HomeNewsBriefPolice Exercise License to Kill in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro
BRIEF

Police Exercise License to Kill in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro

BRAZIL / 26 FEB 2019 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

Killings by police in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro nearly doubled in January 2019 when compared to the previous month -- suggesting that President Jair Bolsonaro's and Governor Wilson Witzel's promises of lethal action against criminal elements have been kept.

On February 22, Brazil’s Institute for Public Security said police killed 160 people in January, an 82 percent increase over December, Estadão reported. The alarming number of deaths in clashes with police coincides with the first month of Bolsonaro's and Witzel’s terms. Both took office on January 1 and promised to implement shoot-to-kill policing tactics.

It was the second highest number of killings for the month of January since 1998.

Alongside this sharp spike in police killings, street crime such as muggings and robberies on public transport hit its highest level since 1991, with 11,230 cases reported.

This violence has continued unabated into February. One operation by military police in the communities of Morro do Fallet and Fogueteiro on February 8 saw 15 people killed in suspicious circumstances.

SEE ALSO: InDepth Coverage of Homicides

Families of the victims have alleged that a number of the young men were rounded up inside a house and massacred.

Others have filed complaints with public defenders saying that some of the victims were shot in the legs to prevent them from running away and then stabbed to death.

However, when asked about the operation in Morro do Fallet, Witzel dismissed the controversy and praised the actions by the military police.

“They work to defend us all. What happened in Morro do Fallet-Fogueteiro was a legitimate action by the military police,” he said.

Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office has opened an investigation into the case.

InSight Crime Analysis

In the run-up to Bolsonaro taking over the presidency, a few seemingly moderate cabinet picks led to hopes that he would temper his pledge to give police a license to kill.

But there was no sign of any wavering from Witzel, a former marine and hardliner who framed his and Bolsonaro's fight against organized crime as a war against terrorists.

The police, who were staunchly behind Witzel’s candidacy for governor of Rio de Janeiro state, have recently spoken out about feeling unfettered and able to act as they see fit. One colonel in Rio’s military police told the press that “this atmosphere, created by a more permissive discourse (from officials), will lead to an increase in lethality.”

And while some hoped that Minister of Justice and Public Safety Sergio Moro would be a voice of restraint, his anti-crime proposals have actually broadened the circumstances in which police can claim to have acted in self-defense.

This harsh crackdown on crime has also been accompanied by the targeting of politicians who have spoken out against these heavy-handed tactics. The March 2018 murder of councilwoman and activist Marielle Franco remains unsolved, but her slaying has been linked to her outspoken criticism of a security crackdown in Rio.

Franco’s political mentor and a congressman from Rio, Jean Wyllys, fled Brazil in late January after receiving death threats.

Given Witzel’s sweeping victory in last year’s election, and the alignment between state and federal security policies, it seems these lethal confrontations are only set to continue.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

COCAINE / 17 JAN 2023

The trial of Mexico’s former top public security official will reveal shortcomings in the fight against organized crime.

BRAZIL / 4 JAN 2023

East and Southern Africa are receiving much larger cocaine shipments from South America than previously imagined.

BRAZIL / 16 JUN 2021

Rio de Janeiro’s foremost militia leader has been gunned down by police, potentially shattering the belief that militias in the…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…

THE ORGANIZATION

‘Ndrangheta Investigation, Exclusive Interview With Suriname President Make Waves

2 DEC 2022

Two weeks ago, InSight Crime published an investigation into how Italian mafia clan the ‘Ndrangheta built a cocaine trafficking network from South America to ‘Ndrangheta-controlled Italian ports. The investigation generated…