Fearing Police Violence in Sao Paulo, a Neighborhood Empties

As in the United States, police in Brazil routinely shoot poor (and largely black) suspects with legal impunity. El Pais’s Gil Alessi here profiles a neighborhood in the south of Sao Paulo where a spate of police violence is forcing residents to flee.

Carrying her four year old daughter Emanoele, Aparecida Lima da Silva, 38, is walking along Carlos Lacerda Avenue in the south Sao Paulo neighborhood of Campo Lindo. It is 6.30 in the evening, and Cida, as they call her in the neighborhood, has just picked up her daughter from her sister’s home. A group of policemen chats casually by the door of a shop some 100 meters ahead of them. When the child sees the group, she hides her face in her mother’s bosom and says: “It’s the angels of evil, mama! I’m scared!”.

The girl’s father, Almado Salgado Júnior, was one of seven people killed on January 4th 2013 in front of a bar in Reverendo Peixoto da Silva Street, when ten hooded men came out of four cars and fired 57 shots into the group. Among the other victims was rapper Laércio da Silva Grima, aka Dj Lah.

Some days later, six policemen of the 37th Battalion [Brazilian police are military] were arrested and charged with participating in the killings. At the end of last year though, five of those cops were released due to what judge Alberto Anderson Filho called lack of evidence,. Only one of them, soldier Gilberto Erick Rodrigues, will face trial for the crime, and his lawyer says he is going to prove there are inconsistencies in the police report on the case. The trial will be held in secret, but the prosecutor says he will try to change that.

The freeing of the other five cops pushed Cida to join 17 other families who have fled the neighborhood, fearing violence, threats by the police, and because they can no longer live in a place that brings them such painful memories. The only supermarket in that street has closed down.

“I felt angry and afraid. It seems like justice does not exist for us” says Cida. “With those cops back in the streets, what am I to do? Nothing… By the end of the month I’ll move to another neighborhood. I don’t want to raise my children here, we have no peace”. She tells that her eldest, only seven years old, sometimes wakes up screaming in the middle of the night and is terrified of loud noises. “He hides whenever he spots a police car going up the street. We live in front of the bar where the crime took place. My kids every one of the shots that killed their father.”

The memory of the crime adds to the tension in the neighborhood – the most violent in all of São Paulo –, especially now that five of the accused have been released. No other place in the capital was as violent as Campo Lindo during 2014. To sum it all up, between January and November 2014 48 people were killed there .If compared to the same numbers for 2013, we can see a rise of 14% in the total number of murder cases.

Sources from the Civil Police confirm that there are “investigations and a great deal of suspicion” regarding the participation of policemen in a number of different crimes committed in the area. People living along the street tell of constant threats by policemen: “Do you remember what happened to Laércio (the murdered rapper)? It’ll happen to you now!”.

An episode from 2013 may contribute to explain the reasons behind the crime in question: before the mass-killing, an amateur film maker shot a video of five policemen murdering an unarmed mason they had just immobilized. In the images it was clear that before he was killed, the mason had already been immobilized by the cops, who were nevertheless cleared by the courts in the end.

Márcio Behring, 36, and born and raised in Campo Limpo, is also considering leaving the neighborhood. “My eleven-year-old had a friend murdered only two weeks ago. How can I explain that to him? How can a father tell his son that one of his little friends was shot five times in the face? It’s complicated. And the worst thing is that when I told him, he wasn’t shocked at all. It’s as if, even though he’s very young, he considers this kind of violence a natural thing, it’s as if he’s used to it. I don’t want that for him”.

Apart from the residents’ exodus, the mass murder has left another scar on the area: 25 of its children and teenagers are now orphans. “Some people come and tell them: ‘Your dad is in heaven, he’s become a star’. There’s no antidepressant for that kind of pain”, says Doraci Mariano, 53, a PE teacher that promotes social projects in the neighborhood. DJ Lah’s funeral was held in Doraci’s private multi-sport game court. “There are no rules, nobody respects the human being. The community won’t even organize themselves against anything, because they know that, in the end, they’ll lose again”, he says.

In front of the bar where the murders took place (which has been closed since then), six-year-old Anderson (the names here have been changed to preserve the identities of the people being interviewed) flies a yellow kite. New tiles on the façade of the bar now cover the bullet holes. In the steel gate painted blue anyone can see that the bullet holes have been covered with plaster. Without the help of the residents, investigators wouldn’t have been able to pin point the bar as the place where the murders occurred.

In a staircase right beside the bar, where the shooting continued, as the victims tried to escape, the bullet holes were also covered with plaster and then painted over.

“On a summer evening like today, this bar would be packed”, says Felipe, 13. “There was a pool table on the sidewalk, and some 40 people would gather there daily to play cards, shoot the breeze, listen to music and quench their thirst with some beer”. Anderson says that now, “We can only play in the streets until 6 p.m. My mom says it’s too dangerous for me to be outside after that”.

Gil Alessi Translated from Portuguese by International Boulevard