Violence and impunity in Brazil
The murder of a Rio politician shines a light on Brazil’s security crisis
A portrait of Brazilian councilwoman Marielle Franco, painted on the wall where she was murdered, in Rio de Janeiro. Photograph: Marcelo Sayao/EPA
The assassination of an elected official represents a challenge to any democracy. But the brutal murder of Rio de Janeiro city council member Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes comes at a particularly critical moment for Brazil’s federal government.
Last month President Michel Temer ordered the military to take over responsibility for public security in the state of Rio following a resurgence by violent drug gangs. Having done so the government must now ensure that a thorough investigation to identify the killers of this well-planned crime is carried out as soon as possible.
This is particularly important because Franco had frequently denounced police abuses against residents of the poor communities she represented, meaning speculation surrounding her murder has focused on possible police involvement. The ammunition used to kill her was stolen from a consignment destined for federal police, some of which was used by rogue police officers in the massacre of 17 people in São Paulo in 2015.
Militarising the police has only made many Brazilian citizens more vulnerable to abuses and an early death at the hands of agents of the state
But the critical question of whether or not officers were involved in her death should not distract from the long-overdue need to carry out root and branch reform of Brazil’s public security apparatus. In her last article, sent to a newspaper just hours before her death, Franco wrote that greater public security could not be achieved by deploying more guns on the street.
Brazilian police are the most lethal in the world, according to Amnesty International, and Rio’s are the deadliest in Brazil. Yet this dubious achievement has spectacularly failed to provide greater public security, as the latest deployment of troops in Rio proves.
This lethality is also highly discriminatory. Most police victims are, like Franco, poor and black. Impunity has not only fuelled this culture of violence but also licensed police corruption. Militarising the police has only made many Brazilian citizens more vulnerable to abuses and an early death at the hands of agents of the state. Without also undertaking a thorough police reform Temer’s use of the military will prove to be another short term-fix to a deeply entrenched problem.