A man identifying himself as a police officer reportedly pointed a gun and fired live rounds at a small gathering of demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening, while another police officer fired live rounds into the air as other police attempted to disperse an anti-FIFA protest during Brazil’s World Cup.
The Associated Press reported Sunday that it had video of the officer firing on the crowd while another man who said he was a police officer fired multiple live rounds into the air. The video, in which an officer fires his pistol before driving away on a motorcycle, is here.
What the Associated Press described as a “small but violent and chaotic” protest took place just a mile from the the Maracana stadium, an iconic Brazilian venue that hosted the World Cup final in 1950 and will do so again on July 13 of this year. Police also fired tear gas at the protesters.
A government statement sent to the AP said that protesters had thrown Molotov cocktails at police. The protests that began in Brazil during the Confederations Cup in June 2013 originally focused on the amount Brazil is spending to host the World Cup, but sometimes violent police responses to protesters — and police brutality in other parts of Brazilian society — have sparked demonstrations of their own. The large scale demonstrations, in fact, briefly became known for the fact that Brazilians were taking to the streets with vinegar-soaked rags in an effort to protect themselves from tear gas and pepper spray used by police to quell protesters.
“We’re seeing tonight the same police brutality we’ve seen during the past year, and that’s why we have to keep protesting,” one protester told the AP.
The AP reported that protesters were smashing windows in businesses as they demonstrated, though The Nation’s Dave Zirin, who was near the march, said on Twitter that he did not see that happen. And even if this protest did turn violent thanks to small groups of protesters, the response of police officers to Brazilian protests and larger security and police policies have drawn widespread attention and questioning.
One focus of protests in Rio last summer was the death of a 17-year-old boy during a demonstration, and protesters later focused on Amarildo de Souza, a man whose disappearance from his favela neighborhood was blamed on police; 20 were later investigated and charged with his murder. Brazilian police were also filmed beating a fan in the bathroom of a soccer match earlier this year, and there have been protests against the government policy of pacification, in which police and military forces have (sometimes violently) taken over favelas in an effort to rid them of drug and criminal activity (some residents have told media outlets that the police methods, however, are only making those problems worse).
Brazil, according to international data reported by the Wall Street Journal last year, has one of the highest rates of police brutality in the world, and Human Rights Watch has said that Brazilian police kill more than 1,000 people a year in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Brazil’s methods of investigating police brutality and crimes have been criticized as allowing officers to act with impunity — a 2005 report said Brazil’s oversight procedures “have been an almost compete failure in bringing about police accountability,” and though the situation has improved since, groups like HRW have said much more progress needs to be made.
Brazil planned to spend nearly $1 billion on security around the World Cup, as it trained special police forces and invested in surveillance and other technology. There are fears that large security spending investments and practices against protesters will only further the problems that already exist, and Human Rights Watch and other groups had already called for widespread investigations and policy changes before this latest incident.
A government spokesperson told the AP that “we’ll immediately open an investigation into the incident” if the video’s accuracy is verified.