Record police killings in São Paulo during quarantine

police killings
Photo: Alf Ribeiro/Shuttterstock

In the wake of worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism triggered by the killing of George Floyd in the U.S., the São Paulo police department caused 116 deaths in April, the highest number of monthly killings on record.

Despite a decrease in movement on the streets due to quarantine guidelines in the city, the number of deaths during police operations jumped by 54.6 percent in April when compared to one year ago, according to official reports. But while police violence went up, data from the state’s public security authorities revealed that crimes such as robbery and theft had fallen 53.3 percent from last year, during the quarantine.

For experts, the increased number of police killings is a result of reduced oversight during the pandemic, as well as a historical defense of a “zero-tolerance” approach. During the 2018 campaign, Governor João Doria said that, under his command, officers would “shoot to kill” if suspects didn’t immediately surrender.

“When we have an increase [in killings], in general, the police’s excuse is that the numbers follow a rise in crimes or that the [police’s] response time was lower,” Samira Bueno, director at the Brazilian Public Security Forum, told newspaper O Estado de São Paulo. “Criminal trends do not justify [April’s] results, though.”

Ms. Bueno’s organization says 75.4 percent of victims from police operations between 2017 and 2018 in Brazil were people of color, suggesting a strong correlation between police brutality and racial profiling in the country.

Rio sees downturn in shootings, yet killings still persist

Meanwhile, in Rio de Janeiro, shootings were down 36 percent during the three-month quarantine period, as presented by data-keeping organization Fogo Cruzado. Nonetheless, the city still registered 468 people shot and 239 gun-related deaths during the pandemic, including eight people shot at home during police operations, also according to Fogo Cruzado’s data.

On May 18, teenager João Pedro Matos Pinto, 14, was shot dead at home during a joint operation by the Federal and Civil Police. João Pedro was playing inside his house with his cousins when policemen invaded the residence, opening fire and leaving 72 bullet holes in the property. Protests in Brazil over João Pedro’s death paled in comparison to the Black Lives Matter public commotion in the U.S.

On Friday, President Jair Bolsonaro removed cases of police violence from the federal government’s annual human rights report — considered one of the best thermometers for human rights violations in the country.

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