Violence is the leading cause of death among black males in Brazil, shrinking their life expectancy more than ten years below the country’s average. At a time when lethal violence against whites has been going steadily down in Brazil, it has practically doubled for blacks over the last decade, says Muggah.
With the 2016 Summer Olympic Games heading shortly to Rio, a massive influx of athletes and tourists from all over the world will present a similarly massive logistical and security challenge for the struggling city. Areas near the games and expressways will be patrolled by nearly seven times the usual number of military police officers, in addition to private security, unarmed guards, and officers from law-enforcement agencies throughout the country.
Despite all that extra security, Muggah says the poorest areas of the city could actually experience a dearth of policing resources during the games, as security resources are diverted to Olympic venues and tourist areas.
“Some people [in the favelas] are going to experience a sense of relief, because they fear the police,” Muggah says. “But probably a larger number are experiencing a sense of looming dread as the Olympics approach.”
Before the most recent uptick in police-involved killings over the last 18 to 24 months, the region experienced several years of declining police violence thanks to a real attempt to foster community trust through a program called Pacifying Police Units (UPPs). The police also created a prosecutorial unit specifically meant to investigate police and prison abuses, called the GAESP.
The UPPs install themselves directly inside favelas, where gang and drug cartel activity is most rampant. Their constant presence initially drove down crime significantly in these areas, and is still functioning that way in some favelas. But rising mistrust of the police has largely diminished the credibility of the UPPs, turning them into an occupying force that is perceived as a real source of danger, even if they do drive down gang-related crime.
Muggah traces the unraveling of the program to a single defining event in Rio: the 2013 disappearance of Amarildo de Souza, a 43-year-old bricklayer who lived in the Rocinha favela. De Souza was brought in for questioning about drug trafficking by UPP officers, and never heard from again. UPP cameras showed him entering the facility, but they malfunctioned during the time he was supposedly let go. His disappearance sparked widespread outrage in the Rocinha favela and throughout Rio.
“This was a sort of inflection point that set off an electric reaction. It confirmed to many people that [the UPP program] was a smokescreen, and generated waves of anxiety and frustration that signaled the turning of society against the pacification program,” Muggah says.
That event, as well as a spate of other killings, especially those of children by stray bullets or during raids, have further increased mistrust in police and general crime and violence in the city. Rio’s suffering under a prolonged economic recession has deepened that pattern.
Meanwhile, according to Human Rights Watch’s report, the good law-enforcement officers in Rio pay a steep price for the crimes of their peers.
“One thing that surprised me was the deep fear among police officers of other officers,” says Muñoz. “When you’re a cop trying to do the right thing and your fellow officer kills somebody, what do you do? If you report him, you risk being killed, too.”
This post appears courtesy of CityLab.