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Brazilians outraged by police brutality cases

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April 11, 1997
Web posted at: 4:20 p.m. EST

From Correspondent Marina Mirabella

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- In the span of a week, Brazilians have been outraged by two dramatic examples of police officers out of control.

First, Brazilian TV aired an amateur video showing Sao Paulo state police extorting money and torturing men at a roadblock, shooting two and killing one. A few days later, more amateur video showed Rio police lining up a group of slum dwellers and beating them.

movie icon (1M/28 sec. QuickTime movie) - amateur video

Brazilians are shocked to see their police abusing their power but not necessarily surprised. "I'm afraid it happens more than we want to admit," said one Brazilian woman.

A report released this week supports her suspicions. According to the Human Rights Watch/Americas report, police violence is all too common in Brazil.

"The police are routinely violent, and when they are violent, unfortunately the appropriate authorities do not investigate adequately," said James Cavallaro, the Brazil office director of Human Rights Watch/Americas. "It's precisely the impunity that is guaranteed police officers, which guarantees that their crimes will continue."

Human rights groups have described police forces in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as among the most violent in the world.

"The police are badly trained and badly paid, and they're not respected," said Emir Sader of the Sao Paulo Center for the Study of Violence. "Instead of enforcing the law, they're raising the level of violence in this society."

Police brutality in Brazil is nothing new. Other cases in recent years:

  • In 1992, when a riot broke out in a Sao prison, police shock troops moved in, killing 111 inmates.

  • In 1993, a group of policemen randomly killed 21 civilians in the Rio slum of Vigario Geral.

  • In 1995, a robbery suspect was subdued by Rio police, dragged behind a van and shot three times in the back.

    movie icon (493K/12 sec. QuickTime movie) - 1995 incident

Most of the policemen involved in those cases were never punished.

However, after the Brazilian TV broadcast stunned the nation, Brazil's president signed a decree establishing a human rights watchdog, and sanctioned a bill making torture a crime for the first time in Brazil.

Human rights groups say his actions are too weak to make a dent in police violence, partly because the police investigate their own crimes. That's "practically a guarantee of impunity," Cavallaro said.

Officers charged with crimes are also tried in separate police courts, which tend to be more lenient than civilian courts.

All of the policemen seen in the Brazilian TV broadcasts are now under arrest, and human rights groups are calling for civilian trials. They say being tried by the same courts that try other criminals would be a first step to ending the impunity that perpetuates police violence in Brazil.

 
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