Despite mounting evidence of the failure of the “war on drugs”, authorities in Rio continue to increase police and military presence in the city’s favelas. Predictably, violence has only gotten worse as a result, with an uptick of 45% in people killed by police over the last year. The situation is especially difficult in Complexo do Alemão, a group of favelas where residents are constantly forced to navigate the conflict between police and drug gangs — a conflict which often resembles a war zone.
The Papo Reto Collective, formed by community-based activists who use cell phones and social media to counter mainstream narratives, document abuses and report police violence in Complexo do Alemão, scored an important victory in their fight for justice against human rights violations committed by state agents.
Last month, two police commanders in the Pacifying Police Unit (UPP)— Unit Coordinator André Luiz Belloni Gomes and Major Leonardo Zuma, commander of UPP Nova Brasilia— were denounced by the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) of the State of Rio de Janeiro for crimes committed in the illegal invasions of private residences in the neighborhood of Praça do Samba located in favela Complexo do Alemão. The penalties for the commanders range from 6 months to 2 years in prison.
This case represents a victory for human rights movements in the favelas because it is rare that individual police officers, let alone commanders, are cited for criminal liability in cases involving police operations.
Most cases of police abuse are not even properly investigated, but video has been a powerful tool to break that pattern.
According to a press release by the MP, commanders Gomes and Zuma failed to comply with a court order calling for an end to the home invasions. This comes in the wake of a public hearing that residents organized to report the illegal invasion to the Public Defender’s Office, during which the second-in-command of the operating police force admitted to the invasions and promised to put an end to them.
The prosecutors denounced the three-month long operation of home invasion by the police, which included homes being repurposed as military bases, stirring panic and unrest, and lasting physical and psychological damage to Praça do Samba residents. Human rights defenders and organizers were targeted in person and online as a result of their outcry against this operation.
The Papo Reto Collective together with WITNESS and several other organizations collected video footage and photos which were used in court by the Public Defender’s Office of Rio de Janeiro as evidence for the prosecution against military police. Daniel Lozoya, a public defender, highlighted the importance of collaborative work in obtaining evidence by collectives, organizations and residents:
“The case of Praça do Samba in Complexo de Alemao is emblematic of how the mobilization of residents and organizers working in tandem with institutions of the justice system is capable of combating the manifestations of violations and invisibility in the favelas and poor urban peripheries. This is pivotal to our success in the courts. ”
Now, Coletivo Papo Reto and WITNESS are finalizing a full-length dossier on the impacts of these illegal invasions on the lives of the residents of Complexo do Alemão. We are also calculating the material damages from the invasions and the damages caused by police operations. Once houses became targets, some accumulated hundreds of bullet holes.
The main purpose of the “Who Pays the Bill?” dossier is that the state be held accountable for the home invasions and that favela residents receive reparations for the damages caused by military police operations.
This post was adapted from the original- read in Portuguese here.