Brazilians outraged by police brutality cases
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.
(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
- 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.
(493K/12 sec. QuickTime movie) - 1995 incident
Most of the policemen involved in those cases were never
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
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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