BRAZIL'S KILLER COPS

The Olympic Games are set to be­gin in Rio de Janeiro in a mat­ter of months. They could turn out to be the most dan­ger­ous Games of all time. Be­cause a civil war is rag­ing on Su­gar­loaf Moun­tain, and right in the mid­dle of it all is a mil­i­tary po­lice force w

iD magazine - - Current Events -

The po­lice don’t go on pa­trol– they go on the prowl...

More than 50,000 sol­diers serve in Rio de Janeiro’s mil­i­tary po­lice force. While they’re on duty they usu­ally rep­re­sent the law. But af­ter hours, many of them col­lect kick­backs, traf­fic in drugs, and even work as con­tract killers. But if any of the po­lice of­fi­cers gets killed, the re­tal­i­a­tion is im­me­di­ate: Dozens of res­i­dents liv­ing near the crime scene are ar­bi­trar­ily “ques­tioned,” tor­tured, and in the end— shot. In the last year alone more than 100 mur­dered po­lice of­fi­cers have been avenged in this way.

Warn­ing via text mes­sage: “Stay off the streets… There will be a purge and no one to pro­tect us.”

About 1.4 mil­lion of Rio’s 6.3 mil­lion res­i­dents live in fave­las (slums), with the vast ma­jor­ity liv­ing be­low the poverty line. At the same time Rio has one of the world’s high­est mur­der rates. Ev­ery day fierce clashes flare up in the fave­las be­tween ri­val gangs and cor­rupt po­lice. If uni­formed of­fi­cers are spot­ted in a district, neigh­bors im­me­di­ately send around a mass text mes­sage: “Get out of the area as fast as you can. Or go in­side and take cover— don’t be seen on the streets. There will be a purge, and there is no one to pro­tect us.”

The first bul­let of the night pierces a dealer’s left eye. The 14-year- old is in­stantly killed, and the shooter can’t be iden­ti­fied. For a mo­ment the five po­lice of­fi­cers and seven gang­sters face one an­other, to­tally mo­tion­less. They had been ne­go­ti­at­ing pro­tec­tion money—which is busi­ness as usual. But then a high-strung po­lice sniper perched atop one of the roofs in the back­ground ac­ci­den­tally pressed his fin­ger against the trig­ger—and the bat­tle had be­gun…

“Ev­ery­one run for cover!” But four of the deal­ers are not fast enough. The re­main­ing deal­ers call for backup on their ra­dios and pro­ceed to empty their ma­chine guns in the di­rec­tion of their op­po­nents. Chil­dren serv­ing as look­outs set off sig­nal flares on the sur­round­ing hills: “En­e­mies are in the Alemão—and the bat­tle is in­tense!” Amid the muf­fled stac­cato bursts of gun­fire the fight­ers flee deeper into the wind­ing al­ley­ways of the favela. Be­cause they know the en­emy: the mil­i­tary sol­diers—killers in uniform. Some deal­ers pray breath­lessly as they run away…

More than 50,000 mil­i­tary sol­diers are sta­tioned in Rio de Janeiro. Their equip­ment is com­pa­ra­ble to what U.S. units in Afghanistan work with: ma­chine guns, he­li­copters, ar­mored ve­hi­cles, and heavy weapons. Their mis­sion is also for­mi­da­ble: some­how pacify the seething megacity around Su­gar­loaf Moun­tain. De­spite all their ef­forts, he­li­copters have re­peat­edly been shot down over the fave­las.

“That’s be­cause in the slums a civil war is rag­ing—a war that no one can stop, and that no one wants to stop,”

says Enio Bas­tos of the city’s mil­i­tary po­lice force. Gangs are fight­ing for con­trol of the drugs and arms trade, and they are at least as heav­ily armed as the sol­diers sent to sub­due them.

