Allegations of Police Brutality in Rocinha

By Matthew Elliott, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Resident’s testimonies and official complaints have brought allegations of police brutality in Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela. In a special report following the well-publicized disappearance of one resident, Amarildo, last seen in police custody, O Globo’s Sunday night current affairs show “Fantastico” uncovered numerous accounts of intimidation and violence against the population.

Protest Outside UPP Station in Rocinha, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

Protests outside the UPP station in Rocinha, photo by Matthew Elliott.

The report included several first-hand accounts of violence, stressing the prevalence of malicious practice by authorities since the inception of Rocinha’s Police Pacification Unit (UPP). It comes at the end of a difficult week for the unit, which saw key witnesses in the Amarildo case request federal protection amidst allegations of bribery and intimidation.

In the televised news program, police abuse is captured on video with one man being publicly beaten after objecting to a police search back in April. That same month, community leader Carlos Eduardo Barbosa and a group of residents brought the first allegations of violence by the UPP to the State Council for the Defense of Human Rights.

Barbosa claimed that his brother was mistaken for a drug dealer and beaten. “The police started beating his face and slapped his face, grabbed his throat tight, punched his stomach,” he said, adding that his fear now “is to continue being invisible, to be in alleys alone, when no-one knows what is happening with us.”

Prosecutor Gláucia Costa Santana explained the arbitrary methods of control often employed by the UPP force. “I heard one mother saying that police entered their homes at any time, day or night, saying that they suspected there was a stash of drugs. They brought teenagers outside to ask questions and press them for information about where the weapons or drugs were.”

The complaints were forwarded to the General Command of the Military Police and the command of the UPPs. According to the Human Rights Council, the commanders said they were already aware of what was happening in Rocinha.In a statement, a spokesman for the Military Police said that they “never cease to pursue any concrete information that reaches the Command UPP about police misconduct.”

The tightly-packed Rocinha favela is notoriously hard to police, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News

The tightly-packed Rocinha favela is notoriously hard to police, photo by Alexandre Macieira/Riotur.

Rocinha resident and primary school teacher Joanna Ferreira Da Silva spoke to The Rio Times about the events depicted in the broadcast. “Fantástico may often look to exaggerate in order to draw more viewers but the program did reflect the truth,” she said.

Da Silva added that, to her knowledge, “BOPE (The special police force) were worse before pacification, now innocent people are not usually attacked by police although traffickers and criminals certainly are.”

Nevertheless, five officers, including an ex-commander have already been indicted on accusations of brutality. Meanwhile the integrity of the Military Police took a further blow when it was revealed that two key witnesses in the Amarildo disappearance case had been removed from the city by the Human Rights Secretariat with the assistance of the Federal Police.

The mother and her teenage son were asked to join the Program for Child Protection and Adolescents Threatened with Death after the boy withdrew his testimony that drug traffickers were responsible for the disappearance. He cited police coercion and bribery as the reasons for his original deposition.

Rocinha was pacified in November 2011 as part of a government program to assert control over the city’s favelas, many of which were previously run by drug trafficking organizations. There are currently 34 police pacification units in Rio with the number set to expand further in the coming years.