From time to time this blog launches an «adopt a corpse» campaign which tries to do a better job of following up on questionable cases of murder and mayhem in the Greater Sambodian Metropolitan Area of São Paulo. These cases tend to fade fast from the headlines, in part because justice is invariably less than swift.
We have chronicled the execution-style slaying of a neighbor on the Rua Beatrice and we have waited impatiently for closure in the case of a citizen journalist killed in the same manner in Porto Ferreira, in «upstate» Sambodia.
[In the latter case, four of five defendants in the murder trial were found guilty in 2010, sentenced to 16 years, and stripped of their commissions in the military police. Yes, in this case as in so many others, the cops were the criminals.]
In this way, we try to harness our obsessive-compulsive tendencies to some practical purpose.
In that same spirit, Época magazine’s Ruth de Aquino summarizes a high-profile police slaying that occurred just last week, literally within earshot of the Lusophone Sousaphone newsroom, on Avenida das Corujas, Sumarezinho.
There was nothing threatening inside the car. A guitar, cooking utensils, papers and a small amount of marijuana: 50 g. The Ford Fiesta was driven by business owner Ricardo Prudente de Aquino, 39. The time was 10:30 p.m.
Neuza chimes in to say that no marijuana was found in the car, but the correct version appears to be that the family of the publicist and aspiring chef are challenging this fact, charging the police with planting the drug.
Ricardo encountered a blitz being conducted in the high-rent neighborhood of Alto de Pinheiros as he was returning home from a friend’s house. He failed to stop and we will never know why. He was pursued by military police for half a mile. Cut off on a dark street, he pulled over and reached for his cell phone. Perhaps in order to let his wife know or to call someone for help.
The call was never completed. He was killed with bullets to the head, out of 7 fired by three military police. The officers are members of the Tactical Squad, a specialized unit, and are young: 26, 28, and 30 years old, respectively. They say they mistook the cell phone for a firearm.
The image of the shattered wind shield of the car is a violent one. Disproportionately violent, as though it were the execution of a dangerous criminal or a firing squad bearing the fingerprints of a mafia or vengeance killing. No one witnessed the crime, and the images from security cameras are unclear because the light from the headlights was too bright. The official version of events is the only version to survive.
We ear-witnessed the crime loud and clear, but I stopped Neuza from sticking her neck out.
Above: Death-dealing imagery in official symbolism.
Governor Geraldo Alckmin, conscious that this is an election year, hastened to apologize publicly «for this tragic and unjustified killing». The story received broader coverage because the victim was middle-class and had influential friends.
The interim command of the S. Paulo military police, Col. Hudson Camilli, proved tongue-tied: «technically the action of police was by the book. The decision to fire was made in the belief that officers were being assaulted, which turned out not to be the case.» This pretzel logic could have been stated much more simply by the commander.
Was Ricardo a suspect? Yes, because he failed to stop. Was the pursuit justified? Yes, because the driver fled the scene. Was the call for backup correct? Yes, because the Tactical Force is a specialized unit and was needed to cut off and stop the driver.
From that point on, things quickly went south. In order to force a motorist to stop, police are supposed to fire at the vehicle’s tires, not aim at the driver. When police are clearly threatened, their standing instruction is to fire two shots, aiming to wound and not to kill.
In a sidebar to the debate arising out of the incident in the Sunday edition, the Folha de S. Paulo dusts off an all too familiary set of statistics: Even as levels of violent crime are falling here, police violence is not declining commensurately.
Data obtained by the Folha show that between 2006 and 2010, some 2,262 person were killed after alleged confrontations with S. Paulo military police. In the entire USA, over the same period, according to data from the FBI, there were some 1,963 «justifiable homicides,» an equivalent to the category «resistance followed by death» in S. Paulo
What a monument to positivist thinking that is: there was resistance, and there was death, but there is no agency or causality.
Another scandalous aspect of the situation is an active police blogosphere celebrating police ultraviolence — as is the case with a current city council candidate.
As part of his campaign, former ROTA commander and PSDBcity council candidate Adriano Lopes Lucinda Telhada has been using his Facebook page to defend police violence in the urban periphery. As a result, his followers have left comments such as «send the bandits to their graves» and «let’s tear the heads off these bums.»
On June 22, the former special weapons and tactics commander posted a photo of two young black men — the post was shared by 985 users — saying they were suspects in an attack on a PM base in the Eastern District. «They could also be involved in the killing of a police agent at his gym. Please, distribute this update.
Reporters Without Borders is decrying threats made by the Colonel and his followers against an journalist who criticized them for their death-squad rhetoric.
And speaking of unresolved adopted corpses: Whatever happened in the case of the PM colonel assassinated while biking in the Northen District, in 2008? The officer had set out to rein in police under his command who moonlighted as death-squadders.
He was Col. José Hermínio Rodrigues. The PM accused of executing him awaits trial on 16 counters of murder for hire, but was acquitted earlier this year in one such case.
I would really like to see what future World Cup and Olympics audiences from around the world think of police who ride around in black armored vehicles decorated with death-dealing imagery.
The midsize regional paper SPressO summarizes neatly:
It is rare for the military police to admit failings like the one in the case of the slain publicist, and this fact is prompting debate on unsolved cases in the peripheral zones of the city as well.
From a pro-police blog, a PM trooper head-hunting with a rubber bullet-loaded shotgun, a procedural error we have witnessed personally twice — during a show by the rappers Os Racionais and during a policial march along the Avenida Paulista.
My LAPD sergeant friend confirms: Rubber bullets are to be fired in unaimed volleys and bounced off the ground into the shins of the crowd to be controlled.
Above, a bombastic hagiography by proxy of the would-be councilmember.