By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An eleven-year-old girl was killed last week in a police operation targeting drug traffickers in the Quitanda favela in the Complexo da Pedreira in Costa Barros, Zona Norte (North Zone). Authorities investigating the death of a police officer in Complexo do Alemão just days earlier say the two tragedies were connected as operations continued to search for suspects.
The fatalities have made headline news in Rio and Brazil, and have led to criticisms of the way in which the police operations were carried out.
The death of the eleven-year-old girl, Bruna da Silva Ribeiro, sparked angry demonstrations: five buses were sprayed with anti-police slogans, and later, after the girl’s funeral, family members led further protests.
Ribeiro’s mother, Anailza Rodrigues da Silva, cast blame on police tactics: “The operations ended in nothing. No drugs, no criminals. The story is always the same: the police, the criminals or innocent people die. My daughter is the victim of these pointless operations,” she said.
More protests have followed since; on Tuesday, NGO Rio de Paz – “Rio of Peace” – staged a larger protest on Copacabana beach using the number 20752 – the number of the girl’s cemetery plot where she was buried: the organization is calling on authorities not to allow Ribeiro to be just another statistic.
The death follows that of Fabiana Aparecida de Souza, an officer in the Polícia Militar (Military Police, PM), who was killed after being shot in the Nova Brasília UPP (Police Pacification Unit) in the sprawling Complexo do Alemão favelas in Zona Norte.
President Dilma Rousseff said Souza was a “heroine” and called her death a “sacrifice in the never-ending fight to secure long-term peace” in Rio’s favela communities, but family members called police training into question.
It later was revealed that the shooting in Nova Brasília was directly connected to the BOPE-led Quitanda operation: criminals flushed from Complexo do Alemão area had apparently taken shelter in Quitanda.
Police say the number of officers in and around the Complexo do Alemão UPPs could be increased by a third to 1,800. A hundred extra officers were drafted in last weekend as a precaution.
The area was first occupied by the Pacification Forces in November 2010, which led to drugs traffickers fleeing the area. After struggling for years to take control of the streets, the army finally handed control over to the Polícia Militar at the beginning of July, and since then six UPPs had been installed in the Alemão and Penha favela complexes.
In all, officials say since 2008 over 140 communities in Rio are now benefiting from the 25 UPPs which have now been installed. According to police, more than 5,500 officers are stationed in these recently pacified areas.