Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Brazilian laws do not countenance the death penalty, for any crimes. Nor does Brazilian law permit jail without possibility of parole. Both the death penalty and life without parole are regarded as cruel and unusual punishment. Brazilian police, on the other hand, firmly believe in the death penalty.
There are cases where police have running gun battles with criminals, in which one or more of the bandidos is wounded, put into a squad car and driven off to the hospital—but somehow, most of these bandidos are DOA—dead on arrival, having died from their wounds.
There are cases where police go into the slums on a mission, some bandidos are found, put into a squad car and driven off to the police station—but somehow, most of these bandidos are the sort who “resist arrest”, and are DOA.
There are cases where, in slums that were controlled by bandidos, groups of police form unofficial “militias” to protect the populace—but somehow, lots of people living in these slums are deemed to be bandidos, and are DOA.
For years none of those cases was ever investigated, for lots of reasons. First, a majority of Brazilians subscribe to the phrase “the only good bandido is a dead bandido”. Second, a lot of the killings are “only” collateral damage in the turf wars between drug lords and their paid protectors (the police). Third, a majority of the police consider “ratting” on their colleagues a worse crime than killing a bandido.
Fourth, even if you do investigate killings, and file charges, the court system in Brazil will probably release them—nobody with money goes to jail. Fifth, if you do investigate these killings, you will be threatened by the people who perpetrated them, whom we will call “vigilantes”.
In recent years, things have begun to change, ever so slightly. More and more Brazilians have become cognizant that flimsy excuses of “resisting arrest” and “collateral damage” just do not sit well with their consciences, or with the rest of the world — and the rest of the world is now watching very closely. Some few criminal court judges, district attorneys, and even police, have begun investigating, and have actually caught, tried and convicted vigilantes, who go to jail.
Last week, the vigilantes put 21 bullets into criminal judge Patricia Acioli, a judge who had put vigilantes in jail—their lying excuses didn’t hold up in her court. She had been threatened, but said she wasn’t frightened because people who only threaten are not dangerous.
She was wrong — the 21 bullets are all from police and military small arms — the vigilantes want law enforcement officials to know who they are.
This is the first time this has happened in Rio, but, sadly, it won’t be the last. The police have been glorified by the press for their role in “pacifying” the favelas, and driving out the drug dealers, while people who live there have been saying the police are mostly just vigilantes.
The success of the pacification program will mean that the drug dealers will go elsewhere; corrupt police will no longer get paid to protect them. What’s left? Become vigilantes, and exact tribute from people living in areas at risk.
Now that the vigilantes have, once again, carried out the death penalty, without benefit of trial, perhaps the press (and the authorities) will listen.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, moved here thirty-plus years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)