Up to 120 sharpshooters will accompany Rio de Janeiro police into the city’s slums to eradicate violent gun-toting criminals, according to Flavio Pacca – a longtime associate and security adviser to Governor-elect Wilson Witzel.
The marksmen will work in pairs; one shooter and one spotter who will monitor conditions and videotape the executions, according to Bloomberg, with the two officers alternating roles.
“The protocol will be to immediately neutralize, slaughter anyone who has a rifle,” said Witzel – a former Brazilian marine and federal judge, on December 12. “Whoever has a rifle isn’t worried about other people’s lives, they’re ready to eliminate anyone who crosses their path. This is a grave problem, not just in Rio de Janeiro, but in other states.”
According to Flavio Pacca – a police officer and regular attendee at Witzel’s transition meetings, groups of 20 policemen will begin undergoing month-long marksman training as soon as March. Those who qualify as deadly at 600 meters will begin “servicing targets” in the cartel-controlled favelas, where residents are under the constant threat of drug traffickers and gang wars.
As Bloomberg notes, the notion of “imminent danger” which justifies an extrajudicial killing is a gray area.
“That concept is changing; it’s not for nothing that Bolsonaro was elected, not for nothing that Witzel was elected,” said Pacca – pointing to a jewelry-store thief who used an octogenarian as a human shield while escaping. When the thief stumbled, police shot him dead at point-blank range. “The people gave the police an ovation. That’s what you’re going to see.”
Witzel – like President-elect Jair Bolsonaro, gained support during Brazil’s October elections running on a campaign of zero tolerance for criminals who have made daily life in Rio a harrowing ordeal. Rio will essentially be a proving ground for Bolsonaro’s advocacy of maximum force with the use of extrajudicial killings.
Last year there were 5,346 homicides in Rio – an eight-year high, while muggings and robberies have more than doubled since 2011. To try and address the crime, President Michel Temer in February put the army in control of security through the end of the year.
Central to Witzel’s stepped-up enforcement efforts will be a security council that reports to him directly, as well as a planned surveillance network utilizing as many as 30,000 security cameras. Earlier in the month Witzel traveled to Israel to meet with Elbit Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries – both of which develop drone technology.
Bolsonaro, meanwhile, has said that cops who kill criminals should be given medals – and has promised to legally protect those who do.
Days after the election, video showed Rio police loading the limp, bleeding bodies of two young men accused of drug trafficking into the bed of a pick-up. Bystanders cheered, with one yelling Bolsonaro’s name.
“The NGOs, human rights activists and United Nations will have a fit,” Alexandre Frota, a congressman-elect, said on Twitter while sharing the video. “But the cleansing must be done.”
Crime pervades Rio: Stray bullets strike schoolchildren. Residents of means are averse to conspicuous consumption. Commuters alter routes to avoid danger and the price of car insurance spiked with the surge in carjacking. –Bloomberg
“I prefer the criminals get slaughtered instead of the criminals slaughtering us,” said 41-year-old Suelen Souza, who sells stuffed potatoes at the bottom of the Dona Marta favela where a police officer was shot int neck earlier this month. Souza says Witzel’s offensive could make it safer for her daughters to play in the neighborhood again. Her husband, engineer Jose Olympio Souza said “a shock of morality showing the government has strength – not indefinitely, but initially – would be good.”
Even before Witzel announced his new policies, Rio’s police were known for resorting to force. As Bloomberg notes, “More people died at their hands during the first 11 months of 2018 than any year since state records begin in 2003,” killing 1,444 – an increase of 39% over 2017.
Not all are justified. On a rainy September day, a 26-year-old man awaited his wife and two children in their hillside favela that looks out over Copacabana beach. Police mistook his umbrella for a rifle and shot him, according to local press reports. He died en route to hospital, and photos in local media showed pages of his employment booklet ringed with blood. –Bloomberg
“The Bolsonaro-Witzel duo is a concern for those who value democracy, value human rights, value the lives of people in the favelas,” said Julita Lemgruber, who coordinates the Center for Security and Citizenship Studies at Rio’s Candido Mendes University.
Rio’s acting security secretary, General Richard Nunes, said that violence alone can’t completely solve crime.
“If we don’t address public security with a broader vision, instead of thinking things get resolved by tactical, direct confrontation, the tendency for indicators is to worsen,” said Nunes – calling the jump in police killings this year “totally undesirable and unexpected.”