Magazine article New Internationalist

Brazil: Law and Disorder

Magazine article New Internationalist

Brazil: Law and Disorder

Article excerpt

On 20 September 2019, eightyear-old Ágatha Félix died after being shot in the back in her local neighbourhood, in Rio de Janeiro. Four days later, 11-year-old Victória Ferreira was shot in the leg on her way home from school.

Episodes like these are not exceptional. Rio residents know that other innocents will die the same way as Ágatha Félix.

This year has been bad even by the violent standards of Rio de Janeiro state. Police violence now factors among the leading causes of death for the poorest. In 2019, there were 1,075 police killings in just six months. In August 2019, they killed at least five people per day in the state of Rio; and police were responsible for 40 per cent of all homicides in the city during the first quarter of the year, according to advocacy group the Rio de Janeiro Observatory on Public Security.

Civil society groups report that Rio's police have never killed so many people in such a short period of time: this rate of killing is unparalleled in Brazil and the world.

The terrifying numbers point to a phenomenon that researchers have badged the 'state-ization of death'. But while the perpetrators are increasingly police officers rather than gang members, the profile of the victims has hardly changed: 99 per cent are men; 75 per cent are black; 82 per cent have only completed their education to primary-school level.

The historical reasons for lethal police violence are numerous and complex. They include deep-seated institutional and society-wide racism, an abusive culture within the police force and a total lack of accountability, in part a legacy of Brazil's military dictatorship that ran from 1964 to 1985. …

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