By C.H. Gardiner
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Rio elected its new governor, Wilson Witzel, on his promise to give police the tools and legal protection necessary to target and kill criminals. From his government’s perspective, that tactic seems to be working.
In the last several months the number of homicides in Rio has dropped significantly. In March there was a 32 percent decrease compared with the previous year.
However, in the same period there has been a 18 percent increase in the number of people killed by police, leaving many Brazilian human rights activists warning that the reduction in crime comes at the cost of having further innocents caught in the crossfire and that little has been done to combat the impunity in which police kill.
Two men shot in the Manguinhos neighborhood of Rio show indications that they may have been targeted by snipers shooting from a tower in the civil police headquarters.
Brazilian news site Extra reports that the autopsy of one of the men shows that he was shot with a rifle and from an elevated position like the tower. There is no evidence that either of the men were armed or involved with drug trafficking.
The use of snipers was one of Witzel’s campaign proposals for how he wanted to empower police.
Fourteen alleged drug traffickers were killed in a February operation by the city’s Choque special operations unit. Family and friends of those killed say that the traffickers had surrendered in a house and that the police executed them. A police statement said that the soldiers killed the traffickers in a shootout.
Witzel praised the operation and said that the police had acted legitimately.
For the police on the street, they say they are finally getting much-needed support.
“Witzel is putting us to work. The previous administration limited many of our options because they feared bad press,” A soldier from the military police’s elite BOPE special operations unit told The Rio Times on the condition that his name would not be used.
“The situation in fallet, where the Choque killed 14 criminals, that would not have happened under the previous administration. This new governor has our back,” the soldier said.
For the family of those innocents killed in police operations, the road to any justice or compensation seems impossible.
Last year a 28-year old fisherman named Deivison Farias de Mouro was sitting on his porch cradling his newborn son and speaking with his brothers as they cleaned fish.
Suddenly a gunshot cracked the air. Then two more. De Mouro fell to the ground, a bullet wound leaking blood from his chest inches from where he held his child.
Deivison’s brother Diogo was there during the shooting. “He died instantly. As soon as he hit the ground, he was out, and the baby fell to the side.”
Diogo said that when he looked in the direction of the gunshots, he saw a group of military police pointing their guns to where Deivison had stood a moment ago.
“We knew it was the police that shot him. We even got witnesses saying they saw the police shooting in the direction of our house.
However, the authorities never did an investigation. On the first day, the homicide department came and said they would be collecting the police’s guns and doing a ballistic analysis, but none of that ever happened,” Diogo said.
In the months following Deivison‘s shooting his family has not heard back from the government regarding the status of the case. Messages to the public defender assigned have gone unanswered.
Deivison’s mother, Marlene Farias de Silva, has trouble sleeping, and the kids in the household run for cover under tables or furniture at any loud noises.
An official statement from the police at the time said that the soldiers rushed to the location when they heard gunshots but did not fire themselves. The case is ongoing.
Additional oversight on police killings is something that both Bolsonaro and Witzel have shunned, and it seems like there is unlikely to be any resolution under the Witzel government for cases like Deivison’s.
For Diogo, police are already too willing to shoot. “To them, it’s all a war zone. The police come in and just start shooting everywhere. They don’t care who they kill.”