Thursday, November 12, 2009

How the Repression in the Favelas Goes Beyond Simple Police Violence

For those who think that I may overstate the police violence in Rio's favelas, here is an article that touches upon many of the issues I've discussed in the past.

A dispute over drug trafficking territory in Rio de Janeiro has intensified lately, leaving in its wake unprecedented acts of violence, such as the downing of a police helicopter in the northern zone of the city on October 17. Three policemen died and another two were injured. This event has drawn the attention of the international media, who are raising the issue of public security for the 2016 Olympics to be held in Rio.

Police response to the attack has been predictable: more repressive, violent force in the favelas (shantytowns). In this war between the police and the drug traffickers, 24 people have been killed. Among the dead are police, drug traffickers, and, as the city government has just admitted, three innocent bystanders.

The mainstream media's coverage of the helicopter attack seems to have given the police the green light for the use of excessive violence, such as the practices of "exterminations" and the invasion of houses without any warrants.

That last sentence gets at something very important. The police occupations of favelas goes well beyond the murder of innocent civilians alongside drug dealers. Residents in the favelas are often confronted with scenes like this and this, and face daily violations of basic right. "Police invasions" may sound sanitized, but stop and ask yourself: how would you like it if the police periodically just raided your home, threw things around, and violated your home and your privacy, with absolutely no warrant or no cause whatsoever? You'd probably be pretty outraged; after all, the police would have violated the 4th amendment of the Bill of Rights (if you're a U.S. resident), and that's a pretty serious offense. And that still doesn't deal with the strip searches that police employ. It's not like Brazil is so different; it's constitution may only date back to 1988, but it still prevents the entering and searching of a home without a warrant. Yet police constantly violate this provision in the favelas.

And the violence still continues, as well, getting uglier and uglier all the time. To wit:

An independent study in Brazil suggests that the soaring number of police killings of suspected criminals in Rio's war on drugs is linked to bonuses now paid to 'courageous' police officers, according to a newspaper report Monday.

The group that conducted the study - the Institute for Studies on Religion (ISER) - tallied the deaths of 10,216 people from 1995 to 2007 in police raids on the favelas, or slums, and other places inhabited by drug gangs, according to the daily O Estado de Sao Paulo.

It found that the ratio of dead to wounded climbed significantly after the city started offering bonuses to police in 1995 to particularly courageous officers.

All of this really gets at the crux of the problem: it's not just that favelados are subject to arbitrary acts of violence from the forces allegedly designed to "protect" Brazilians. It's that one of their most basic constitutional rights is constantly ignored, as police ignore with impunity the constitution when they enter favelas. Many uninformed reports in the international media worry about the Olympics in Rio in 2016, but they have nothing to worry about. It's the favelados who face this indiscriminate violence and repression of basic rights on a daily basis who have to worry.