By Lucy Jordan, Senior Contributing Reporter
BRASÍLIA, BRAZIL – At least fourteen São Paulo police officers have been detained since Saturday on suspicion of killing or attempting to kill civilians. The arrests are likely to raise questions over police brutality in the wake of a wave of murders in São Paulo that some experts have partially attributed to extrajudicial killings.
Seven officers were arrested Monday for shooting three teenagers in July in the city’s North Zone, according to Globo. The police have claimed that they were responding to a violent confrontation with the youths, but witnesses claim the young men were executed.
Six more police officers were detained Sunday on suspicion of killing one young man and shooting another in Parque Edu Chaves, in São Paulo’s North Zone.
On Saturday an officer was arrested on suspicion of setting fire to Washington Ramalho da Silva during a police operation in the South Zone. Mr. Silva suffered burns on sixty percent of his body and is hospitalized in serious but stable condition, local media reported.
In recent months São Paulo has undergone a sharp uptick in violence that has seen 4,100 people killed state-wide so far this year. October, the most violent month for São Paulo in the past two years, saw an eighty percent increase in homicides on the same period last year: 329, compared to 182.
Amongst those killed have been a hundred police officers, and experts believe that much of the violence is part of a simmering war between police and the Primeiro Command do Capital (First Command of the Capital, PCC), a powerful gang involved in drug trafficking and other organized crime.
Police in São Paulo have said the violence is the panicked lashing out of a gang that feels threatened by a police crackdown on drug trafficking. But some experts say the spike in murders of police corresponds with police brutality and extra-judicial killings.
Twice as many police officers were killed in June, after the elite police force ROTA allegedly killed five men in a car pack, than the month previous. The violence has been escalating since then, and another spike is discernible after PCC gang members were allegedly killed by police in mid-September.
Social groups also complain of alleged killings by police that go unexamined, particularly of poor black residents and in the city’s impoverished outskirts.
“We see the massacres daily and scream for it to stop, but the crimes are not investigated, they are all archived,” Deborah Maria da Silva, of the Mothers of May Movement, said during a protest against police brutality on Monday in São Paulo. “The authorities do not admit that there are, within institutions, vigilante groups.”
Amid the wave of violence, São Paulo authorities have received condemnation from groups including Amnesty International. Tim Cahill, Brazil researcher for the international human rights organization, told BBC Brasil that while attacks on the police should be condemned, a powerful independent body was needed to investigate human rights violations by authorities.
Camila Nunes Dias, a Universidade de São Paulo sociologist and expert on the PCC, said in an interview that she did not think these latest deaths were connected to the PCC, but that violence from police could spark protests, such as burning buses, from relatives and neighbors of the victims.
“I do not have a prescription ready,” to stop the violence, she added. “But I think it is important to think of different ways to deal with the issue of public safety that breaks away from the prospect of mass incarceration and investment in the military police.”