Police killings in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state reach record high

Orlando Dos Santos stands at a car workshop in Rio de Janeiro where he works during an interview with AP on May 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Updated 04 May 2019
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Police killings in Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state reach record high

  • Police forces in Rio killed 434 people during clashes in the first quarter of 2019
  • The rise comes under the watch of Gov. Wilson Witzel, who calls drug traffickers “narco-terrorists”

RIO DE JANEIRO: Police killings in the state of Rio de Janeiro have hit a record high, rising by 18% in the first three months of this year in a spike partly attributed to a zero tolerance for criminals campaign by state leaders.
Official data reviewed by The Associated Press show police forces in Rio killed 434 people during clashes in those months, compared to 368 people in same period last year.
The number, released on April 17, is the highest since record keeping began in 1998.
The rise comes under the watch of Gov. Wilson Witzel, a former marine and political ally of far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Witzel has promised a zero tolerance policy against criminals, calling drug traffickers “narco-terrorists” and vowing to ease gun possession laws.
On the campaign trail, he said he wanted to send sharp shooters aboard helicopters to target armed criminal in favelas. Weeks ago, the governor acknowledged that police were using shooters.
The police communications department declined to comment about the latest statistics.
“Even though there is no direct order (to kill), you have a governor and officials that use this language, that we should commemorate the deaths of suspects, that a (police) operation was successful when there were nine or 10 deaths,” said Felippe Angeli, a public security expert with the Sou da Paz institute in Brazil. “This ends up having an impact.”
Police killings in the state, however, did not begin with the current administration, sworn in on Jan. 1.
Last June, Orlando Dos Santos found out his 27-year-old stepson had disappeared in the wake of a police operation in the Babilonia slum, which sits on a hill behind the city’s iconic Sugarloaf mountain.
The following day, guided by local residents, Dos Santos and other people whose relatives had also disappeared, began searching with the help of the local fire department. They found seven bodies at the bottom of a cliff, which were later linked to the police operation.
Dos Santos’s stepson, whom he said had gotten involved with criminal groups not long before the police crackdown, was never found.
“The place where they were found and the way their bodies were, made it very clear that it had been an execution,” Dos Santos, a car mechanic, told The Associated Press.
Police killings have intensified in the last couple of years.
Since 2013, the number of victims in Brazilian police operations has continued to rise from 416 victims to 1,534 last year.
In 2018, the military was put in charge of Rio state’s security forces. Rates for crimes such as theft dropped, but critics say structural problems remained unsolved.
Widespread violence is a historical problem in Brazil and in Rio, one of its main tourist destinations.
Paulo Storani, former deputy commander of an elite squad of officers known by the acronym BOPE, said the increase in the number of deaths is a “natural” consequence of the police’s decision to try to recover territories abandoned by the state to organized crime for many years.
“There is no license to kill in the police. The criminals are armed with weapons of war and police are oriented to recover territories. There are violent confrontations because the criminals were strengthened by the inaction of past governments,” Storani said.
In parallel, overall homicides in the state have declined by 26% in the first three months of the year to 1,046 registered deaths.
But some experts fear the government’s rhetoric combined with their desire to pass legislation facilitating gun possession will further deepen the crisis.
“Violence engenders more violence,” Dos Santos said. “I think the duty of the police officer is to catch, apprehend and for the justice to judge.”


Sea-Watch captain Carola Rackete to face Italy prosecutor over migrants

Updated 15 min 14 sec ago
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Sea-Watch captain Carola Rackete to face Italy prosecutor over migrants

  • Carola Rackete expected to be questioned in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento
  • The German ship captain was arrested on June 29 for entering Italy’s Lampedusa port despite a veto

AGRIGENTO, Italy: German captain Carola Rackete, who sparked international headlines by forcibly docking in an Italian port with rescued migrants, faces questioning by an Italian prosecutor on Thursday over allegedly aiding illegal immigration.
The captain of the Sea-Watch 3 is expected to be questioned in the southern Sicilian town of Agrigento from 10 a.m. (0800 GMT).
Rackete was arrested on June 29 for entering Italy’s Lampedusa port despite a veto imposed by far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, and knocking a coast guard boat out of the way to land 40 migrants after over two weeks blocked at sea.
A judge overturned the arrest three days later, saying the 31-year old had merely acted to save lives.
But the Sea-Watch 3 remains in police custody in the Sicilian port of Licata and Rackete is still the object of two investigations — one for entering Italian waters despite a direct order to stop, and another for aiding illegal immigration.
Rackete will be heard on the latter on Thursday, and will have to explain why her crew rescued the migrants without waiting for the Libyan coast guard, which has jurisdiction over the stretch of water in which they were found.
The 31-year-old will also be asked why she then sailed the Dutch-flagged vessel to Italy rather than a Libyan or Tunisian port.
Salvini insists that Italy’s ports remain closed to people who attempt the perilous Mediterranean crossing.
Prosecutors in Agrigento appealed to Italy’s highest court this week against the decision to drop charges against Rackete for forcibly entering the port of Lampedusa, in the hope of establishing a precedent to put off other privately-run ships.
A few days after the Sea-Watch drama, another charity vessel forcibly landed in Lampedusa, a scenario that is likely to recur.
Salvini’s hard-line stance has led to an upsurge in investigations into charity rescue vessels.
In March 2017, the Spanish vessel Open Arms was seized and its captain and head of mission were prosecuted after the crew refused to hand saved migrants over to the Libyan coast guard, which arrived at the scene during a rescue operation.
A month later a judge ordered the vessel be released on the grounds that crisis-hit Libya could not be considered a safe port.
And the prosecutor’s office in Catania, eastern Sicily, recently archived the case against the captain and mission head.
The same prosecutor closed a similar probe against the NGO Sea-Watch after a rescue operation in January, concluding that the crew’s actions were justified.
But the Sea-Watch 3’s dramatic port entry in June marked a new chapter in the war between Salvini and charity vessels.
The arrest of the dreadlocked Rackete sparked an online campaign which raised over $1.57 million (€1.4 million) in a few days to pay her legal fees and enable the German NGO to continue its operations — with a new boat if necessary.
On Tuesday the parliament of Catalonia in Spain voted unanimously to honor Rackete with a Gold Medal, its highest award.
And the city of Paris announced a donation of €100,000 to Sea-Watch, as well as a medal for Rackete and Pia Klemp, another German captain prosecuted in Italy.
Paris’s move infuriated Italy’s far right, which noted that the French government had remained silent throughout the 15 days the ship had been blocked at sea, despite Rackete’s numerous appeals for a safe port.
Salvini has stepped up his attacks on the rescue charities, which he has accused of aiding people-smugglers, while calling Rackete a “bigmouth” and a “criminal.”
Rackete filed a complaint last week for defamation and incitement to violence, noting that Salvini’s hostile messages on social networks have prompted an outpouring of sexist, violent and threatening comments from users.