The world’s attention is on Sochi, Russia, where the Winter Olympics open Friday, and the problems that have surfaced with the country’s preparations (or lack thereof) for the Games. Across the world, Brazil is playing catch-up in its attempts to prepare for the 2014 World Cup before it begins in June.
As security remains one of the primary concerns around the Cup, video surfaced this week of Brazilian police brutally beating a fan after a club soccer match in the state of Goiás. Reports say that fans of Vila Nova and Atlético-GO clashed shortly after the end of the match, and as police subdued the fight, they corralled one fan in a stadium bathroom. A secret recording showed four members of the Military Police repeatedly striking the fan with batons, even as he went to the ground with his hands covering his head. Watch it, via 101GreatGoals.com:
The media outside Brazil has primarily focused on security at the Brazilian World Cup from the perspective of how it will affect fans traveling to the country. Stories of drug gang violence in Brazilian slums, brutal murders around pick-up soccer matches, and promises of terrorism from drug cartels have spread across the world, raising concerns about whether Brazil will be a safe place for fans to visit.
Violence in Brazilian cities certainly remains a problem, but so does the response to it from police and law enforcement officials. Though corruption and excessive spending were central themes of the protests that flooded Brazilian streets last summer, police brutality was also a subject of contention, as protesters demanded answers in the case of Amarildo de Souza, a Brazilian man whose disappearance and death were blamed on police. Those claims only grew louder as police employed “heavy-handed tactics” in dispersing protesters, firing pepper spray and rubber bullets into large crowds and, at times, directly into the faces of protesters and journalists covering the demonstrations.
This is not, however, a problem caused solely by protests about the World Cup and fights about soccer matches, and incidents of police brutality are not a one-off in Brazilian cities. According to government statistics, Brazilian police killed “one suspect for every 229 they arrested” in 2012, one of the highest figures in the developed world. By comparison, police in the United States, often thought of as a country with abnormally high rates of police brutality, had a rate of one death per 31,575 arrests in 2011. According to Human Rights Watch, police in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo alone kill more than 1,000 people each year.
A 2005 report found that Brazil’s current law enforcement system “has been an almost compete failure in bringing about police accountability,” and that the country lacks basic oversight mechanisms that ensure transparency and accountability for law enforcement officials. The report found that Brazil’s military courts, supposedly in place to help provide oversight, “almost guarantee impunity for the majority of Brazil’s police,” that internal affairs divisions are “slow, secretive, ineffective and biased in favour of the police,” and that “institutional conflicts and limitations have prevented” prosecutors from exerting their powers over police. While Brazilian cities and states have implemented policies aimed at reducing such violence and improving oversight and accountability practices, Human Rights Watch wrote in 2012 that “extrajudicial executions by police remain a serious problem.”
Brazil will spend roughly $900 million on security efforts and infrastructure for the World Cup, training thousands of new law enforcement officers and instituting new surveillance systems. That spending may go a long way in helping World Cup fans and tourists feel safe while they visit Brazil this summer and in 2016. But it will also leave that training and surveillance in the hands of a police force that already has high rates of murder and brutality and, as the above reports show, isn’t exactly accountable to anyone.
The global media has not ignored the issue of police brutality in Brazil ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics — the topic has been covered in major outlets in the United States and elsewhere. Still, much of it has focused on what that could mean for tourists, rather than what it may mean for Brazilians who will remain in the country after the two mega-sporting events are gone — or how the efforts to secure those events could exacerbate the problem. This is also the case in Sochi, where efforts to prevent terrorist attacks and other violence have handed more power and impunity to Vladimir Putin and a Russian government that already faces broad human rights concerns for detaining and intimidating critics of the Kremlin and the Olympics. And it’s the case right here in America too, where we stand in awe of efforts to secure major sporting events like the Super Bowl even as we question the appropriateness of the practices our law enforcement officials and federal bodies like the National Security Agency use regularly.
It is important to secure these events. No one wants to see another Munich or Atlanta, not at the Super Bowl, World Cup, or Olympics. But it’s not just travelers to Sochi or Brazil who deserve to be safe and secure. Russians and Brazilians are entitled to police and national security forces who protect them, and not just when the whole world is watching.