SOS Rio: Military Police kill 434 in 2019

Bolsonaro ally Governor Wilson Witzel’s Military Police are now killing 5 people a day. Most victims are Afro-Brazilian youth. Many are being killed execution style with gunshots at close range to the back of the head, or by helicopter snipers.

On February 8th, in Fallet Favela near downtown Rio de Janeiro, members of the military police special forces group, BOPE (which uses a SS-style insignia of a skull with two daggers through it on their armored vehicles and uniforms) marched 9, unarmed Afro-Brazilian teenagers into a house, sat them on the floor and shot them all in the back of the head. When neighbors complained, one of them reputedly laughed and said, “next time it will be 12”. Nobody has been punished. This is one example of an incident contributing to the total number of 434 military police killings in the first quarter of 2019 in Rio de Janeiro, marking the most violent 90 day period in recorded history, according to the Rio de Janeiro State Institute of Public Security, which announced the numbers in a recent press conference. These figures, as shocking as they are,  do not include killings committed by the Rio de Janeiro Civil police, who, for example, killed 8 people in Maré favela last Monday using helicopter snipers.

Governor Wilson Witzel, a fanatical ally of right wing extremist President Jair Bolsonaro and a staunch supporter of what he feels should be the police’s right to kill with impunity, has ordered the police to start using snipers and to kill anyone who they think is carrying a weapon. If history is to prove to be any predictor of his new policy, at least 90% of the victims of this police violence will continue to be young black males, in the Brazilian state with the most structurally racist police force.

Police violence, corruption, summary executions and impunity been a huge problem in Rio for decades. The difference now, under a President with connections to Rio’s right wing militias, a Justice Minister, Sergio Moro, who is trying to change the law to allow police to kill anyone who scares them, and a governor who seems to have a near sexual attraction for police killings, these killings are no longer being treated by the government as a human rights issue. Instead, the state and media allies are working to normalize the behavior.


By Brian Mier

Writer, geographer and former development professional who has lived in Brazil for 26 years. Former directorate member of the Fórum Nacional de Reforma Urbana (National Urban Reform Forum). Has lived in São Luis, Recife, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Author of “Os Megaeventos Esportivos na Cidade do Rio de Janeiro e o Direito á Cidade” (CEPR: Porto Alegre. 2016). Editor of "Voices of the Brazilian Left" (Sumare: São Paulo. 2018). Editor of "Year of Lead: Washington, Wall Street and the New Imperialism in Brazil" ((Sumare: São Paulo. 2019) Irregular correspondent for the Chicago radio show This is Hell.