Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Report: Police Killed 11,000 People in Favelas in Last Six Years

At the beginning of the year, I commented on reports that Rio's police were trying new tactics in the favelas in an attempt to reduce the power of drug gangs in the favelas. However, I expressed skepticism of how well it would work broadly, since the program was for two favelas, and not the 1000+ favelas of Rio (a concern that Rio's police chief also expressed in the excellent Jon Lee Anderson article). Last week, NPR also highlighted the program in the Santa Marta favela, basically updating the report on which I had commented in January. In some ways, I'm encouraged by the fact that, after almost a full year, the police have not abandoned this program. If you're going to establish infrastructure and a relationship with people who live in the favelas in order to undermine the drug lords, then you need to have a long-term presence of a benevolent state (rather than lightning-flash attacks and retreats of repressive forces), and NPR's report suggests that the program is getting that support. At the micro-level, this is encouraging, even if some officers still believe "a heavy hand is necessary in violent slums."

Unfortunately, that heavy hand has been devastating in the favelas, as a new report suggests that the police have killed over 11,000 people in the favelas in the last six years, with many of those killings being execution-style murders. Even if many of those killed were involved with violent crime, they should receive a trial and sentencing. Brazil's prison system may be bleak (another issue too complicated to get into here), but it's still better than summary executions. Certainly, Santa Marta is a point of light in police tactics, but the overall picture is still extremely bleak, and until Brazil (and not just Rio) launches major programs in the style of the Santa Marta program and completely eliminates impunity for police involved in extrajudicial killings, the murder of innocent civilians, and participation in militias, then conditions in the favelas are unlikely to get any better.