A child teaches that Rio police must reduce violence

Eleven-year-old Juan Moraes Neves disappeared June 20 from the Danon favela in Nova Iguaçu. The four police officers reportedly linked to his disappearance are said to have been involved in 37 deaths of suspects in confrontation with the police, or autos de resistência. Juan’s body was found in a river ten days later, but at first mistakenly identified as that of a girl. Bullets found in the alley where Juan was when police shot his brother and another victim all came from the gun of one police officer. Juan was at last buried July 7.

Here follows a useful and timely opinion piece about Juan, published in O Globo July 14 2011.

Para o artigo original em português, clique aqui

What we can learn from Juan

By Ignacio Cano, Uerj professor and a member of the Laboratory for the Analysis of Violence

Young Juan was killed during a police operation that presumably targeted others. This is why some of the victims were falsely accused of narcotrafficking. But since Juan was too young for the police to pretend he was shooting at them, they tried to hide his body. Civil society’s strong response forced the state to investigate, and the body was found. His family had to enroll in the witness protection program, in a typical scenario where the state must hide the victims because it’s incapable of containing the perpetrators.

Juan’s is not an isolated case. A great deal of evidence shows that police-incurred deaths in Rio consist partly of legitimate confrontations, and partly of summary executions. The former should be minimized and the latter, eliminated.

When a police action in Rio results in a death, it’s classified an “auto de resistência” [death resulting from a confrontation with police], a term that isn’t in the Penal Code  and was created during the [1964-1985] dictatorship to prevent the arrest of police officers caught in the act of homicide. This category, which doesn’t exist in other Brazilian states, helps to ensure that the police version of events prevails unchallenged, and that no investigation is carried out. In general, there’s no crime scene investigation because the bodies are taken to the hospital, ruining the crime scene, with the argument that it’s an area at risk. Witnesses are rarely interviewed, either because they’re afraid to come forward, or because the Civil Police carry out no real investigation. The chief detective is never seen at the crime scene. The state prosecutor’s office, with the honorable exceptions of Paulo Roberto Melo Cunha and Alexandre Temístocles, has long remained silent regarding these inquiries, and recommends they be shelved, even given evidence of summary execution (point-blank shooting, etc.). The courts tend to accept such recommendations. Overall, up until now there has been an institutional conspiracy for these deaths to pass through the criminal justice system without due investigation.

Thus it was necessary that a victim of extreme innocence, such as Juan, should appear, so that the illegality and horror of this mechanism could be exposed. There have been some positive reactions, however. The Civil Police created an ordinance to try to guarantee the investigation of such deaths, with measures such as the use of the CORE [the elite corps of the Civil Police, Rio's investigative police] to keep crime scenes intact. The prosecutor’s office has filed a complaint against several police officers for murder. But it’s not enough. It’s not possible or acceptable that a group of police officers involved in dozens of “autos de resistência“, aren’t followed or checked up on. In other places, police officers who take part in just one ocurrence with a resultant death are taken off the street and receive psychological treatment, and there are meetings with the commanders of the most lethal battalions to take preventive measures.

The number of recognized deaths at the hands of the Rio police is very high, much more than in other states with comparable violence levels. The Rio [state] government recently included “autos de resistência” in the total of violent deaths, and police are meant to bring these numbers down. This is good news, but we must also create specific targets for the reduction of police-induced deaths. A state that once awarded police for killing (the so-called “Far West bonuses”), owes society a stimulus in the other direction.

While the police pacification units attempt to reduce violence, the rest of the police stick to the old model. Recently, a police officer was killed in Costa Barros, and the police response was to carry out an operation in the region and kill six men, with no evidence of their having taken part in the officer’s death. The sinister 6-1 scorecard might make sense in the realm of the old notion of group honor that must be restored, but it couldn’t be further from the concept of a modern police force. According to this concept, those reponsible for the policeman’s death must be investigated and arrested.

Pacification cannot be limited to eighteen or fifty islands in the territory of Rio de Janeiro state. It should be a principle of inspiration for the entire public safety policy. As is the case with all the families of the victims of violence, Juan’s family must hope that his death was not in vain.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro almost 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to A child teaches that Rio police must reduce violence

  1. Pingback: Corrupt cops and the City of God Hywel Teague

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