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

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.”


Elizabeth Warren decries Trump as ‘corruption in the flesh’

Updated 20 min 38 sec ago

Elizabeth Warren decries Trump as ‘corruption in the flesh’

  • Warren, a Massachusetts senator, has emerged as a leading Democratic presidential contender
NEW YORK: Facing thousands of cheering supporters in the nation’s largest city, Democratic presidential contender Elizabeth Warren on Monday decried President Donald Trump as “corruption in the flesh” and outlined her plans to root out corruption in the White House, Congress and courts.
“Corruption has put our planet at risk. Corruption has broken our economy. And corruption is breaking our democracy,” said Warren, a Massachusetts senator who has emerged as a leading presidential contender.
While aggressive, the message was a familiar one. Warren has embraced corruption as a central campaign theme from the beginning of her 2020 presidential bid. But rarely has Warren addressed such a crowd with such a symbolic backdrop.
The crowd — which exceeded 20,000 people, according to the Warren campaign — filled almost the entirety of the 10-acre (4-hectare) Washington Square Park, wrapping around a massive fountain and clogging the pathways that connect the street chess games to the classrooms of New York University to the giant marble arch the downtown park is best known for.
It was a younger audience, racially diverse and packed with women. One of the biggest applause lines of the night: “We’re not here tonight because of famous arches or famous men. In fact, we’re not here because of men at all.”
The event was set close to the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire, which killed more than 140 workers in 1911.
She framed those deaths as the direct result of corruption. Many women died because factory owners neglected safety features to save money, with the implicit support of local elected officials who declined to intervene.
Warren charged that the same thing is happening today.
“Giant corporations have bought off our government,” she said.
Specifically, her anti-corruption plan would “end lobbying as we know it” by instituting a lifetime ban on members of Congress and White House Cabinet secretaries from ever becoming lobbyists. At the same time, corporate lobbyists would be blocked from working for the federal government.
Both practices are common today.
She also would prohibit federal judges from avoiding misconduct investigations by leaving their posts, prevent courts from sealing settlements in public health and safety cases and ban class-action waivers for all cases involving employment, consumer protection, antitrust and civil rights.
And taking direct aim at issues involving the Trump administration, Warren would require candidates for public office to post their tax returns online. Presidents, Cabinet secretaries and members of Congress would also be prohibited from owning businesses on the side.
Trump, of course, has refused to release his tax returns years after promising to do so, and the Trump organization continues to do business around the world.
“Donald Trump is corruption in the flesh,” Warren said. “He is sworn to serve the people of the United States, but he serves only himself and his partners in corruption.” Warren noted, however, that Trump is only a symptom of the corruption that has infected the US political and economic systems.
Warren has long argued that the nation’s modern government only works for “the wealthy and the well-connected” like big energy, health care and insurance companies that employ lobbyists to advance their priorities over the best interests of ordinary citizens.
She wrote that popular policies championed by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing — and many in its crowded field of presidential hopefuls — like universal child care, an overhaul of the federal criminal justice system, gun reform and plans to promote affordable housing have been “stymied because giant corporations and billionaires who don’t want to pay taxes or follow any rules use their money and influence to stand in the way.”
Warren’s campaign noted that she already proposed a series of anti-corruption measures in Congress last year, but it says the proposal released Monday goes farther.
Warren has emerged as a central player in the broader fight for the direction of the Democratic Party in the age of Trump.
Like her Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, Warren is demanding transformational change that Trump and his allies deride as socialism. Warren and Sanders are up against Democratic front-runner Joe Biden, a favorite of the party’s establishment wing.
Warren didn’t identify any of her Democratic opponents by name.
She noted, however, that “too many politicians in both parties have convinced themselves that playing the money-for-influence game is the only way to get things done.”
Warren doesn’t participate in high-dollar fundraising events as a 2020 candidate, though she did before launching her presidential campaign.
On Monday, looking out at the swelling crowd, Warren noted that she typically takes selfies with everyone who wants one at her events.
“Tonight is a little something different,” Warren said.