By Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Around 2,000 residents of Rio de Janeiro’s Complexo do Maré favela and hundreds of its supporters gathered on Tuesday to protest against the excessive police violence in their community, which last week resulted in the death of ten amid a police shootout with alleged criminals.
With their march, the demonstrators sought to bring peace to the over 100,000-strong community after the tragic shooting, which occurred on June 24th. The large crowd, which police estimated may have reached 5,000, shut down one lane of Avenida Brasil, one of the city’s main arteries, at footbridge nine from 4PM to 6:30PM.
During the protest, residents expressed their frustration over the incidence of police brutality in Maré, especially directed against innocent citizens.
“We are criminalized for just existing. The criminalization of poverty goes beyond public safety, it goes beyond the tanks. The criminalization comes from the thoughts of the state about what it is to be from the favela,” said Gizele Martins, a Maré resident and the editor of a local Maré newspaper, the Cidadão.
Participants wore black to mourn those whose lives were taken. Some held signs with the names and ages of those who were killed.
Various religious leaders spoke to the crowd from the top of a large truck with speakers, which also played music reflecting pride in the community and Brazil. The mood was solemn but hopeful.
Few details have been confirmed about the shootout with the BOPE (Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais) that occurred last Monday and reportedly lasted 24 hours. The bullets fired by police forces entered the homes of Maré residents, damaging personal property and leaving the neighborhood without power.
Altercations between police and residents are not uncommon in Maré, especially in the lead up to the installation of a Police Pacification Unit (UPP) in the community. Incidents often start when police chase criminals into densely-populated neighborhoods.
Reports of excessive use of violence and police brutality in the violence-riddled favela communities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo are common and have been denounced by foreign human rights organizations in the past.
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