By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Violence in Rio de Janeiro’s largest favela community, Rocinha, has reached unprecedented levels with 54 people killed in the last six months alone, according to Military Police statistics. This figure amounts to sixty percent of all murders in the community in the last four years. Since January 2014, 91 have been killed in Rocinha.
In addition, according to the mobile app “Fogo Cruzado“, which aggregates data related to shootings throughout Rio de Janeiro, this past March, Rocinha registered thirteen homicide victims and 28 shootings, the most of any favela community in Rio.
The majority of March’s thirteen murders occurred in a single day when a Military Police operation on March 25th left eight people dead. Military police officials allege that the victims were drug traffickers who shot at the police officers. Local residents, however, claim that at least some of the victims were innocent residents executed in a revenge mission after a police officer was killed in the community several days earlier.
“Right now things are tense here as there have been many conflicts here between police and traffickers,” explained Rocinha native and Favela Adventures tour operator, Renato da Silva, also known as Zezinho, to The Rio Times. “I still like living here as my life is not defined by these problems.”
The latest murder in Rocinha occurred this past Thursday, March 29th, when Davidson dos Santos, was hit by a stray bullet while sitting on his patio with his six-month-old son on his lap. At his funeral, family members were outspoken in their blame of the Military Police for Dos Santos’ tragic death.
“The bullet that struck my husband and almost hit my son was found, and it was all for nothing” exclaimed Dos Santos’ wife, Adriana Santos. “Are [the police] going to say they confused my son for a gun? That’s what they’ll claim.”
In addition to the incessant violence in the community, a new study conducted by Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law in conjunction with the organization, Observatório de Favelas, confirmed that fear and mistrust of the police among Rio’s favela communities are at all-time highs.
In the study, six thousand residents from the favela communities of Cidade de Deus, Providência, Rocinha, Batan and Maré were interviewed. Sixteen percent reported that they had a friend, acquaintance or family member who had been murdered by a police officer. Twenty percent indicated that they had already been assaulted by police officers or had already had family members assaulted by officers.
Residents were also asked about their opinions regarding police officers who work in the favela community. Interviewees were presented with several possible responses, equally divided between positive and negative words. Among the words were fear, respect, mistrust, admiration, sympathy, indifference, disrespect, indifference, and anger. The interviewee could also add any other word he wanted.
In the end, the two most commonly selected words were fear and mistrust. “The police are often more likely to abuse citizens’ rights than criminals,” the study concluded.
The study also brought to light the residents impressions of the police pacification units (UPPs), first implemented in the Dona Marta favela in 2008.
When residents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement that the UPP has improved the community, forty percent of respondents in Rocinha disagreed that the UPP improved the community, while only twenty percent agreed with this statement.
“The majority of people who live here are good people,” shared Zezinho. “We just want peace and for the government to invest more in education, health care and job opportunities. The answer is not putting more police here. The answer is providing the services that the residents need.”