On both sides of the field: preparedness is tantamount
Rio’s Batalhão de Choque, the crowd control division of the state military police, today showed members of the foreign press an example of their daily training exercises, as Rio approaches the June-July World Cup.
Working in conjunction with police motorcyclists and helicopter imaging personnel, the “Shock Battalion” went through a hierarchy of responses, from negotiation via megaphone with leaders (which solves 90% of all such situations, according to commander André Luiz Araújo Vidal), to arrests (until recently, carried out by another division), to tear gas (colored smoke, not the real stuff). Rubber bullets weren’t used, though they have been in real street violence; after causing serious injuries, the bullets were shelved last October. A water cannon is expected to be available by the time the ball starts getting kicked around.
Click here to watch a video of the helicopter imaging work, plus the “demonstration” at ground level.
Araújo Vidal said the Rio police have been adapting techniques and strategies shared by French and Spanish police.
Police coming off duty hammed up the part of demonstrators, even to the point of chanting the traditional Acordou, o gigante acordou, “The giant has awakened”. They threw empty water bottles at Battalion comrades in formation, then lit a tire and some trash in flames. The challenge of the uniformed police was to arrest those committing crimes, such as acts of vandalism, and disperse the protesters. Araújo Vidal emphasized that demonstrating is a right that Brazilians hold under the democratic regime.
Brazil’s Congress is currently working on a legislative response to the street violence of recent days, particularly the death of a Brazilian cameraman, hit by a firecracker that protesters allegedly threw.
Two hundred Shock Battalion troops will initially be at the ready during each upcoming demonstration, Araújo Vidal said, out of a total corps of 1,000. Martial arts techniques are used in making arrests, although the Rio police don’t call themselves ninjas, as do the São Paulo cops. During a Não vai ter Copa (There’ll be no World Cup) protest last weekend there, police arrested more than 200 people, including several journalists.
“We are concerned with journalists, we want them to use protective gear, and we ask them to stay behind our formation, both so they can see what’s being thrown at us and also for their own protection,” said Araújo Vidal.
Asked what impact last year’s Confederation Cup had on the Battalion’s plans, the commander said it was a laboratory for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games. “We are learning every day,” he added.
While the Rio police have upgraded their training and equipment, the Battalion headquarters, a century-old building, suffers from neglect. Plants grow out of cracks and the antique décor still glorifies militarism, something State Public Safety Secretary José Mariano Beltrame has been trying to downplay among military police since the 2008 rollout of Rio’s program to pacify at least 40 favelas before the Cup starts.
But then, this is the Batalhão de Choque.
Meanwhile, the mood in Rio is unusually sour, with heat, prices and transportation knots top-of-mind for many cariocas. Those who are able to will leave the city over Carnival, which begins this Friday. Those who stay will seek the pleasures of the Momo King — or air conditioning.