While Rio police juggle priorities, violence and fear are still present
According to O Globo newspaper, yesterday TV Band cameraman Gelson Domingos da Silva, 46, was the first journalist to die in Rio de Janeiro covering during a shootout between police and criminals. Silva was wearing a protective vest, but it didn’t stop a rifle bullet.
In 2002 Globo TV reporter Tim Lopes was executed by drug traffickers, in the Complexo do Alemão.
Yesterday’s shootout, which took place in the West Zone of Rio, brings home the more negative implications of Rio’s new public safety policy, implemented starting in 2008. Elite squad occupation, followed by police pacification units and increased municipal services and social programs, has up to now taken place in eighteen favelas or groups of favelas, mostly in the South and North Zones of the city. Policymakers initially said that pacification would focus on these areas.
The poorer West Zone has only one police pacification unit, in Batam. Before the unit was installed, a paramilitary gang tortured three undercover O Dia journalists in Batam, in May, 2008.
As pacification makes inroads, drug traffickers have moved to other favelas and, as in the case of the area where Silva was killed, Antares favela, they try to wrest control from ensconced paramilitary gangs. Militia groups dominate in the West Zone, more than in other areas of the city.
On Friday, a battle between police and alleged criminals in West Zone Vila Kennedy brought panic and school closures, as fleeing targets invaded a school. State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame said that additional pacification units will be installed in the West Zone, but he didn’t say when. Rio’s police are reportedly about to occupy and pacify the one remaining South Zone favela, Rocinha, Nov. 13. Beltrame has also said,in the wake of a judge’s assassination and the arrest of alleged police perpetrators, that paramilitary groups are top priority. So is police corruption.
According to O Globo, a battle has raged in the Vila Kennedy area for five months, with homicide statistics there skyrocketing, in contrast to the numbers in the rest of the city, which have been declining. Vila Kennedy has seen thirty deaths since May.
The occupation and pacification policy’s overall success may have also created an exaggerated sense of safety, for some. Globo reports that Silva, with long experience in reporting on favela violence, went ahead with two police– praying all the way– while other reporters stayed behind. According to a Globo photographer, a communications gap between shock troops and the elite squad resulted in yesterday’s shootout.
Silva’s last footage is embedded in O Dia newspaper’s report on his death, here.