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“You killed my son”: Report dissects Police action in Brazil

“There are agents of the state who have registered 19, 20 or 40 cases of ‘resistance followed by death”, and that sounds odd: so much resistance, so many killings linked to just one person.” – Interviewed public defensor

Yesterday (03/08/2015) Amnesty International published their newest report about deaths caused by police intervention. Titled “You killed my son” the document overviews extrajudicial deaths that occurred in Rio de Janeiro between 2014 and 2015, more specifically in the Acari favela. They crossed interviews, testimonies and statistics from many fonts that ended up showing an alarming but predictable picture about the way police officers work in Brazil.

The report begins detailing the humanitarian duties assumed by the Brazilian State and granted by the Constitution and International laws. The starting point is the right to life, considered by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights as essential, because without it all the other rights are compromised.

“On the one hand, the State has the obligation to take the necessary measures to not only prevent and penalize the deprivation of life as a consequence of criminal acts, but also to avoid extrajudicial executions committed by its own security forces.”

To stop these executions there are UN documents recommending some basic guidelines for the use of force by police forces, being them: Legitimate objective, necessity and proportionality. However what we see is that the war on drugs legitimate excesses and injustices, including the manifest support of almost half the civil population that, in survey, said to agree with the statement “a good is a dead crook”.

In previous attempt to lower the criminality rates and the use of force we saw the creation of the UPPs but the report point to a possible suffocation of these precarious initiatives due to a lack of broader politics to include these Unities in a bigger logic of poverty and police abuse reduction. As it’s showed by statistic, today’s Brazil is still hindered by it’s past: almost 80% of the people killed by police intervention in Brazil are black and poor.

Those who live in the favelas also are familiar with execution tactics. Cases where police officers invade homes without mandates to entrap the execution target are so common that there’s even a name for it: Troy.

“A large group of police officers, with various vehicles, enters the favela, making lots of noise, and then leaves. Except that a few officers stay behind in the favela, hiding in a house waiting for the traffickers to appear. It’s an execution tactic. No one wants to arrest anyone. It can’t even be called a tactic really, can it? But what’s the idea behind it? When the traffickers appear, the police officers who are hiding execute them.” – Interviewed police officer.

Impunity walks side by side with excess. The heavy weaponry and it’s indiscriminate use obviously generate collateral damage that are rarely assumed by the police. Even deaths of surrendered or hurt criminals are overseen due to lack of a proper judgement. With only 5% to 8% of the homicides in Brazil being elucidated it isn’t strange to see the rise of the mantra “shoot first, ask later” in the police forces.

“There are agents of the state who have registered 19, 20 or 40 cases of ‘resistance followed by death”, and that sounds odd: so much resistance, so many killings linked to just one person.” – Interviewed public defensor

Despite the individual judgements, the report also studies the responsible institutions and the justice spheres that allow the perpetuation of this scenario:

“In cases where police records indicate that the victim was linked to illegal drug selling, the investigation merely validates the police officers’ claim that the death occurred in self-defence. The investigation does not consider whether the police’s use of force was necessary and proportionate. On the contrary, the whole process seeks to give legitimacy to that homicide, supposedly carried out with just cause and necessity.”

In other words, there’s a inertia to be overcame before the proper changes can be made. But the victims of this police abuses are the ones who need the police and justice the most to grant their rights, however many of them feel threatened and are coerced not to go ahead with the complaints. The report shows that victims, witness and activists fear violence and threats because they’re a recurrent practice of the police officials.

In the end the Amnesty International lists their recommendations to many spheres of power with the intent of help to overcome this problems. Among them I highlight the recommendations to the National Congress asking for laws to make investigations easier in cases of violent death involving State agents and to incorporate in the Constitution the conduct principles recommended by the UN related to the use of force by connected with law enforcement.

The report “You killed my son” presents all these information with more details, the due fonts and na ideal format for digital reading. There’s also individual testimonies long the text that illustrate the data by showing the human suffering that can be underestimated when dealing only with numbers. In a subject like this it is indeed important to align intellectual efforts with the empathy towards the other.

You can find the full report here (In english). All graphics and charts used here were taken from the report.