Friday, August 12, 2016

Security Force of 85,000 Fills Rio, Unsettling Rights Activists

The following excerpts are taken from the NY Times article "85,000 Fills Rio, Unsettling Rights Activists (AUG. 7, 2016)

>> RIO DE JANEIRO — If battling pickpockets were an Olympic sport at the current Summer Games, the Brazilian authorities might qualify for a medal.

In the face of soaring street crime, the state government has deployed a security force of 85,000 in Rio de Janeiro, among them 23,000 soldiers who stand sentinel at busy intersections or cruise the streets in military jeeps, their weapons aimed menacingly at the sidewalk.

[...] Still, the overwhelming show of force has not exactly vanquished crime. The chief of security for the opening ceremony was mugged at knife point on Friday night as he left Olympic Stadium; a stray bullet landed in the equestrian arena’s media tent on Saturday, just missing a New Zealand sports official; and on Saturday night, Portugal’s education minister was assaulted as he strolled along Rio’s upscale lagoon, the site of the rowing competition.

In their preparation for the Olympics, Brazilian officials confronted a number of challenges that had spooked some international visitors ...

[...] But the show of force has also drawn criticism from human rights activists who fear that overly aggressive policing might lead to abuses, especially in the city’s low-income communities, known as favelas.

Last week, a joint police and military operation in one such neighborhood, Complexo do Alemão, left two people dead.

[...] Still, many Cariocas, as residents are called, are most concerned with ordinary street crime ...

There were nearly 11,000 street robberies in June, an 81 percent increase from the same month last year. Experts say, moreover, that many crimes go unreported by victims who assume the police will make little effort to solve them.

[...] “The tension is palpable,” Meg Healy, 24, an American living in Rio, said before the Games got underway. In June, Ms. Healy, an urban planner, was mugged at knife point; four days later, a boy who she says appeared to be no older than 7 tried to grab her bag a few steps from her apartment.

Other recent crime victims include Fernando Echavarri, a Spanish sailing gold medalist, and Liesl Tesch, an Australian Paralympic sailor, who were mugged at gunpoint...

[...] The city’s security woes have been exacerbated by a severe budget crunch, which has hampered the government’s ability to pay police officers. The sense of crisis was underscored in June, when the state government declared a “financial calamity.”

In recent weeks, police officers who said their salaries had been delayed or only partially paid demonstrated at Rio’s international airport, holding up signs for arriving passengers that read, “Welcome to hell.”

[...] Although the Brazilian news media tends to focus on brazen street robberies or violence that occurs in the city’s wealthier neighborhoods, experts say Rio’s poor residents bear the brunt of increased crime.

[...] Last year, the police were responsible for 20 percent of the city’s homicides, according to Amnesty International ... There were 645 police killings last year, compared with 400 in 2013. The number of those who died at the hands of the police between April and June of this year doubled from the same period last year ...

Most of the dead were young black men.

One of the communities hit hard by police violence is Maré, a sprawling favela between Rio’s international airport and the affluent neighborhoods of Ipanema and Copacabana... In the months before the World Cup, the army occupied the community for a year. [...] <<


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