By C.H. Gardiner
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Jair Bolsonaro government has championed crime statistics showing a drop in murders throughout the country, but research shows that the number of mass shootings in Rio de Janeiro has remained constant since last year.
The Brazilian data laboratory Fogo Cruzado told The Rio Times Thursday that a police operation in Belford Roxo left three people dead, bringing the number of mass shootings to 33. To qualify as a mass shooting, a case must involve at least three deaths. The total number of civilians killed in greater Rio from such events reached 133 this week.
Police operations were responsible for many of the mass shootings. The more prominent cases this year include the February 8th killing of thirteen alleged traffickers in Fallet, which the Homicide Department is investigating for signs the police may have executed the men, and a police operation in Maré last month in which members of the CORE special operations unit killed eight alleged traffickers.
So far, 2019 has set a record for the number of killings by police. Authorities have killed more in the first trimester of this year than at any point in the last two decades. Meanwhile, 2019 has seen a sharp reduction in the number of police killed in the line of duty with the number dropping by half when compared with the same period last year.
Anna Maria Ramos, a resident of the Mangueira favela in Rio’s North Zone, told The Rio Times Wednesday that police have become more violent since Bolsonaro and Governor Wilson Witzel have come into power. “The police are just doing whatever they want now. They come into the favela shooting without considering who they hit because they know nothing will happen. Nobody is going to investigate.”
A police sergeant, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said that since Witzel assumed office, he feels that police are more free to do their job. He said that the actions in favelas were necessary to reduce the number of lethal weapons available to criminals.
“If we just leave them alone they will get more and more weapons, AKs and AR-15s. The other day we found an anti-tank missile! Eventually, they will have enough weapons to cause real damage. So we need to go in and take those weapons off the street,” the Sergeant said.
Witzel was elected on a platform promising police greater freedom in using lethal force against criminals. Since entering office, he has made several very public displays of support for the police, including commanding the operations in Fallet and Maré that left 21 people dead.
A relative of one of the men killed said that it was not the place for police to decide who should live or die. “Regardless of what those boys were doing, the police need to arrest them not just shoot them. In the end, they need to face justice, not a bullet.”