celebrity new chief of police Mauro Andrade distracted them from one door, a group of policemen invaded the House through another door) without any legal documentation demanding they be evicted. What the police presented was a one-month-old court order that had been used to evict students that were occupying the same place in September.

Protestors who wear masks are being arrested for trying to remain anonymous, under what is a clearly unconstitutional law. When civilians on the street question the arrests, police tend to reply “none of your business.” Streets are blocked off by police forces, hindering people from getting to their homes. Undercover police are infiltrated among the protestors, and are usually the first to start throwing the Molotov cocktails at the uniformed police, so that the horror-movie repression can be launched. Governor Cabral’s clearly illegal Commission to investigate Acts of Vandalism During Protests (the CEIV), has been given the power to breach the telephone records of civilians. The local government simultaneously protects the big media conglomerates while firing rubber bullets at anyone who attempts an independent media. All of the dictatorial measures by the governor are aimed at keeping civilians from protesting and demonstrating.

Rio is bleeding. Cabral is a dead political animal and he knows it; that is why he is acting with such force against protesters of any kind. He knows he likely has no political future, so he has decided to go to war with the people. He should at least have an ounce of dignity, roll up his sleeves and fix some of the damage caused by his government instead of imagining surreal threats, like when he said “international movements were aiming to destabilize his administration.”

What we should really do is pity him. Cabral is only making his situation worse every day. And he still has one year in office, even if he can only govern with a pepper-spray gun.

Mauro Donato


brazil-pigs212Brazil Arrests, September 7, Photo CC: Fernando H. C. Oliveira

A Sao Paulo professor of criminal law writes that after police were ordered to stop giving medical treatment to suspects whom they had shot, deaths in custody fell by more than a third. A mystery? Not really, he says.

In the first seven months of this year, military police in Brazil killed 41 percent fewer suspects than in the same period last year. The drop is probably due to a new mandate that only trained doctors, and not policemen themselves, may give medical aid to people who are injured by police.

On Jan. 17 of this year, The National Secretariat of Public Safety [SSP] issued an order that in gunshot wound cases, military police are prohibited from giving medical assistance to victims in their police cars; they must call trained doctors, particularly doctors working for SAMU [a public ambulance service].

The order was extremely controversial, with policemen claiming that if they were not allowed to help victims, they would be essentially forced into committing the crime of omission [violating a legal duty to act]. But this complaint has no basis in reality: no one can be accused of the crime of omission if they call an ambulance rather than trying to deal with an injury by themselves. This holds true for policemen as much as anyone else, and in fact whenever police are the first on the scene of a car accident, they invariably call and wait for medical help to arrive at the site. The real question, then, is this: If police don’t give medical attention to those injured in traffic accidents, why were they “helping” the people they were shooting? Why were they driving the victims to hospitals, where they invariably ‘died just as they were checked into the hospital?’

In fact of course, police complaints that they would be accused of failure to render care were simply made in bad faith, because they are not in the least concerned with the lives of such victims. It is common knowledge that summary executions by military police in Brazil are an ordinary affair, and that in such cases bringing the body to a hospital is a convenient way to destroy the crime scene, rendering later forensic work more difficult.

That is why almost all of these victims ‘coincidentally’ die just as they get to the hospital. The policeman must flaim that the victim was still alive when they left the crime scene; and they cannot fool doctors at the hospital by saying the corpse they are dragging in is still alive. So the same excuse is heard: the person died on their way to the hospital.

The odd fact is that this sham has become the pattern for Brazil’s military police. Since a large part of society simply accepts this kind of violence (and this includes members of the judiciary and the Federal Prosecutor’s office), many pretend not to notice what is going on, and police violence is perpetuated.

A forensic specialist I have consulted says that it is fairly common to see military policemen, particularly those who work for the ROTA squadron [an elite unit that patrols Sao Paulo streets], “haul a person with three .40 caliber gunshots in their chest to the hospital; one shot from such a weapon is enough to kill someone.”

The new SSP mandate came out of the realization that removing victims from a crime scene has nothing to do with helping them (mostly because only the living can actually benefit from medical treatment); it is simply a strategy used by police to make forensic work more difficult and to try to cover up homicides. That is why among its first lines, the resolution states that “the primacy of human dignity” depends fundamentally on respect for human life in general, and crime scenes should be preserved as they are in all cases.

The 41 percent drop in deaths during police actions is probably a consequence of this new initiative. We should certainly commend it, but we must also remember that it is far too little.

The annual body county left by Sao Paulo police is still too high; it is far indeed from reaching a level acceptable for a democratic government. Simple proof: the military police kill more people in Sao Paulo every year than the police in the entire United States. Nevertheless, this new initiative represents a huge step toward forcing police in Sao Paulo to, one day perhaps, play by the rules.

- Jose Nabuco Filho.