Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Another Faint but Encouraging Effort to Rein In Police Violence in the Favelas in Rio de Janeiro

This week, prosecutors in Rio de Janeiro have charged 30 police officers with executing young men in the favelas in "death squad"-style murders, and have asked that the officers be imprisoned.

The state prosecutors' office said it had examined the deaths of 20 people in the Brazilian city between 2007 and 2008 and found strong evidence that many were executed. Police said the victims had resisted arrest.
The majority of the victims, all between 14 and 29 years old, were killed at close range or with bullets in their backs and only two of them had criminal records, the office said.
"This is activity typical of a death squad, shown by the technical evidence which disproves the police version that there was a confrontation," prosecutor Alexandre Thermistocles said in a statement.

I don't know that these officers will actually end up in prison. "Justice" in Brazil is....fickle, to put it politely, and it strikes me as unlikely that there will be a speedy resolution to these charges. Honestly, I expect the police to be let off relatively lightly, if not completely free. After all, it's not like these kinds of killings have not been going on for years, and it's not like they don't enjoy the popular support of many civilians in Rio. Indeed, the fact that the woman who condemns the police for killing people and saying after the fact that the victims were just "bandidos" doesn't want to be named "for fear of retaliation" makes clear that the police can and do still act with relative impunity in the favelas.

That said, the fact that the prosecutors are charging police with these murders is a faint glimmer of optimism. Just a few years ago, charges would never have been brought forth, and the police's version that people with bullets in their backs (often from close range) were "bandits" who were "firing back" would have been blindly accepted by most people. And this isn't the first time that these charges have been made publicly against police. So in the sense that at least these charges are being made publicly and be legal authorities, I'm encouraged. But only slightly. Until these charges lead to real prison time for the murderers in the police force; until the police cannot act with impunity in the favelas; and until there is a major overhaul in the justice system and the treatment of favelados in Rio, things will remain unsatisfactory, and human rights abuses within the favelas will continue.