“At least 11” killed in the last month.
Since the Black Lives Matter movement began gaining critical momentum following the fatal shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown, a national discussion has raged about police brutality, use of force justifications, and the need for comprehensive criminal justice reform in the United States. The topic of racial prejudice and institutional racism has become one of the most popular issues in the 2016 election cycle, particularly among Democrats whose constituency traditionally consists of a strong black American voter base.
As the tenor widens, new reports have surfaced disturbingly showing that racial biases in policing is not strictly an American problem, but an international crisis.
Since the beginning of April, 11 people have been killed by the police in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, alone, where the Summer Olympics are just 100 days from beginning.
One of the victims was just five years old.
The report, issued by Amnesty International, shows that in the first three months of 2016, homicides by police rose 10 percent, with police killings increasing by more than 50% over the past two years.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the victims in this surge of police brutality have been young, black men from marginalized neighborhoods.
“Despite the promised legacy of a safe city for hosting the Olympic Games, killings by the police have been steadily increasing over the past few years in Rio. Many have been severely injured by rubber bullets, stun grenades and even firearms used by police forces during protests,” said Atila Roque, Executive Director of Amnesty International Brazil.
That the world or country should be shocked is nothing new. While police killings in the United States may gather more attention – and should it act as a catalyst for human rights conversations globally it is nonetheless essential – Brazilian police killed 11,000 civilians from 2008-2013, roughly six people every day, despite having a population 50% smaller than the U.S.
“Our police kill by the hundreds,” Ignacio Cano, a sociologist speaking to Bloomberg in November 2014 following the non-indictment of Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, “We have a Ferguson every day.”
It’s not just the scale of police violence, Cano insists; the two societies react differently.
Cano credits the Black Lives Matter movement and its allies for flooding streets with protests, demonstrations, and even riots that in turn have landed them a seat at the table with several presidential candidates, while in contrast, he says Brazilian society reacts with callous indifference and the epidemic as a result continues to see little remedy.
“There (in the U.S.) everyone agrees that all people are equal before the law. Here, there’s no consensus,
and many still believe that people from poor neighborhoods are dangerous or criminals, or both,” pointing to an infamous survey collected nationally where 43% of those polled conferred that “a good criminal is a dead criminal.”
Ahead of the Summer Olympics, slated to begin 100 days from now, human rights advocates are insisting that the most recent surge in killings is connected to a fear from officials – subconscious or otherwise – about ensuring that the international community feels as safe as possible, and is misguidedly over-policing in an attempt to achieve this initiative.
“Over the next 100 days, there is a lot that the authorities and the organizing bodies of Rio 2016 can and must do to ensure that any public security operations will not violate human rights. We expect Rio’s police forces to take a precautionary and consultative approach to public security instead of continuing with their ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ strategy.”
In no way does this seek to silence the extraordinary work activists have accomplished in the United States, yet as we mark the one year anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising in response to the killing of Freddie Gray, the similitude of brutality and impunity suffered by black Brazilians show us just how far we truly are from justice worldwide.