In the U.S., a series of deaths has forced the nation’s public conscience to cope with the long-standing issue of police violence. But it is in the Americas’ second largest economy where a policy of “shoot first, ask questions later” has seen an epidemic of murder-by-police develop.
Brazil’s population is 50 percent smaller than that of the U.S. but their police forces have killed the same number of people in the last five years as American police have in the last 30 years. From 2008 to 2013, Brazilian police killed around 11,000 civilians or six people every day.
“Our police kill by the hundreds,” Ignacio Cano, a sociologist who specializes in the study of crime and police violence, told Bloomberg last year. “We have a Ferguson every day.”
Brazilian police operate under a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy that has contributed to a “soaring homicide rate,” according to a report released by Amnesty International on Monday. Nonetheless, there are many cases where the police act above the law they’re tasked to uphold as they are rarely investigated or brought to justice.
“Faced with high levels of violent crime, some Brazilian police units engage in abusive practices with impunity,” according to a Human Rights Watch report called World Report 2014: Brazil. “In recent years, the São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro state governments have implemented measures aimed at improving police performance and curbing abuses, yet police misreporting and other forms of cover-up persist.”
In Rio de Janeiro, 16 percent of the total homicides in the last five years were committed by on-duty police officers. That’s 1,519 homicides since 2010. It also doesn’t include executions performed by off-duty police. In Acari, a favela north of Rio, 9 out of 10 killings that took place in 2014 by military police were extrajudicial.
It might not be shocking to know that among the foreign forces that have trained Brazil’s military police are two of the U.S.’ most scandal-ridden police forces: the Los Angeles and Chicago Police Departments. The LAPD came under fire late last year for gender, ethnicity, and rank bias while Chicago’s PD was vilified earlier this year after the Guardian uncovered an “off-the-books interrogation compound” that lawyers compared to “a CIA black site.”
Brazilian police in particular have developed a convenient method of avoiding prosecution. Independent investigations and civilian courts can be avoided if the officer files a case of “resistance followed by death.” In such cases, the officer claims that the killing was in self-defense.
“This is often used as a smokescreen to cover up for extrajudicial executions,” the Amnesty report said. “In cases where the police link the victim to criminal gangs, the investigation usually intends to support the testimony of the police that the killing occurred in self-defense instead of determining the circumstances of the homicide.”
Just take the case of 38-year-old Claudia da Silva Ferreira who was shot and then dragged to death behind a police vehicle in Madureira. A year after her death, none of the six officers involved in her death faced trial or any other reprimand. Then there’s the killing of Eduardo de Jesus, a 10-year-old boy shot while sitting by his home in a favela near Rio earlier this year.
“I just heard a bang and a cry … When I ran outside I came across the horrible scene of my fallen son there,” his mother said. When she stood up to the officers that shot her son, a gun was pointed to her head. “Just as I killed your son, I might as well kill you because I killed a bandit’s son,” the officer reportedly told her. The policeman also tried to plant a gun next to young Eduardo in order to incriminate him.
“Too many lives are lost to the toxic cocktail of a violent and ill-resourced police force, communities so poor and marginalized they are hardly visible and a criminal justice system that constantly fails to deliver justice and reparations for human rights violations,” Atila Roque, Director at Amnesty International Brazil said.