So are mil­i­tary po­lice pow­er­less? “Not at all. The au­thor­i­ties join in too,” ob­serves Samira Bueno, head of the se­cu­rity think tank Fórum Brasileiro de Se­gu­rança Pública. The po­lice col­lect bribe money, en­ter the drug trade them­selves, or join up with one of the in­nu­mer­able death squads. Cost per con­tract killing: 200 reais ($ 50) and up—de­pend­ing on how dif­fi­cult it is to find the vic­tim. In the past year 580 peo­ple have been killed by a .40- cal­iber po­lice bul­let, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics. “But th­ese fa­tal­ity fig­ures are sig­nif­i­cantly un­der­stated,” says Bueno. Each year more than 5,000 ad­di­tional vic­tims en­ter the of­fi­cial files with an “un­clear cause of death,” and they will re­main buried there for­ever. In­ves­ti­ga­tions? Ob­vi­ated by one word: self-de­fense.

How­ever, Brazil­ian pres­i­dent Dilma Rouss­eff ex­presses a con­sid­er­ably more pos­i­tive view of the city—not sur­pris­ing, since the Olympic Games are due to be held there this sum­mer. That’s why the 68-year- old fo­cuses on things like the heav­enly beaches and the progress on con­struc­tion of the Olympic sta­di­ums—and haven’t David Beck­ham and Madonna just bought houses in the Vidi­gal favela? “Yes, for about 300,000 dol­lars each,” con­firms Señor Bas­tos. “But Vidi­gal is con­sid­ered a peace­ful area.”

Even so, the rest of the more than 700 fave­las are not—al­though the 39 most dan­ger­ous slums have of­fi­cially been “gov­erned” by mil­i­tary po­lice and the army for more than a year. More than 1,600 troops are sta­tioned in the Maré favela alone. It’s a kind of mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship in the mid­dle of Rio. Nev­er­the­less, fire­fights are the or­der of the day here…

“Caveirão! Caveirão!” The shouts echo through the al­leys of the Alemão favela—un­til tar­geted shots abruptly stop them. A caveirão is an ar­mored com­bat ve­hi­cle used by the po­lice; its name means “gi­ant skull,” which refers to the huge skull em­blem on each side of it. An M2 ma­chine gun is mounted to the top—the car­tridges it uses are as long as a child’s hand. Team 19 has ar­rived. Men in com­bat

The price of a mur­der starts at just $ 50

gear get out and get into po­si­tion in groups of two, weapons at the ready. They are the re­in­force­ments for their com­rades in the bat­tle.

“All spread out!” Ev­ery move­ment, ev­ery glance, ev­ery com­mand is pure pre­ci­sion. “Se­cure the sec­tor! Fire at will!” Those who want to keep liv­ing should lay down their weapon now. With laser-like ac­cu­racy the sol­diers shoot their way through the district. Each bul­let hits its mark. Re­sis­tance lasts less than a minute. Any­one still able to run has fled—with a shame­ful ex­cep­tion: three prisoners wear­ing po­lice uni­forms. “Zero One, Team 19 here. We have three col­leagues…” Cap­tain Bu­tra­ge­nio re­ports to his head­quar­ters. He al­ready knows the re­sponse: “Let them go and get out of there.” Ar­rest­ing po­lice of­fi­cers for drug traf­fick­ing would be point­less. Even if a com­plaint were to be filed, where should the pa­per­work be sent?

Cau­tion tape for se­cur­ing the crime scene? Not nec­es­sary. Noth­ing will be in­ves­ti­gated any­way. Some­times it is the pho­tog­ra­phers who cor­don off an area, lest some­one start to clean up be­fore the pho­tos have been taken.

If you’re old enough to hold a weapon, you’re el­i­gi­ble to be­come a Soldado do Morro (ghetto sol­dier)— the as­sault ri­fle is com­pli­men­tary! The city’s ad­min­is­tra­tors es­ti­mate 100,000 young peo­ple in Rio cur­rently have weapons.

More than 100 crosses stand on Copaca­bana Beach. Each one com­mem­o­rates a dead po­lice of­fi­cer. As early as 2010, the Com­plexo do Alemão favela was be­ing stormed by mil­i­tary po­lice in or­der to break the rule of the Co­mando Ver­melho gang. Since then it has b

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